Dwayne Carter, better known by his stage name Lil Wayne, is a man of contradictions. His commitment to being a positive role model and supportive father is often brought into conflict with his troubled past and hedonistic lifestyle. What is special about Carter’s music is that it charts his struggle to overcome his inner demons and a tough childhood while also coping with the trappings of fame. Merging the sacred and the profane, Carter’s music is distinctly human in that it shows us all sides, good and bad, of his past and present.
While artists are often painted in broad strokes, categorized as either angels or demons, Carter straddles this characterization. In fact, on his last album Tha Carter V, he cleverly sang on the track “Demon,” “Found a halo in her trash but she don’t talk about her past.”
His new effort, Funeral, is disappointing in that it departs from this confessional introspection. His one-liners are not nearly as punchy or memorable as the ones found in his earlier work. Granted, the bar is high. This is, after all, the rapper that coined the term “Real G’s move in silence like lasagna.” Oft the quote chosen by seniors for their cringey high-school yearbook, its popularity belies the fact that it is an incredibly clever line and a testament to Carter’s singular ability to weave double entendres and sharp one-liners into radio-ready hits.
Despite the overwhelming lack of cohesion and plot, and sometimes underwhelming lyrics, there are a few moments of Carter’s writing that stand out on the album. On the first track, he opens saying, “Welcome to the funeral / Closed casket as usual.” It alludes to the themes of death, demons, and darkness that populate much of Carter’s recent output.
One need not look further than the track “Bastard (Satan’s Kid),” in which Carter raps, “Monsters in my closet was feds taking baby pick” and “Daddy used to treat my mama like they never made a kid.” Carter brushes off the horrors of his past as ordinary occurrences, demonstrating how his tough childhood hardened him into the superstar he is today.
This rags to riches story is a major motif of Carter’s work. On “Piano Trap,” he raps, “Poverty to penitentiary straight to paradise.” The line comes after a beat switch, the sonic and lyrical shifts reflecting a third important theme of his work—rebirth.
The underdog role is one inhabited by many in hip-hop’s upper echelons. Look no further than last year’s Grammy Award nominees for best rap album—Pusha T’s Daytona and Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap. Unfortunately, Carter’s current effort ultimately falls flat compared to these works.
“Mama Mia” has a spastic, industrial beat that belongs on a JPEGMAFIA song. “Trust Nobody,” on the other hand, has a forgettable pop-rap instrumental with high-pitched squealing from Alvin and the Chipmunks’ best-known disciple, Adam Levine. Hard-hitting trap beats on “I Do It,” “Not Me,” and “Ball Hard” play to Carter’s strengths yet lack a single original sound. While highlights on Tha Carter V, including “Took His Time” and “Demon,” sample gospel vocals that lend emotion and grandeur to the tracks, the highlights on this effort sound like any other popular rap music currently being produced.
Although the album doesn’t fully showcase Carter’s lyrical talents and certainly doesn’t impress sonically, the low point is definitely the posthumous XXXTentacion feature on the track “Get Outta My Head.” It is needlessly provocative given XXXTentacion’s past, and references to brain control and a new world order will leave listeners rolling their eyes.
A bright spot arrives near the end of the album on the track “Darkside.” Carter raps over a haunting, minimal piano melody that sees him delivering nihilistic lyrics about living fast and dying young. “I got the Holy Ghost in my Backwood” toes the line between sacrilege and devotion in typical Lil Wayne fashion. Carter sees God even in his own flaws and the vices of others.
All things considered, Carter’s latest project doesn’t reach the high bar set by his previous work. Yes, it touches on his signature dark themes. Yes, there are some songs that are infectious and radio-ready thanks to guest appearances by Big Sean, Lil Baby, and 2 Chainz, but it lacks the plot development of some of his best work, such as the romantic tragedy “Mona Lisa” on Tha Carter V.
On the final track “Wayne’s World,” he says confidently, “Tony Montana said this world is yours / I said of course it’s Wayne’s world.” That being said, even Tony Montana makes mistakes. It may be Wayne’s world, but on this album, he missed the mark.
Featured Image by Republic Records