Lil Wayne’s ‘Tha Carter V:’ A First-Person Listening Guide

September 27th was a long day in the simulation. We had that human turd Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing, Steve Harvey was wilding on Family Feud (taking shots at Pusha T in response to the suit remark from “Story of Adidon,” and doing so with the timeliness of a federal tax return), and of course, Lil Wayne waited until the last possible second to drop the long-awaited Tha Carter V. I turn the album on around 12:30AM, and for some reason I’m thinking that I can like, do my dishes while I listen. Rookie mistake. About 30 seconds into “I Love You Dwayne,” Wayne’s mom starts crying and I’m like oh shit, let me go sit down and switch gears here. That’s good though. Any album worth anything should demand a certain level of attention from its listener. I ain’t mad at that. Now, if you’re still here with me, allow me to break down my experience track by track (Here’s the link if you’d like to listen along).

I Love You Dwayne

First thought: Am I supposed to be hearing this? I swear I’m not leaving a dude a voicemail ever again, y’all can’t be trusted. Any man willing to expose a private moment with his own mother will certainly have no trouble using a sound bite of me, drunk in my Uber at 2AM, shouting “where areee youuuu you motherfuckerrrr, you betttter not be with another biiitch!” *laughter from my girlfriends in the background* on his weak ass mixtape. Pass. Nevertheless, it’s a powerful way to start the album and I’m moved by it.

Don’t Cry (feat. XXXTENTACION)

Uh oh, there’s that lighter flick we all know and love. I’m glad we haven’t regressed to using a Juul crackle or something. You really never know these days *rips Juul.* The late XXXTentacion was a good feature to have on this album, especially singing the words “Don’t cry.” That alone will strike a chord for many I’m sure. The lyrics are not bad, but Wayne’s flow here is clumsy. It doesn’t, well, flow. His last verse is much better, which I noticed to be a theme throughout this album.

Dedicate

Aw shit, this beat goes hard. Reminds me a little bit of “5% Tint” from Astroworld, which makes me wanna slap my mama (just kidding mom I love u). And Wayne kinda goes in too, which unfortunately is a left-handed compliment that I’m prepared to use a lot throughout this review. “It’s Tha Carter Lil Bitch,” he says. We’ll see. Weezy addresses the fact that he altered the landscape of rap music and that everything since has been a product of his influence, which is something he has definitely earned the right to say.

Uproar

Another slap, thank you Swizz Beats. Here, Wayne shows us that you don’t have to be a frat guy in a bar altercation to say “what the fuck, bro?” a dizzying amount of times. Overall this song is confusing to me, because I still don’t really know how I feel about it. Some tough lyrics for sure, but a lot of quickly reverting back to what I can only refer to as the “bro flow,” i.e very little deviation from the -o ending in the rhyme scheme, which feels like a crutch.

Let It Fly (feat. Travis Scott)

Oh yes baby Jesus thank you. This is a great utilization of La Flame, and you can tell he brought some of his own producers to the table. He does his thing on the hook and then goes in on a verse for good measure. However, Travis Scott should not be out-rapping Weezy, and it feels like he might. I say this as a 25 year old who just spent $200 to go see Travis Scott in concert by myself — so it’s no disrespect, but these guys just aren’t supposed to be on the same level of lyrical mastery. When Wayne stops ending every single line with either “advised” “mind” or “line” though, something kinda magical happens. Beginning with “Tunechi tuna lunatic,” could it… could it be? Is that… the Old Wayne (the one from Carter albums I-III)? Well I’ll be damned. I think it is. I wish that brilliance weren’t confined to the last < 40 seconds though.

Can’t Be Broken

Great lyrics. Old Wayne makes an appearance again. I know he’s used chipmunkified choruses in the past, the most notable for me being “I Feel Like Dying,” but I’m not a big fan of it here; it’s a little over-utilized. It is refreshing though that in this song, Wayne’s verses are what really shine through.

Dark Side of the Moon (feat. Nicki Minaj)

I honestly consider skipping this track when it first comes on. I’m tired (it’s like 1AM in Atlanta at this point) and I don’t like Nicki Minaj. Thankful for that lighter flick though, so maybe I’ll stick around… It’s slow but I’m feeling it. Just bracing myself for impact, as I’m certain Nicki is going to find a way to yell at me about sons and eating her ass over this beautiful, whimsical beat. But hold the phone, what is this? Nicki Minaj is… singing? As someone who has avoided listening to Nicki Minaj since roughly 2011, can somebody tell me… does she usually sing? I think the last time I heard this was “Moment 4 Life.” If not, she should, because she’s good at it. This is a version of her that is not completely off-putting to me. Well done, YM set.

Mona Lisa (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

This one had me instantly. The piano music; the signature, phantom-like whisperings of Kendrick Lamar at the beginning. Let’s do this boys. Wayne starts off meh… But okay, now we’re picking up a little… Okay, now he is going in. About halfway through, around “I got way too many bitches” I’m like alright, THIS is the Weezy I know. Thank God. Then, everything stops. I think wait, did we get Kendrick out of bed just to fucking murmur at the beginning? What a waste. I check my phone… OH SHIT BOY WE GOT 2 WHOLE MINUTES LEFT. Enter Kung Fu Kenny, pristine with both his lyrics and his delivery, as per usual. That violin around 4 minutes brought tears to my eyes, on God. He murders his verse, not surprisingly. But hold up, we ain’t done yet folks… Kendrick has broken out the “u” voice?!?! We do not deserve this. If you don’t know what I mean by the “u” voice, perhaps you should re-familiarize yourself with To Pimp a Butterfly. Matter fact, perhaps we all should, because that shit was beautiful and timeless. But basically, this man is crying in the booth (or at least that’s what it sounds like) for our benefit. He is truly a martyr. This song is a masterpiece.

What About Me (feat. Sosamann)

I’m not partial to this beat or this flow. I consider going to bed, then it picks up and gets a little moodier; we get some bass. I’m like alright, I guess I’m not sleeping tonight, we’re already here so let’s just do this. Although I’m enjoying the song while it’s on, it’s little more than background noise, and I know it’s going to be one of the tracks I forget about repeatedly when trying to recount the album. Sosamann is annoying. I think he’s from Houston or something but they not really claiming him. Maybe I’ll look it up. Nevermind, I don’t care. Overall the song has an R&B feel that I like.

Open Letter

Right off the bat I like anything called “Open Letter,” because it typically means that some authentic, probably uncomfortable shit is about to be said. We start off with a violin and some audible scribbling, followed by Wayne rhyming the word “shit” with itself four times. Welp. Maybe I was unwittingly too literal about the aforementioned “uncomfortable shit.” It gets a little better, but still, I’m bored and starting to realize how tired I am again. The last 1:30 perks me up a little. Better lyrics; the pace quickens. We end with another bit from Jacida Carter, this one about finding out Dwayne and Toya were having a baby. Perfect segway, because that baby is our next feature.

Famous (feat. Reginae Carter)

This is off-topic, but did anyone see when Reginae posted that IG of her suggestively licking a lollipop, with her dad’s lyric: “He lick me like a lollipop” as the caption? That was some weird shit, man. I wonder if they talked about that before they got in the booth together… Feel like the air would need clearing before this harmonious piece of music could be made. Anyway, I actually really like this track. Wayne’s lyrics aren’t next-level by any means, but Reginae, although heavily autotuned, sounds good. Also, I’m sure this song meant a lot to both of them, and we can hear that in their delivery. So, I mean, that’s always cool… whatever… *wipes tear*

Problems

One of the hardest tracks on this album, don’t @ me. Or do. I have nothing better to do. Not surprised that Zaytoven produced this cuz it kinda sounds like a Gucci beat, to the point where I wouldn’t be startled if he jumped on the track despite not having a feature credit (he doesn’t). Weezy is no lyrical assassin here, but his flow feels natural and I can get behind it.

Dope N****z (feat. Snoop Dogg)

Oh shit, I recognize that g-funk anywhere… This is a reworked Dr. Dre beat. It’s no surprise, then, when Snoop Dogg comes in. It feels right. He does his Snoop Dogg thing; I get a contact high. Wayne is killing it. When he says “I ain’t lying, slime” I consider getting drunk alone at 1:30AM, because fuck yeah. Then to top it off, Snoop kinda hits us with that rude flow toward the end; the type where you feel like he’s spitting the words at you. This is actually one of my favorite songs on the album.

Hittas

I love the intro to this track, which was taken from the Carter documentary, and, I assume, one of the excerpts Weezy was referring to when he said the film misrepresented him (in this instance I disagree). Unfortunately the first 25ish seconds are my favorite thing about this song. His flow feels forced again and it’s irritating me. “Money in the air, who said white men can’t jump?” Is a bar though, I’ll give him that one. It gets a little better from there; feels smoother; some strong lyrics throughout. Nothing spectacular.

Took His Time

I hate this hook, but I’m able to acknowledge that that’s probably due mainly to personal preferences/the subject matter. The verses are good but not great, alternating sporadically between some solid lyrics and some redundant nonsense. I will probably skip this track on future listens.

Open Safe

First thought is that this song has a Bay Area sound. Not far off… DJ Mustard on the beat (From Los Angeles and a frequent collaborator of YG). This is relatively experimental for Weezy, so I’m fuckinwiddit. I actually really like the West Coast influence throughout this album. Wayne’s lyrics are solid; this beat slaps top; overall it’s a standout for me.

Start This Shit Off Right (feat. Ashanti and Mack Maine)

I recognized this sound instantly, and you probably did too, because it’s DJ Mannie Fresh: ½ of Big Tymers (alongside Birdman), and the man responsible for the likes of “Go DJ,” “Tha Block Is Hot,” “Back That Azz Up”… Basically any banger that came out of Cash Money Records between 1999 and 2004. This beat is a little slower/funkier than his usual; some hints of West Coast influence; but it is unmistakably Mannie Fresh. Mack Maine comes in with the hook… Holy 2008. Ashanti hits the pipes and I start levitating. Wayne eases in with some real nice lines. Everyone seems to be comfortable here, and they should be, because this is a group of early 2000s legends getting back to their roots. In other words, this is what I came here for, and I was growing very concerned I was never going to get it. Whew.

Demon

Honestly, I don’t even know what to say about this one. I’m starting to feel like every time we take two steps forward we take one step back. I wish this song were not even on the album. No features, production is nothing to write home about, and Wayne is quite literally just saying shit at this point. I think this song is about how a good woman can take the demon out of a man? Or maybe how she can make him one? I don’t know and I don’t care.

Mess

How the hell am I still awake? He’s kinda killing it but it’s not really gripping me. Also, this shit is like…sad? R U OK Weezy? Can somebody check on him? It sounds like he’s in the strip club crying somewhere. “My life is a mess… fuck it, more ones.” Is the best way to summarize this song. I kinda dig the outright jaded-ness of it actually.

Dope New Gospel (feat. Nivea)

First thought is that I like the title of this song, and that the feature is a person I’ve never heard of but also a brand of lotion that I have definitely used before. Good lyrics. Sounds like Weezy is back to loving himself, which is a nice contrast from the previous track. This song as a whole doesn’t appeal to me that much, but I can definitely hear glimpses of Old Wayne.

Perfect Strangers

Kinda feels like a continuation of “Dope New Gospel,” down to the man in the mirror remarks. Excellent Weezy flow though, and on another Mannie Fresh beat. Feels like Old Wayne. Might be the most quintessential Old Wayne track on this album for me, actually.

Used 2

Hell yeah. Love a Young Metro beat, and this is the flow I’ve been waiting for. Wayne tries on the “u” voice, which I guess, if Kendrick isn’t using it, isn’t really the “u” voice. I think Weezy has used it before anyway. I don’t know, it’s after 2AM now, I’m fucking tired, and I wound up having that drink after all. But when I listen closely I can almost hear him saying “diamonds in my Rollie face, cannot be exfoliated,” a la “Believe Me,” which is probably the best thing to compare this song to.

Let It All Work Out

Beginning a song with a Sampha hook garners automatic approval from me. Idk why he isn’t credited with a feature but it’s definitely him, I know that voice. Weezy sounds good. It’s been a journey and it’s all led up to this point, which is the feeling you should get on the last track of an album. He’s comfortable in his flow, the song is beautiful, and I’m easily swept up in it. Nothing clunky about it. Lyrics are great. Love that beat switch up toward the end. Goddamn. Great way to finish the album.

Overall, Tha Carter V is very solid. The production is some of the best I’ve heard on a Wayne project. He made efforts to diversify and experiment with his sound, and that’s what artists should do. That being said, it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Lyrically, this is just mids for Wayne. A little better than his work on C4, and with probably less bangers to show for it from a radio playability standpoint. You don’t have to like it, but you should acknowledge it, because it’s the truth. Tha Carter V just doesn’t feel how an album that we’ve been waiting on for seven years should feel. For example, what if Wayne had done something like make sequels to “Fly In” and “Fly Out?” I’m just spitballing here, and perhaps I’m biased (C2 was my favorite), but holy shit, I would’ve flipped my coffee table if I heard that. In general, I think this album could’ve seriously benefitted from some larger nods to his old projects that brought us all here.

Although we definitely see glimpses of Old Wayne throughout this album, they’re fleeting gems as opposed to the album standard. Tragic though it may be, I think Tha Carter V was the final indication for me that Old Wayne is someone that we will probably never get back. He died with No Ceilings, and a noble death it was, because Jesus Christ that was a fantastic project. But perhaps I’m looking at this the wrong way. The fact remains that a mediocre album for Lil Wayne is a very good album for almost anybody else. I’m not in the habit of comparing artists to other artists as far as workmanship goes, though. If you’re going to put the name “Tha Carter” on something, you better believe I’m going to compare it to the rest of Tha Carter albums. And Tha Carter V does not hold a candle to Tha Carters I-III, simple as that. Still, when you set the bar so high so early in your career, I guess there’s only so much room to grow. It’s become clear that no one is capable of touching that Old Wayne that I’ve referenced so frequently, and that unfortunately now includes Wayne himself. But for 2018, this album was what it needed to be. Despite some obvious shortcomings, it is authentic Weezy to its core, and for that I am thankful. Lil Wayne will always be the best rapper alive in my book.

Glossary of Terms:

  1. Flow (n) : the way the lyrics are delivered; judged separately from the lyrics themselves.
  2. Slap (n/v) : a good beat.
  3. Old Wayne (n) : A proper noun used to denote Lil Wayne from roughly 1999–2009. Going against him is atheist.

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