Remember when Kobe Bryant tweeted about “Carter V season?” Neither do we. It was part of a promotional campaign back in 2014, when “Tha Carter V” was originally set to release that May. Lil Wayne promised the album three more times in 2014, all in vain due to legal battles with Cash Money Records. Nearly four full years later, Wayne and his creativity are no longer being held “prisoner,” as he put it back then. The much anticipated final “Carter” album has arrived.
And somehow, despite all the industry bureaucracy that came before, “Tha Carter V” is in many ways everything we’d expect from the New Orleans rap icon. The 23-song album sees Lil Wayne covering just nearly enough ground to justify its 87-minute runtime, dropping his sly-eyed wordplay onto the bleak trap of today and pop-oriented rap of past “Carter” records.
While the deep, rap-pop balladry of the early 2010s has begun to fall out of style recently, it’s clear that Wayne is still enamored with that kind of production. “Can’t be Broken” and “Famous” are both nostalgic reminders of Wayne’s knack for melodrama. Both piano-driven tales of perseverance, on “Famous,” he raps “superstars don’t sparkle, we high-beam / And you can’t spell fame, without me.”
Likewise, the single “Uproar” is classic Wayne. With seasoned hypeman Swizz Beatz backing him up, “Uproar” is a punchy crowd rocker that sounds fresh out of a time capsule from 2010. The slinky cowbell and punchy kicks sound more fitting on Drake’s “So Far Gone” EP than any rap album from 2018. But Wayne makes it work with wordplay flexing that’s as playful as it is assertive: “What the fuck though? Where the love go? / Five, four, three, two, I let one go.” It’s a hook that doesn’t retain its punch after the sixth time we’ve heard it, but Wayne’s self-revelry is often contagious, like it’s been for years.
Wayne does sound adept at newer sounds as well, though he doesn’t stay there for long. Travis Scott makes an appearance on “Let it Fly,” which sounds like it could’ve been a cut from “Astroworld.” The track’s swirly trap sound is undoubtedly more influenced by Scott than Wayne. But Wayne sprints through his verse with skill, leaving the beat in shambles: “What’s on your mind? / Put the pistol to your mind and blow your mind / Control your mind, mindfreak, no sober mind / I’m so behind.”
“Tha Carter V” isn’t quite the late career mastery that we’ve seen from some rap legends recently, notably A Tribe Called Quest on “We Got it From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service” and JAY-Z on “4:44.” Unlike those, “Tha Carter V” doesn’t push boundaries enough to make many new Weezy fans who didn’t grow up with his previous work and haven’t already bought into his unique style.
But for those who knew “Tha Carter” series as a constant standard of the rap game, the fifth installment is a worthy contribution. It’s a celebration of Wayne on his own terms: sprawling, tireless and always searching for more.