MONA LISA, MONA LISA: THE REVIVAL OF THE BEST RAPPER ALIVE
LIL WAYNE THA CARTER V
In 2008 Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. released what is widely considered his magnum opus — Tha Carter III. The build up to the project was years in the making, nearly a decade to be precise. Lil Wayne made his way into the local rap scene at nine-years of age in New Orleans and a few years later became a member of the Hot Boys. By 1996 at age 14, Dwayne was already releasing records and appearing in music videos for the group.
Three years later he made his solo debut with Tha Block Is Hot. The album would receive generally positive reviews and be the first step towards building Dwayne’s career outside of the Hot Boyz. At the start of his solo run, Hip-Hop was at a period where the South struggled to gain respect from the culture as whole. Despite Outkast winning Best New Rap Group at the Source Awards, the rest of the rap community looked down on third coast.
So when Wayne released Tha Carter II in 2005 and made the proclamation he was the ‘best rapper alive’, there was an immediate backlash from the hip-hop community. The irony was that he wasn’t the first — and definitely would not be the last — to make this statement, but it was primarily his geography that dictated the negative reaction.
One thing about Lil Wayne is he’s often misunderstood. The song had been taken incorrectly with many of his critics interpreting Dwayne saying he was the “best rapper ever” or “greatest of all time”. His message couldn’t be any more clear — he was simply stating he was the best rapper alive at that moment. It wasn’t some prophetic musing or a reflective thought, it was a confident take on his status in the present, not past or future..
For Mr. Carter, the concept of being the best rapper alive meant possessing the ability to perform superior to one’s peers at any given moment. Coming off the momentum of an incredible mixtape run and the attention from his controversial statement, it was time for Wayne to put his money where his mouth is and deliver an album to validate him as the best rapper alive.
In the summer of 2008, Lil Wayne released Tha Carter III which would be a celebration and chest-pump for the artist. It would score 1-million-plus record sales in a week and put multiple tracks on the Billboard charts. Wayne, truly was the best rapper alive and for the first time the majority was in agreement. But what was most impressive of this feat was that the original version of Tha Carter III leaked and Mr. Carter was forced to practically re-do the entire album. Something, only the best rapper alive could do.
The next 10-years would seem like a bit of a Sisyphean journey for Wayne. Though he would still remain a relevant figure and continue to release chart topping works — which included Tha Carter IV — the excessive output started to take a toll on Dwayne. Health issues, over-saturation of content, and legal battles began to threaten Carter’s place in Hip-Hop.
These issues became most notable when the initial 2014 release of That Carter V came to a sudden halt due to a falling out with his longtime friend and business partner, Brian “Baby” Williams. Inclusively, his work was suffering as Wayne was forced to focus mostly on mixtape releases that underwhelmed fans and critics. For the first time, the best rapper alive wasn’t living up to his anointed title.
But in 2018, suddenly, the conflict between Carter and Williams became resolved and Tha Carter V was announced to drop on Wayne’s birthday. And just like that, all eyes were on Wayne. The Hip-Hop world was eager to see what would be of Tha Carter V and if Wayne could hold onto his relevancy.
The liberation of Tha Carter V was a triumphant reminder of why the world loves Lil Wayne and what makes him so special. It was a return to form so to speak and its excessive 23-track listing was received with open arms by fans. The wait was over and this was as much for the fans as it was for Wayne.
The project received overwhelming praise from fans but it was the Kendrick Lamar featured “Mona Lisa” that garnered the most explosive reaction. Not only was the song itself touted as contender for song of the year but many listeners agreed that Wayne had one of the best lyrical performances of his career. Some even saying he edged Lamar, who has been vocal himself about how much Lil Wayne has been an inspiration in the culture.
It wasn’t just the fact that it was the perfect bridging of eras in Hip-Hop but it was witnessing Wayne, a 27-year veteran, go toe-to-toe with the current top MC in the game and arguably out perform him. It all comes back full circle — Tha Carter II, track 7. Who else can be pushing a career almost three-decades and still drop a number one album on the Billboard charts? Who else can get behind the mic and steal the shine from this generation’s legend? Who else can come from the bottom, take over the Hip-Hop, become the primary influence for the new generation, and drop what might be the best song and verse of the year?