Lil Wayne New music out now

by Malkia Brands
lil wayne funeral review

With his big legacy album Tha Carter V out of the way, Weezy is back in the booth and cruising, experimenting with an array of styles and a dizzying maze of wordplay.

Lil Wayne has been rapping so long that the protégés of his protégés have protégés. A teen prodigy turned megastar turned cautionary tale turned comeback king, Wayne has led about as many lives as anyone in rap: From Best Rapper Alive to “flash without the fire” and back again. Now, at 37, free of the colossal stakes hanging over his oft-delayed legacy album, Tha Carter V, Wayne has settled in and rediscovered his looseness. An album title like Funeral had fans speculating that this one might be his last, a requiem for his career. That idea seems ridiculous now. Why would one of the great rappers of this millennium retire just as he’s returning to form?

Tha Carter V reestablished Lil Wayne as a force, answering many longstanding questions about his viability as an artist. Released at the conclusion of legal battles with his surrogate father and lifelong mentor Birdman, the album felt like the beginning of a second (or third) act. Wayne has said Carter albums are the only projects that require any specific preparation and focus, and that his other albums and mixtapes are simply born from his marathon recording sessions. With his rebound record finally liberated and the pressure alleviated, Funeral gets back to business as usual for Wayne. Which is to say: funneling what is likely countless hours in the booth spitballing and freestyling into something coherent.

Wayne’s down years were largely the product of a diminishing punchline-to-clunker ratio. He’s still a volume shooter, but like Rockets guard James Harden (who gets a song named after him here), his low-percentage play is offset by his high degree of difficulty, his ability to break the game with crafty maneuvers and extreme skill. On the Mannie Fresh-produced “Mahogany,” which warps lyric fragments from Eryn Allen Kane’s “Bass Song” into jazz scatting, Wayne bends in and out of shape around her interjections. His “Ball Hard” verse is a free-associative word game, bouncing from one character to the next until they begin to blur together. Listening to Wayne on Funeral is a bit like watching a skateboard trick compilation: He wipes out a few times but it’s always in service of some epic stunt and when he does land one, it can be awe-inspiring. Just take a look at this perfectly absurd sequence from the opener: “Drive-bys in a Winnebago/Snipers never hit a baby, crib, or cradle/Sit tomatoes on your head and split tomatoes/From a hundred feet away, now it’s a halo.”

There is a breakneck speed to many of these verses, as if Wayne is so anxious to keep rapping that he can’t wait to get into the next one. The songs where he stops to catch his breath and gather his thoughts tend to venture toward the vaguely introspective, considering isolation, distrust, and love, and they produce most of the album’s sleepier moments. On “Trust Nobody,” which leans into a flatlining Adam Levine hook about not even being able to trust oneself, Wayne sounds both bored and boring. Wayne, The-Dream, and Mike WiLL Made-It should be an ideal trio, but “Sights and Silencers” is an inert ballad with an ill-defined concept. Like most Wayne albums, it is longer than it needs to be and thus prone to dry spells.

For years, it has been easy to find trace amounts of Lil Wayne’s style from pop-rap’s center to well out along the weirder edges of the rap internet. The thought experiment “Dreams” is reminiscent of the best of Auto-Tune Wayne. “I Don’t Sleep” sounds like something Pi’erre Bourne might produce for Playboi Carti, the fluttering flutes and springy synths suiting Wayne’s half-sung cadences well. “Darkside” hedges closer to the sounds of SoundCloud gloomcasters like Trippie Redd, and he stalks through it with whiny tumbling phrases. Wayne mashes through every song with such reckless abandon it’s hard to tell where he draws influence these days.

But it doesn’t take long for a song to get jump-started, and when it does, it’s thrilling to hear him romp about. Wayne raps with a lightning ferocity that will often conceal his more direct revelations. Lyrics about longevity (“I had a Benz when you had a bike”) and his artistic slump (“Safe to say I lost my way but I never lost the lead/Safe to say I lost the brakes but I never lost the speed”) are snuck in behind cartoonishly vivid sequences (“She say I got a vanilla aftertaste/Cut his face, let him use his blood for his aftershave”). There is decidedly less storytelling on this record than Tha Carter V, but there is still plenty of clever and unpredictable writing. “I’m on Cloud 9, nigga, you just on iCloud/I’m a icon, I shine and burn your eyes out,” he raps on “Piano Trap.” Across the hour, Funeral sounds less like last rites for Wayne and more like a resurrection.

https://umg.lnk.to/LWFuneral

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