Lil Wayne is Alive at His Funeral

The firebrand known as Weezy returns and Steven Louis has a few words about his newest full-length.
By    February 6, 2020

We’re tougher than Nigerian hair. Please support Passion of the Weiss by subscribing to our Patreon.

Steven Louis is still encouraging you to vote for Bernie Sanders.

Somewhere around the beginning of the scorched earth heat check that was the Drought and Dedication mixtapes, Lil Wayne declared and affirmed that he was the Best Rapper Alive. In the decade and a half that has followed, the man has sustained his prolific rap career and, thankfully, remained alive. Wayne’s been afforded a long time to think about these things, light-years when considering that he doesn’t abide by time like the rest of us human beings do. But here we are, in 2020, and the 37-year-old father of four is on a new record called “Stop Playin With Me,” howling out, “closed my eyes last night and had a dream I was dying/when I woke up I was surprised, and I hate surprises/I hate to love that love-to-hate but when it’s all synchronizing/it feel just like the flames have died up in this cold state of mind.” It’s hard not to feel the exhaustion in his bluesy, robotic delivery, especially arduous to shake off in the wake of another generational legend’s passing.

Wayne’s output is a connective tissue for hip-hop and its commercial existence. His career explains how we got here, why we wear what we wear, why things sound the way they sound. Wayne was perhaps the most notable emcee to unleash deluges of free, unlicensed music at a time when that was considered insane. He’s been consistently delivering multisyllabic rhymes and off-beat autotune wails in equal measure while trends have rapidly fluctuated. He was the first famous person I can remember with face tattoos. But while rap culture continues to dominate every pixel on every screen, and the music’s quirks and foundations are co-opted across genres, Wayne has spent much of his recent years fighting to be heard. One can only imagine the toll that took

Lil Wayne reacts to Uncle Bob's...
Lil Wayne reacts to Uncle Bob's passing
a prison sentence served at Rikers Island; a malicious break from Birdman, his mentor and paternal influence; a lengthy, clumsy delay over his studio album Tha Carter V; threats of retirement over feeling “defenseless and mentally defeated.”

Funeral is his first album after a lengthy and emotional settlement with Cash Money Records. It wasn’t endlessly delayed or in crisis, and from what we can understand, there were no major label interferences. It feels like his own release, which is what Wayne finally deserves as an artist. Much of it is uptempo, joyous and weird. But the energy he reflects on the project’s more challenging stuff sounds as if it was bottled at the source of anguish. Perhaps he’s best equipped to reflect only when he’s free and back on top. Funeral feels fresh, buzzing with competitive energy, and for this reason, “Stop Playin With Me” feels alive despite such grim pontification on Weezy’s part.  He wants back in the game, eager to dominate any available space. Music for the present moment, delivered from the eternal alien.

“I love the difficulty of trying to fit in with what’s going on today, making sure I sound likable,” he recently told Vibe. “Having to remind myself that it’s not about what it was back then. Going to the studio now, for me, is awesome.”

So yeah, Wayne’s really really trying again, and it’s lovely to see. He tries his ever-flexible hand at new strains of pop and emo trap, and he’s using contemporary slang. None of it sounds stale like the valleys of Carter V were. Back like he never left, astonishing considering how much has changed. The tone itself is inconsistent, but Wayne seems genuinely stoked to try each and every strain of contemporary music. He sounds rejuvenated, spirited as ever, as he spills out absurd non-sequiturs and punctilious six-syllable rhyme patterns. He’s still the most charming, clever person with a microphone:

Your crocodile’s toothless/titty-fuck your baby mama, she breastfeed your child while I do it” on “Mama Mia”

“Bitch I’mma dog, I turn to a werewolf/got Siri fuckin’ Alexa” on “Wild Dogs”

David Yurman, Erick Sermon, Pee-wee Herman, Tina Turner/buy it furnished, eat Italian, shop in Paris, drive a German” on “Ball Hard”

Call the slimes, let’s get lit/party time, excellent!” on the aptly-titled “Wayne’s World”

To anyone born after 1990, Wayne is history, modern greatness personified. Time is arbitrary and relative: in the way that Kobe was bigger than Jordan to a specific, certain cohort, the Golden Era of hip-hop is limited to the legend inherited. We were babies when Ready to Die dropped, dumb idiot little kids during the peak years of Tupac, Jay-Z, Wu-Tang and OutKast. Wayne was the thing we experienced in real time, the legend before our eyes. Whether he’s rapping about doing something obscene to the pussy or rapping about wanting to die and feeling loveless, the point is that he’s rapping passionately again. That should mean a lot to everyone, but especially to those who have championed him as the “GOAT” despite his confusing position in the 2010s.

The album is way too long, but unlike Culture II or Scorpion, it has a curious and hyper energy that makes it all endearing. It’s an experimental, manic dump of ideas. Maybe it’s cabin fever. Maybe it’s a complete reawakening as a grizzled, vengeful adult. Maybe it’s because he’s merely visiting this galaxy, and wants to pad the stats while he’s still with us on Earth. Some songs work, some don’t. I’m never going to revisit the Adam Levine song, but I damn sure will bump the Big Freedia one (“Clap For Em.”) It feels like Wayne will burn out and shrivel up if he doesn’t get all this out. It also feels like in Wayne’s world, everything rhymes, and everything is happening around you all at once. Weezy’s rap performance on “Mahogany” is prime, comfortable material with Mannie Fresh on the boards, some of his most compelling but accessible rap since “6 Six Foot 7 Foot.” But before you can anticipate even another chuckle or *lighter flick* coming, Wayne is already on to “Mama Mia,” in which he breathlessly flows over a lo-fi electronic backdrop that could score both an amateur high school hoop mixtape or a garish Samsung commercial.

You can damn near imagine City Girls verses rolling over the “Clap For Em” beat. There’s a very very dad joke about Colin Kaepernick that might still make teenagers crack up. Weezy feel indefatigable like a dunking Russell Westbrook, but by the next song, he instead feels like James Harden getting blocked on a step-back jumper. There are shout-outs to Sinead O’Connor, Mystikal, Eric Snow, Marc Anthony and Ray Lewis. Adderall, Cialis and LSD are all consumed in the same verse. XXXTentacion yells after muttering something about new world order. So, everything is happening, and it all still rhymes. Wayne’s songwriting has always been chaotic, but the misadventures and thematic leaps on Funeral are wild even by his high standards. 

Weezy deploys a lot of repetition on Funeral, fashioning choruses out of short, weighty sequences. He’ll go eight bars, then repeat it; two minutes later, the listener just realized that was the hook. It’s a flex, offering another chance to digest just how much is spinning around the artist’s head. He can deliver it over grown-man chipmunk-soul on “James Harden,” then seamlessly bring the same flow to dark cloud rap on “Wild Dogs,” then onto the timeless brass and snare backdrops of Mannie Fresh on “Piano Trap.” Wayne is trying to fit absolutely all of his creative energy, his fidgety power and veritable influence, into this project. Weezy rapping for more than an hour like it’s his last joint. Some may see it as bloated or extra, considering that Funeral is stretched for 76 minutes. But it should be seen as a meaningful rededication to the thing that Dwayne Carter is best programmed for. It’s a reason to engender high expectations for the next release, which is the best way to ensure that his mainstream standing doesn’t drop so precipitously again. It’s a reason for Wayne himself to wake up from the dream, still breathing and able to construct rhymes over music.

“There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best.” That’s a Joe DiMaggio quote, but Wayne, an obsessive sports fan himself, seems to view legacy in that same manner. In the America I yearn for, there are precisely zero children who don’t know Wayne verses by heart. But that’s the thing about the “Best Rapper Alive.” There are people people old enough to claim that they know things, even alleged fans of hip-hop and contemporary music who are alive right now, at the same time as Lil Wayne, and don’t recognize his title. Wayne finally has the opportunity and the energy to remind everyone living that he’s still better than his competition. That should, in turn reinvigorate all the products of his various influences, otherwise known as all the rappers worth listening to. That’s a Funeral worthy of celebration. Call the slimes, party time indeed.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!