“The Exodus of Tha Carter V”

Featured in the October issue of The Reporter

October 25, 2018

When Tha Carter V was originally set to release, I was in the worst phase of my Lil Wayne fan-hood. His over the top use of autotune and love for lyrics revolving around oral sex were boring, tired, and dry. I had been witnessing the dissection of my idol for years now. Wayne had struggled to maintain his creative prowess and traded that in for mainstream success. As he climbed up the charts, the distaste in my heart only grew stronger. It reminded me of the latter half of Robert De Niro’s acting career–someone who was so triumphant in their prime taking every opportunity to remind the people of his stature without delivering the performance needed to keep it. It was the perfect storm of events for Wayne. Between battling Birdman for royalties, constantly arising health issues, and conceptual failures such as Rebirth and I Am Not A Human Being I & II, Wayne’s career had hit an apparent stand still.  It was like he was stuck in a phase of attempting to force a change in the landscape of music and reliving the moments to which conceptualized the legend we have come to admire and idolize.

Lil Wayne is single-handedly responsible for my expectations of a rapper in every facet. Between the face tattoos, nonchalant attitude, fashion choices, public drug issues and an overall lack of ability to find a fuck, Lil Wayne is what I conceptualized when thinking of what a rapper should be. Through his infamous interview with Katie Couric where he openly detailed his affliction for codeine, off-hand mentioning by President Obama and his cinematic deposition to which he threatened the prosecutor, Wayne’s rockstar persona speaks for himself. He is the catalyst for the imagery and status of the hip-hop landscape today. Whether it is a rapper describing themselves as a “rockstar” or attempting fashion changes that can only be compared to something that David Bowie could have curated, everything always ends up at Wayne. He is one of a handful of artists whose mythic legend is an actual record and is proven history, unlike with artists like Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., whose legends are mostly comprised of conceptualization of progress they could have made if their lives hadn’t been taken. His legend is a living and breathing record and his success is fact checkable. Lil Wayne is one of a few hip hop artists who has sold over 1 million records, with his smash-success of Tha Carter III. He is a rare case of legend being manifested in facts rather than imagination or delusional fanhood.

There were moments on this record that reminded me both of why Wayne is one of the most idolized artists of my music listening career and simultaneously extremely frustrating. With songs like “Uproar” and “Dope New Gospel,” it was like watching Tiger Woods win the Ryder Cup. At the same time, tracks like “Famous” and “What About Me,” felt more like witnessing Michael Jordan in a Wizards jersey. ”

The tale of Tha Carter V is one of deep-seated fanhood legend. There is a set of albums that have been treated like the Holy Grail by frequent Reddit users. Through the flood of stories detailing the long-lasting court case between Birdman and Lil Wayne over royalties, the release of Tha Carter V made its actualization and even existence mythical. Some people assumed that the entire project was scrapped, that it was released in the form of his collaborations over the last 4 years, or that it was locked in Martin Shkreli’s hard drive while he sat idly in a prison briefly. For years there were whispers and brief statements of its existence but those rumors were silenced by the lack of concrete information on the subject. Every once in a while, there would be a moment of public relations when Birdman would seem apologetic towards the man he once referenced his son for the way he had treated his magnum opus. At the time, Wayne had stated that this would be his retirement album. He had grown tired of the hip-hop landscape and possibly he realized he had climbed every mountain possible for an artist. This was his moment; all of his career had boiled down to this moment and it was stolen from him by Birdman. This surprisingly would end up being the best move for his career, eventually.

In the meantime, between being suspended in uncertainty, Wayne released a flood of lackluster albums and mixtapes. It was like watching a great boxer take one too many tune up fights. Though entertaining, these moments were littered with the material that deterred original fans like myself, from committing to his comeback. It was not until he released the sixth chapter in his Dedication series that the nostalgic feelings came into play.

We live in a time where instrumentals have become more complex than ever before, yet traditional lyricism is no longer the focal point. Much like the punk era of rock, the feeling is more of a necessity than the message. I am not a detractor of this trend, but I did in fact miss the days where a flow would keep me so interested that I would tune the rest of the world out. Dedication 6 provided me with this solace. It was Wayne, rapping at his sharpest since Obama’s first presidential term, over beats which had been completely untouched by talents that were comparable to his. Whether it was him rebranding the “Bank Account” beat, to completely snatching the ownership of the “Roll In Peace” instrumental, one thing was clear: Wayne was back. The joy this moment gave me is indescribable. It was like the first time I watched a Rocky film. I had been watching Wayne get the shit beaten out of him for years by mistreatment and lackluster output and he finally returned with a righteous haymaker. Witnessing Wayne sound hungry for the first time in seven years was truly fulfilling. That was the moment that I realized two things: Wayne was back to being the best at rapping in the world and that I needed Tha Carter V.

Fast forward six months and I had started to hear whispers of Tha Carter V’s release. I try to be coy to rumors since I have been done wrong so many times by the music industry that I do not fully commit to a release until I see a pre-order or the artist announces it himself. When I finally saw that video of Wayne in his element, a skatepark, announcing the release of Tha Carter V it finally started to hit me. This album, which has haunted the rap industry for four years, was being released. This was the last album I truly wanted that had outlived my adolescence. Everyone else had fulfilled my hunger at some point during the last four years and it was finally Wayne’s opportunity.

The night had finally come. It was Wayne’s birthday and I had rounded up nine of my friends to listen to the release of the record. I cannot really describe the feeling of downloading the album on my phone and finally having it all to myself, but it is one that I will never forget. This was an album that not only meant so much to me but had outlived so many stages in my life that I was astounded that the current version of myself was the one that would finally consume this musical meal.

Now, let’s get into the album. Though the album is the length of your everyday blockbuster film, sitting at roughly a hour and forty-five minutes, it is an event to listen to it. The album is not one to be casually consumed. Through Wayne’s Ivy League level lyrics and his maximization of content, this was a lot to consume at once. The length is the worst and best part of the record. Through not being concise and letting the river flow so violently, Wayne has given us enough content to satisfy our four year hunger. The downside is that there is diverse content from different times in his career that the consistency is sometimes watered down. As Wayne himself has detailed, tracks like “Mona Lisa” were recorded in 2014, while “Dark Side of the Moon” was recorded this year. The timetable of the records conception leads to a diverse bag of sounds; some which sound extremely dated and others that are a stark reminder of the genius of Dwayne Carter. I personally have never catered to new trends, I enjoy musical stylings of what is relevant now but I make it a point to trace the lineage of how we got here. That is why the ancient aspects of Tha Carter V really didn’t matter. At the core of my fanhood of Wayne is strictly lyricism. The beat is merely a necessity for Wayne to hone his craft. I couldn’t really care less if it sounds dated or fresh off the shelf: I am here for the timeless craft of Lil Wayne.

Initially planned for release in 2014, Lil Wayne’s much anticipated album was released on September 28, 2018.

The obvious difference between this record and his other Carters is the lack of mainstream radio hits. With the first Carter he had the smash “Go DJ”, subsequently Tha Carter II had a multitude of radio play from “Fireman” to “Hustler Musik,” Tha Carter III contained the timeless hits like “A Milli” and “Got Money,” and finally Tha Carter IV is responsible for my personal favorite of his mainstream content “6 Foot 7 Foot.”Due to the unconventional release of the record, the content of this record was initially and completely up to interpretation. No one was bullied into liking these records by the radio or popular opinion. The thoughts formed by people during the initial consumption was completely objective. That is why there was a demographic of people who found the album to lack the “punch” of his other records; this was a Carter released when Wayne did not rule the world. The audience had to figure out their opinions alone, which can make audiences uncomfortable. We live in a generation where public opinion, culture relevance, and commercial success are all one in the same.

There were moments on this record that reminded me both of why Wayne is one of the most idolized artists of my music listening career and simultaneously extremely frustrating. With songs like “Uproar” and “Dope New Gospel,” it was like watching Tiger Woods win the Ryder Cup. At the same time, tracks like “Famous” and “What About Me,” felt more like witnessing Michael Jordan in a Wizards jersey. Wayne is not acting like a caricature of nostalgia of his pre-prison career and that is why this record is so infectious. Wayne’s classic ego is all over the record, while his self-awareness of his positioning in hip-hop today is extremely apparent. The record doesn’t scream of desperation rather a staunch reminder: Wayne is one of the greatest rappers of all-time. Much like when Jay-Z released 4:44, my favorite record of that year, it was a necessary reminder that the gatekeepers of the genre are still extremely relevant and aging like fine wine. This is not a perfect record, nor is it the best Carter, but that does not take away from my enjoyment of it. It is a mixed bag of autotune, quick punchlines, and lyrical confidence.

The exodus of Tha Carter V is the best thing that could have happened to Lil Wayne. This process was the second point at which he was made apparently uncomfortable with the position he was in, the first being his infamous prison sentence in Rikers at the peak of his popularity. The difference was that this cathartic journey ended up revitalizing his hunger for success, which is nearly impossible for the artist who has checked every box for our current requirements of a legend. He is the standard for success in hip-hop; when artists have dreams of a fruitful and lengthy career, the tail which they are chasing is that of Lil Wayne. This record, hopefully, has put Wayne on the path of commercial and critical success in the latter half of his career. We have never really seen someone of his magnitude completely retire without the accompaniment of death. This process knocked Wayne into a position that is foreign to him musically: adversity. His career has been as effortless as his creative process, so with the infringement of his success by Birdman, it put him in a position where he has to climb the ladder to grab the crown again. I can only hope this is the beginning of his conquest.

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