ALBUM REVIEW: Lil Wayne's alien exterior cracks under human emotions.
The title Funeral has a few meanings that parallel to Wayne’s career. It could represent the end of an era, the beginning of a new one, fueling speculation that Wayne might put the microphone down once and for all. But there’s also an eerie feeling that lingers behind the title in wake of Kobe Bryant’s death. The “Mamba Mentality” is reflected in Wayne’s work ethic -- he’s known for long studio sessions where he banks in several songs per night. Wayne, however, is 5’5” (5’6” with them Balencis) and wouldn’t be able to make it in the NBA. There’s an argument to be made that Wayne embodied the same work ethic in the studio that Kobe Bryant applied to everything he did, whether it’s basketball, writing, or even his short-lived rap career. Perhaps that’s what makes the numerous tributes so effective, be it the twenty-four second moment of silence on track eight or the album’s strategic length of twenty-four tracks.
Though many critiques can be made about Wayne on Funeral, I promise you it’s incredibly nice to hear Wayne back on his bullshit without dropping cringeworthy, lazy bars about his sex life. Funeral brings back elements of Mixtape Weezy -- maybe not peak mixtape Weezy but he’s free-flowing, scrapping the concept of song structure and going head-first on every beat. Ever since the Cash Money movement sparked in the late nineties, Mannie Fresh is the one producer whose track record with Wayne remains near flawless. Once again, they reunite with Mannie flipping vocals from Eryn Allen Kane’s “Bass Song” into a smooth, soulful, Southern banger that brings out one of Wayne’s most spirited performances. Followed by “Mama Mia,” Funeral kicks off on a high-note, flexing his prowess as one of the best technical rappers to grace a microphone.
Wayne’s strongest moments happen without the assistance of outside parties. “I Do It” with Big Sean and Lil Baby was a safe choice for a single but that doesn’t really mean much when the concept of that collaboration sounds better on paper than in execution. The same can be said for “Bing James” with Jay Rock, especially considering the last time they worked together was on “All My Life (In The Ghetto).” Luckily Jay Rock still strikes at a high caliber, easily outshining Wayne on the song, despite the production sounding like a throwaway from I Am Not A Human Being. This doesn’t mean that all of the collaborations have gone to waste. “Know You Know” ft. 2 Chainz is a high point in the project with the “Rich As F*ck” duo linking back up to deliver another banger. “I Don’t Sleep” simultaneously has Wayne and Takeoff showcasing their chemistry on a song that can easily soundtrack this summer’s next pool party.
Despite the abundance of guests appearances, Wayne’s still in Wayne’s World -- that’s as evident as ever. But it appears that Wayne’s World has finally allowed external influences to seep in. “The new era -- they’re the change. They’re the upgrade for me because I have to implicate it now. I gotta implicate to what I’m doin’,” Wayne told Elliot Wilson on the latest episode of Car Test. “Maybe that’s the answer to ‘how do you stay when different eras change.’” Again, Wayne’s still stuck in a world of his own but he isn’t necessarily stuck in his ways. “Since I don’t listen to nothing’ else but my damn self because I was working so damn hard, I believe what does seep into my ear from the new world was worthy. However you got into my ear, it’s working.’”
Maybe that’s why we’re on the third XXXTENTACION and Lil Wayne collaboration that no one asked for. Or why some of his production choices have remnants of the Soundcloud era of rap that he ultimately birthed. Even an artist like Young Thug, whose ear for production is unlike anyone else, has appeared to influence Wayne to a degree. If not a direct influence, at least he inspired Wayne to further push boundaries. But even as Weezy expands into unfamiliar turf, his sheer aptitude for the art of rap still brings it home -- sometimes literally. Working with Mannie Fresh is one aspect of his tribute to NOLA but “Clap For Em” has Wayne going back to the regional sounds of New Orleans Bounce.
There's a simple beauty behind Funeral. How it served as a reawakening of sorts, a validation of Wayne’s key thesis: rap is his lifeblood and he does it better than most. Consider that he hit a steep decline following his release from prison which lingered throughout the 2010s amid his ongoing legal battle with Cash Money. The man once heralded the “Greatest Rapper Alive” wasn’t living up to that title for a long time. Now, Wayne is rapping with a passion once again, and he’s back to being the free-flowing, idiosyncratic, conversational rapper hitting you with non-sequiturs for punchlines and sometimes more information than one asked. True, as much as Lil Wayne has fathered an entire generation, there are moments where it feels like he’s taken a page or two from some of his offspring. But as the 37-year-old vet in this rap shit, who will always maintain his place as your favorite rapper’s rapper, he reminds us exactly why that is. Give Wayne his flowers while he’s here to smell them.