Starting as it does with the almost uncomfortably ghostly crooning of late rapper XXXtentacion on “Don’t Cry,” Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter v is as mournful as it is celebratory. Clocking in at 23 tracks, it joins the list of uncomfortably long projects that have come to dominate the streaming service landscape, yet with good reason: The album is both a celebration of Lil Wayne’s longevity and perseverance and it’s a haunting look back at just how long it took Wayne to get here. Yet, at the heart of this duality lies a simple truth: The rap game is better with Weezy in it, and The Carter V is an entertaining reminder why.
Tha Carter V‘s long, troubled gestation period has been well-documented, as have the various health and financial issues that have supposedly dogged Lil Wayne himself throughout his forced hiatus. The album’s existence alone would be a testament to his resilience and boundless creative energy, but fortunately, the music itself justifies both the wait and album’s duration as a pure demonstration of Wayne’s continued lyrical sharpness.
Because he is Lil Wayne, he could have tossed out a rushed, slapdash project or a collection of older tracks from his catalog of, apparently, hundreds, to general acclaim to appease the demographic who stuck it out with him through the most recent drought and introduce himself to a generation weaned on his musical descendants. But because of who Lil Wayne is, his professional pride just wouldn’t let him get away with that. He had to prove himself. He does that, but he also proves why he never needed to do so — at least in the eyes of his staunchest fans.
In many ways, Tha Carter V is a little like some of the other albums released by aging vets this past year. On Eminem’s Kamikaze, the aggrieved Detroit rapper brought critics and political enemies alike to task in an extended, belligerent apology for his previous album, 2017’s wayward Revival. Wayne does a little of the same here, making up for the previous Tha Carter IV, as well as reestablishing his technical prowess, something that had become a bone of contention in his time restricted from actively appearing on many peers’ projects. However, for him, crafting tricky rhyme schemes doesn’t need to be such a self-serious exercise. He rhymes with the best of them, but he would never have fit in on Rawkus.
Likewise, Nas’ Nasir carried the onus of proving that the aging Queens legend could innovate stylistically and find new depth lyrically with Kanye West’s production finally supposedly alleviating the primary complaint of Nas’ catalog so far. Wayne was faced with the same predicament; if he returned with No Ceilings quality bars and more awkward crooning than ferocious rhyming, he would likely lose the last of the goodwill he’d garnered with the first three entries in his Carter series. If he failed to adjust to the newly confessional tone of modern rap, he’d miss a prime opportunity to connect to two generations of fans. One loves the modern style of weeping wound, freshly-snatched Band-Aid grunge hop, while the other is simply looking for more substance from musical heroes that have largely lapsed into complacent, one-note pandering (see: Scorpion, Queen, and Daytona all from acts most closely associated to Wayne and his rise to prominence).