It’s hard to think of a musician who has shaped the sound of modern hip-hop more than Lil Wayne. The rapper helped to pioneer the autotuned vocal effect that is now a pop and rap staple. This new vocal approach, when coupled with Wayne’s punchline-heavy, versatile rap flows and instrumentals drenched in heavy sub-bass and sampled vocal loops, was nothing short of captivating.
However, behind the endless talent, Wayne struggled with drug addiction and spent eight months in federal prison after being arrested with an unregistered firearm in 2007. Wayne’s brief hiatus gave time for the artists signed to his label to carry the baton until his return.
Unfortunately, his reemergence found the artist out of touch with what made him so popular before. After spending most of the 2010s releasing mostly middling work during a lengthy legal battle with his label Cash Money Records over song ownership, it appeared that Lil Wayne’s best days were behind him.
2018 marked the release of Wayne’s highly anticipated legacy album “Tha Carter V,” which had been teased since 2011. “Tha Carter V” ended up serving as an overly-long album that saw Wayne delivering an extensive range of hyper-violent and graphic lyrics that, while often clever, felt like they lacked the conceptual weight of songs like “Dr. Carter” or “Mrs. Officer” from “Tha Carter III.”
With his newest album, “Funeral,” Wayne has escaped the weight that hung over his head with “Tha Carter V” and attempted to get in touch with what made him so well-regarded at the start of the century. The album, which was released Jan. 31, is business as usual for the rapper. The project feels more like a mixtape than a conceptual album. That’s likely because it isn’t meant to be consumed as an album. Wayne has said that most of his albums are just songs he’s recorded during a certain period of time, and the best ones are picked for the final product with very little conceptual thought given to how they work together.
This ultimately works to Wayne’s detriment, as “Funeral” ends up feeling overly long. The 24 songs on the album amount to an hour and 16 minutes. This said, the album packs the staple versatile flows, clever lyrics and head-nodding instrumentals Wayne’s previous album used, but this time, there’s a feeling of freedom. Wayne has returned to the core of what made his 2000s mixtapes like “The Dedication” or “No Ceilings” so beloved.
The album opens with the title track, “Funeral,” which introduces Wayne rapping slow flows over a piano and string section for the first half of the song until the beat builds to pounding sub-base and reverberated choir harmonizing. Wayne blasts high-speed, violent flows that set the tone of the project and signify that this album isn’t a funeral at all, it’s a resurrection.
The next 23 songs feature the same signature recherche flows and autotuned delivery. Songs like “Line Em Up” and “Mahogany” are Wayne in his purest form, sounding akin to his mega hits like “A Milli” or “6 Foot 7 Foot.” Wayne dominates the pounding beats with his extended verses and charisma. Songs like “Dreams” and “Never Mind” implement the alternative rock aesthetic, using heavy electric guitar riffs and distorted vocals that Wayne began experimenting with on his 2010 album “Rebirth.” This time it’s much more refined, coming off as less irate and leaning more into Wayne’s pop tendencies than his heavy metal ones.
Wayne enlists a wide variety of feature artists, from hip-hop heavy hitters like Big Sean, Lil Baby and Takeoff to talented vocalists like Adam Levine and The-Dream as well as the deceased XXXTENTACION. The artists help to provide variation and each one holds their own against the veteran MC. From O.T. Genasis’ choppy, aggressive verse on “T.O.” to 2 Chainz’s opening verse to “Know You Know,” all of them have their own rap personality to inject.
However, many of the problems present in Wayne’s previous decade of music are still present on “Funeral.” The deeper themes and concepts present on many of Wayne’s early works are still nowhere to be found, thus many of the songs feel incredibly homogenous and difficult to tell apart. There are moments of variation, like on “Sights and Silencers (ft. The-Dream),” which comes off as more of a rhythm and blues ballad than a hip-hop anthem, but moments of drastic variation are few and far between.
“Funeral” is proof that Lil Wayne can still rap with the best of them. The pointed, intricate flows and lyrics are just as sharp as ever, despite lacking deeper themes or ideas. Wayne’s use of feature artists helps to break up the monotony, but by the end of the 24-song album, the repetitive nature of the instrumentals and lyrics is inescapable. That said, “Funeral” is a step in the right direction for the artist and shows that Lil Wayne is far from finished.