Guardian of the Rap is our monthly rap column where our staff writer covers all the rap that’s fit to print. This month’s edition covers a single album, one we've been waiting on for seven years: Tha Carter V.
The smoke’s far from clear: Wayne got a fraction of his millions, perhaps more of his relationship with his surrogate father in the fallout. But fret not… we finally have it. C5. The lighter flick. At one point, the intended final chapter of Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.’s career. Off the shelf, out into the algorithm, to God be the glory.
I have more questions than answers, but there’s no absence of the latter. I’ll begin with the context of Uncle Bob: remember The Carter documentary? (An essential watch for anyone infatuated by music, period.) I recall a snippet from the first act where Wayne describes himself “trippin’,” shooting himself by accident as a boy, then shouting out a childhood friend who survived a similar moment. The details become negligible, he’s here “making beaucoup money,” and Tha Carter III is on the verge of going platinum in a week, unbeknownst to him and Tez and Mack Maine and anyone else. Pair this footnote with several anecdotes of his experience from over a decade later, with a quiet Billboard rollout as icing: We get mentions of Uncle Bob, the white cop who took Wayne to the ER as the Black cops leapt over his body to raid Wayne’s mother’s house. Despite being from the 17th Ward, Wayne says he doesn’t encounter racism or even think it exists, a state attributed to the “blessings” of his fame. (This same man made “Georgia...Bush” and “Tie My Hands” and these are only two examples of his understanding.)
But we learn that fateful day was, indeed, a suicide attempt. He hinted on “Mad” with Solange, he hinted on “London Roads,” but on “Let It All Work Out,” over an older Sampha sample, he spends the final verse of Tha Carter V describing exactly how that moment occurred, how terrified he was, and how God “sold him another life” to become what he is today. (I’ll spare the triggering details for anyone reeling over the decision to hear them out.) In the Billboard interview, Mack Maine said Wayne was finally ready to say something, to call it what it was for anyone else going through it. Even Wayne’s mother, Ms. Cita, was never sure and never asked. It’s an answer, one of the answers behind a figure so polarizing, influential, indispensable to rap; one of the reasons I rap the way I do! Like, fuck a hook sometimes! Rap for five minutes and black out the whole time! Take somebody else’s shit and make it your own!
I’m afraid we’ve started at the end, and I’m going all over the board, so fuck witcha boy or logout. Unapologetic dweebery ahead, many questions await us.
I take immense issue with anyone who says Tha Carter V is Lil Wayne returning to form; nigga, no. BIG cap! In a post-C3 universe, with every legendary or great-adjacent mixtape and album mostly behind him, the Wayne algorithm’s more predictable than most give it credit for. Remember it took ’til 2018 for the legal smoke to clear, and Wayne’s writhed in artistic entrapment for the back end of his career even as he manages to pull out the good feature, the No. 1 Billboard placement-by-proxy and the freestyle that makes us pine for The Old Wayne.
C5 isn’t a return-to-form because he spent two discs worth of Dedication 6 rapping his motherfuckin’ ass off, especially on the Reloaded disc! And outside of his “Hip-Hopper” remix, we didn’t praise that second disc enough! Overall, the nigga raps better on D6: Reloaded than he does on C5 and that’s not up for debate; therefore, considering how C5 lands somewhere between shelved and updated, it’s impossible to draw a clear conclusion on Wayne’s trajectory unless we know which records were recorded when in his life. But alas, my lyrical bar was high even though post-C3 Carter albums are more about grandiose executions of pop crossovers with the handful of amazing lyrical exercises thrown in.
C5 Wayne is still a captivating MC, but he’s not as consistent. If you give him 87 minutes, something will be fucked up along the way, and I mean that in every connotation. I give more points for how consistently he sounds inspired by his work, even when he does the thing where he raps aight on his best beats and spazzes out on the most mid-grade/reggie shit he gets. (See “Demon” for the former, see “Open Safe” for the latter.) Nonetheless, the album maintains the epic quality the series is known for.
The fake tracklists, though? Where Christina Milian had a nigga worried, Cory Gunz had me relieved. Neither appear, but Ashanti and Nivea and Mack Maine do. Hearing Ms. Cita speak is a beautiful gesture. Wayne even got his daughter Reginae (Nae Nae!) on that “Famous” record, which is another beautiful gesture! (Cue The Carter clip where she raps and asks for her father to be around more… Christ, I see why Wayne sued to keep that shit unreleased...)
On the flip, X is on here! How old is that one? I think the question “Why is this here?” holds several obvious answers: His murder impacted many folks, his trespasses were overshadowed by that impact as well as his potential, and most niggas don’t care (enough… at all) about what he did. And on the first song song, which is pretty good? Cue the new Boosie meme I’ve seen this week!
How is Jacques Webster on C5, but Aubrey Graham is absent? In other Young Money-related inquiries, I think Nicki sounded great on “Dark Side of the Moon.” I felt myself resisting to like it a bit, which is unlike me for her, but not as much for her vocal performances. This was a good one.
I’m sure hella people pointed this out, but it’s funny how “Uproar” is getting the single-ish boost when Wayne said he didn’t like “Special Delivery” on “Green Ranger” and shit! The one with Jermaine! I bet this one would slap live, though, and I don’t mind the Swizz yell reappearing every now and again.
“Mona Lisa” pissed me off and I’m sure I’m not alone. Both them niggas rapped! Is this gkmc Kendrick with the double-layered verse takes? Alas, issa Eminem song somehow. Like, structurally, you know? The beat’s just… soundtrack-ish. And K.dot went FULL “Kim” on us with the back end of that verse, G, he high-pitched hollered and I was disappointed in how this came to be.(If Marshall stumbles upon this and sneak disses me, tell him to actually, ya know… pick at my insecurities the way he couldn’t do the niggas of my ilk. Also, I have a contingency plan for this, my talents do not end at this media shit.)
The timeline gassed “Dope Niggaz” because it tried its damndest to break up the six-ish song drought C5 started to hit a bit. It’s not that it isn’t a cool record, I just think the sample made everyone pine for nostalgia even when the record’s content was just alright. They both sounded good on it.
If you said the deposition clip from the “Hittas” intro as it was happening, you’re certified. (I did.)
I guarantee “Start This Shit Off Right” would’ve slapped on the radio about 13 years ago. And when I realized this belonged right around there, I questioned how old the record actually is. Robin Thicke belongs on here, this record belongs in the Thicke/Wayne canon.
Somewhere along the line, I wondered how many “talk shit/asshole” combinations Wayne’s hit by now. It’s a lot.
Somewhere else along the line, I thought of how dynamic Wayne’s relationship to trauma truly is. “Let It All Work Out” also had a line about not beating women, which made me think of the Emmett Till punchline. Then I thought of the rape bar I heard on D5 somewhere. Then I thought of how “she wanna fuck Weezy, she wanna rape Wayne” always felt so casually off on “Got Money.” Then I thought of The Carter doc again, the scene where Wayne tells Lil Twist of how he was raped at 11 as he riles Twist up to lose his virginity as a Young Money member. “I’ma do you like Baby and ’nem did me! I’ll never forget that day…”
It makes one think of how Wayne’s had such a knack for making the most horrific, traumatic events sound gleefully cinematic. Remember “3 Peat?” Wayne rapped about shootin’ a nigga grandmother up, kidnapping his baby and fucking his baby mother, and that shit was THE HARDEST SHIT EVER at the age of 13! (An Aside: This past Saturday, I went to a new barber. He finished his previous client up as C5 played. A little Black boy, the client’s son, was fast asleep awaiting his father to escort them both out. As he slept, the adults discussed the best of the Carter series, and the barber mentioned how family friendly C3 was, how one could play it for their kids and even their grandmother. I quickly urged both against it, recalling the infamous imagery. The laughter was good. The little Black boy remained asleep.)
If the hitman carried out his orders on that tour bus, where would rap be right now?
If C5 really is it for his career, what the fuck will we do without Dr. Carter to the rescue?
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.