Tha Carter V (2018)

Lil Wayne

... read more"Still the motherfuckin' best rapper a-live," Lil Wayne offhandedly declares on "Dope New Gospel," a coasting track on which the unmistakable MC also insists that he's irreplaceable, even in death. Claiming supremacy while considering mortality has long been as natural as walking while chewing gum...

Review

"Still the motherfuckin' best rapper a-live," Lil Wayne offhandedly declares on "Dope New Gospel," a coasting track on which the unmistakable MC also insists that he's irreplaceable, even in death. Claiming supremacy while considering mortality has long been as natural as walking while chewing gum for Dwayne Carter, but there's a greater, grimmer sense across the long-anticipated Carter V that life is just a moment. Wayne's mother sets the tone with a spoken intro that verges on eulogistic, and through her tears somehow leaves the impression that even she is ever so slightly exasperated about the setbacks and protracted delays that plagued the fifth Carter after her son publicized its imminence in 2012. A multitude of personal and professional obstacles, occasionally poignant featured appearances, and mixtapes and intervening albums of diminishing quality, were packed into the six years that passed since the fifth Carter volume was promised. The series finale nonetheless arrives with an undue weight of expectation -- its maker already has a proven and immense catalog that includes ten Top Ten solo LPs -- and has some burdensome qualities itself. Almost 90 minutes in length, it's pieced together with material recorded from years to weeks ahead of release, and one cut goes back to resemble an early-2000s crossover bid, from its smoothly melodic Mannie Fresh production to its Ashanti hook. A greater portion forms a sluggish, indistinct mass. Moreover, Wayne is often in a mode of mechanical recklessness, dropping to the lowest point on "Open Safe," a felonious fantasy wherein the protagonist boasts of coaxing information from a woman by "stick[ing] her hands in the fan blades." Derogatory terms fly there and elsewhere, contradicting Wayne's proclamation of growth, whether he was referring to artistic or human development. Alternately, there are touching rhymes regarding parenthood, and the moments of romantic heartache and inner conflict -- especially the cathartic last verse of "Let It All Work Out," concerning his attempted childhood suicide -- have instant and lasting resonance. He's also still inspired enough to match wits with Kendrick Lamar (on the suspenseful, bewildering "Mona Lisa") and dash off cunning wordplay like "You a roughneck, I'm a cutthroat" (over a Swizz Beatz recycling of the Ez Elpee news-flash beat he joked about disliking the first time he used it). For all the excess and buildup, this exhibits Wayne on an upswing, lucid and invigorated. ~ Andy Kellman

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