Lil Wayne’s ‘Funeral’ Gets Busy Building His Legacy

There’s a great album buried in the hefty tracklist of Lil Wayne’s new album, Funeral. It just takes some digging to unearth it 24-track project, some of which it’d be so much better without. With some trimming and a much leaner tracklist, Funeral could be the album of Wayne’s career — especially when it comes to rapping. His bar-work is immaculate here, somewhere between the most practiced technicians of yesteryear and the wild vocal experimentation of today’s neophytes. But with so many bars to sort through, listening to the album from front to back becomes something of a chore — albeit, a mostly enjoyable one.

As Lil Wayne’s first true album in the post-Cash Money era of his career — 2018’s Tha Carter V notwithstanding, with its long history and a decade’s worth of expectations attached — Funeral is Wayne’s opportunity to establish what kind of artist he wants to be in his next phase. Will he step into the future alongside the wealth of dreadlocked, face-tatted, melodic rappers he helped sire? Or will he obstinately root himself to the era of his prime, when rap blogs were just starting out and “greatest rapper alive” felt like an attainable goal in the hip-hop monoculture, long before streaming and social media splintered fans’ listening preferences into the individualistic terrain of today? It seems as though he’s willing to split the difference — a strategy with massive potential to pay dividends if only Wayne had also factored in the shortened attention spans of modern audiences.

There’s a stretch of songs on this album, from “I Do It” to “I Don’t Sleep,” that could have been the foundation of a great, modern Lil Wayne album. Each has its own distinct personality and delivery and production, if not a tremendously varied delivery from the album’s principal artist. The strategic placement of the diverse array of guests, from veteran punchline poets 2 Chainz and Big Sean to contemporary trap technicians like Lil Baby and Takeoff, breaks up Weezy’s nonstop cascade of stacking, multisyllabic rhymes, while the beats range from Big Freedia-sampling bounce to gothic trap. That’s an album that proves that Wayne can not only hold his own in the current landscape, but he can also stand alongside some of the stars that dominate playlists and charts.

That’s all well and good, but with so much fat on this album, it’s difficult to enjoy the meat. There’s a lot to love here, too; despite a few dated pop cultural references (a Sinead O’Connor bar on “Ball Hard,” a reference to former NBA star Hedo Türkoğlu on “Piano Trap”), Wayne’s rhymes are sharper than ever. In fact, from a simple rhyme scheme-pattern-punchline perspective, Weezy has entered the upper echelon of Rakim-esque super-rhymers that includes classic names like Big Daddy Kane, Black Thought, and Eminem. Unfortunately, because of the near-nonstop deluge of assonance, it easy to drown in the backwash of so many clever lyrical miracles.

Like Eminem on his Music To Be Murdered By, which incidentally dropped only weeks before Funeral, Wayne has seemingly run out of things to say and has obsessed on finding the most clever ways to say them. The difference is that he still seems to be having fun; while Em was apparently deadset on forcing listeners to acknowledge his rhyme skills, Wayne sounds content to simply let them wash over listeners, giving them the option of replaying at their leisure instead of beating them over the head. However, with 24 tracks to wade through, the schtick still gets tiresome after so long, forcing fans to fight fatigue the further they get through the album’s unforgivable hour-plus runtime.

The back of the album doesn’t pay off the slog, either, starting from the poorly-placed “Sights And Silencers” and including the murky misogyny of the hook on “Bastard (Satan’s Kid),” the questionable inclusion of XXXTentacion — the second such feature in two albums for Wayne and the third collaboration overall — and the repetitive punk-trap of “Darkside.” While “T.O.” and “Wayne’s World” save the album at the end, there’s a lot of material here that could stand to have been scratched — either saved for a later project or more appropriately, junked altogether, with dreary, borderline annoying beats and hazy song construction. Even “I Don’t Sleep,” which ostensibly falls in the “good” half of the album, features some subject matter that — given the recent death of Juice WRLD and the revelation of the cause of his death — might have been better served by a more — ahem — sober reading of the content in question.

With all that said, it’s impossible to deny that Funeral solidifies Wayne as one of the best rappers of multiple generations of hip-hop. If nothing else, this album stands as a testament to Wayne longevity — not only did he outlast or inspire two evolutions of rap styles, he’s capable of fitting in with rappers who may as well be his stylistic grandchildren. For someone who thought 21 Savage was a group and doesn’t listen to anyone other than himself, that’s impressive. This unleashed latter-era Wayne could stand some editing, though. Funeral is meant to stand as a symbolic burial of the past, while at the same time honoring it. It does that, but in the future, it’d be nice if Wayne seemed a little more present — and aware of how little time rap fans have to get through their favorites’ latest releases.

Funeral is out now on Young Money Records. Get it here.