By Jared Graf
Assistant Arts & Features Editor
A little more than a year after delivering the long overdue and highly anticipated fifth installment of “Tha Carter” series, Lil Wayne returns in rare form and takes fans to his funeral.
“Funeral” is the 13th studio album from the rap veteran – but his first that sounds like a mixtape front to back.
Elegant piano keys and Weezy’s signature lighter flick give way to relaxed vocals on the album’s self-titled introduction. The beat, along with Wayne’s tone and pitch, progresses into a bombastic, yet cinematic opener for what seems like a promising project.
However, less than five songs in, it’s apparent there’s no clear direction nor concept – just 24 tracks worth of mundane, disjointed metaphors and punchlines that feel regrettably expected from Wayne as of recently.
“Mama Mia” showcases a flow and instrumental that sounds as if it were born in a “Dedication 6” session. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either. The rhymes are mindless and seemingly disposable, leaving the song with limited replay value.
Even with a star-studded cast on “I Do It,” Wayne fails to contribute anything exciting or worthwhile. Lil Baby sounds unenthused, while Big Sean is on damage control – salvaging what he can on the hook.
The Adam Levine assisted “Trust Nobody” is Weezy and the Maroon 5 frontman’s attempt at creating a radio hit to add to their vast catalogue, but the duo falls short. What could have been a single in 2013 sounds out of place on “Funeral,” as Wayne’s meaningless verses add more disarray to an already cluttered project.
Lines such as, “If you out there in the streets and you’ve been looking for me / When you find me, tell me, ‘I said I’ve been looking for me,’” are confusing, nonsensical, and crowd an otherwise decent track.
Aside from some of the dull lyrics, Wayne’s main issue is the production – put simply it’s unappealing. Songs like “Clap for Em,” “T.O.,” and “Bing James” are one-dimensional, outdated, and feel as if they’ve been created a hundred times before.
“Bing James” is backed by a half-hearted verse from Jay Rock and production so obscure and unbearable it makes for more of an ear sore than anything else.
In fact, it’s the first time Jay Rock actually sounds … bad.
Wayne is able to redeem himself with his efforts on “Bastard (Satan’s Kid),” which displays some of the most intriguing wordplay on the album. The track’s concept is original and well executed, but the bass-heavy beat just doesn’t work for Weezy.
Yes, Lil Wayne can still rap. He proves that throughout the project on multiple songs without hooks or choruses.
But anyone who watched his Drink Champs interview can attest to the fact Tunechi is extremely – at times painfully – out of touch. He’s reached a point in his career where he needs guidance selecting beats, and that’s perfectly OK.
Two of the album’s best songs, “Piano Trap” and “Mahogany,” were unsurprisingly produced by long-time Weezy collaborator Mannie Fresh. The latter features a beat reminiscent of “A Milli” and happens to be the most thrilling song on the album.
Amongst fast-paced wordplay and seemingly endless puns, Wayne exerts a “No Ceilings” type of energy, spitting bars like “you Shady like ‘8 Mile,’” and “I’m a Libra, I weigh it out,” with a certain bravado that’s absent from most other songs.
“Piano Trap” features an ignorant, hard-hitting hook that doubles as a cry for help – one of the project’s many warning signs muffled by triumphant production and flawless beat changes.
“I pop me a perc and I smoke me some loud / Oh my God, I’m getting personal now,” and “I’m bout to sip on this syrup til I drown / Oh my God, I’m getting thirstier now” are difficult to hear from anyone, especially someone of Wayne’s stature – but he delivers them in such a mesmerizing way, his dark distress signals become easily diluted.
Fans who watched Lil Wayne’s aforementioned Drink Champs interview were talking about his ‘Percocet’ diamond-encrusted pendant and strung out appearance – making the dreadful reality of an actual funeral conceivable. Hopefully what seems like a lack of inspiration doesn’t turn into something much worse.
On a lighter note, Weezy sounds comfortable and at ease doing what he loves on the enjoyable, more laid-back tracks “Stop Playin With Me” and “Never Mind.”
Wayne even channels his rock side on “Get Outta My Head” as he screams alongside the late XXXTENTACION on the hook. The experimental track marks the fourth collaboration between the two artists, and finds Wayne addressing voices in his head while trading lines with the deceased punk-rap pioneer.
XXX’s contribution is composed of vocals previously released in 2017, and although it’s not new material, it does blend well with Wayne’s sound.
I think “Funeral” could have been what Wayne envisioned, had it been kept to the best 12 or 15 tracks. If Weezy linked up and stuck with a single producer like Mannie Fresh – or even StreetRunner – for an entire project, he would have the potential to make some of the most timeless, memorable music of what is already a legendary career.
But he doesn’t have to conform nor listen to anyone’s standards, he’s undoubtedly earned every right to do what he wants, the way he wants.
All things considered, the album could have been worse. Not many artists can remain relevant for nearly three decades and continue to have an output like Wayne.
There are certainly moments he shines on the album – but where there’s sun, there’s shade.
You can’t win them all, but Weezy sure puts up a good fight.