Tha Carter V was delayed due to some legal dispute against Cash Money Records and his mentor Bryan “Birdman” Williams, a man Lil Wayne affectionately referred to as his father. The album was initially announced it was finished in 2014 but for four years, it was denied right to be released by his father figure. It almost certainly wouldn’t have been as rewarding or revealing as the belated final product that a humbled Wayne presented on his 36th birthday, after the four most trying years of his career.
Lil Wayne is back on center stage, back on top and that’s all that matters. The album cover photo features a photo of a young Wayne with his mother – Jacida. She looms protectively over the whole album, tearfully narrating its opening track and filling in Wayne’s biography in interludes. Obviously, she’s is not the only woman in his life who plays a prominent role. His eldest daughter – Reginae, capably sells a bittersweet hook on “Famous,” and his ex-fiancée – Nivea graces his redemption tale “Dope New Gospel”. The Lil Wayne who appears here sounds chastened, questioning his current standing in the rap lexicon. In reference to his birthday on “Don’t Cry,” he says “I am not number one, it’s true/I am 9-27-82. Moving on to the album tracks, one of Wayne’s Young Money students – Nicki Minaj, croons alongside him on the yearning “Dark Side of the Moon,” giving the most radiant R&B performance of her career. The late, controversial emo rapper – XXXTENTACION, adds a pained squall to “Don’t Cry,” which is one of the album’s highlight. In “Let It Fly,” Travis Scott fades into the background. Kendrick Lamar joins in “Mona Lisa,” a fascinating lyrical fantasy about a woman who cheats on her boyfriend with the man of the hour. Kendrick Lamar brings in sauce into the track by breaking out a dozen different voices as he dramatizes the breakdown of jealous boyfriend driven to the edge by his partner’s obsession with Weezy. At the very least, it gives Wayne a chance to drop one of his ridiculous great punchlines: “They started French kissing so he didn’t see moi.”
Throughout, Lil Wayne reminds us that he’s a 36-year-old father, not the eternally young horndog who once sung “I just want to fuck every girl in the world” at the height of his fame. On the final track, “Let It All Work Out,” the presence of his mother, daughter, and ex-fiancée foreshadow the uncommonly personal tone of the album’s final stretch. This track shines new light on one of the tentpoles of Lil Wayne’s backstory: the self-inflicted gunshot wound he survived at age 12, which he’d always maintained was an accident. Now he confirms it wasn’t. “Too much was in my conscience to be smart about it, I aim where my heart was pounding,” he raps. This showcases that it’s a powerful reveal, one he in effect waited years to share until he had found the right happy ending to frame it around, and it closes the record on a breath-stopping note. But the story also reads as a metaphor for Lil Wayne’s recent legal battles against his “father” Birdman. His ethos has always been to make music or die trying.
In past years, Lil Wayne wanted to be “Famous” – the title of one of the album’s track that shares with his daughter Reginae Carter. He hungered to be the biggest star in the world, and obviously, he succeeded. Now, he just wants to rap with fire and passion to a public that still loves him. “Thank God Weezy back, order is restored, all is right with the world,” he says on “Dope New Gospel.”
The most surprising takeaway from Tha Carter V, “Let It All Work Out” turns out that Wayne still has music so vital in him. It’s that after all these years, there’s still more to learn about him.