Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter II, 15 years later

Taking a look back at the hip hop behemoth’s fifth studio album — his last before becoming a pop culture juggernaut — and his magnum opus.

The first time that I ever heard Lil Wayne was one of the most pivotal and life-changing moments I’ve ever experienced as a music fan, and I remember it vividly. It was late 2004, I was nine years old and Birdman’s “Neck of the Woods” music video was playing on BET. As it began, I had no idea who either artist was, but as soon as Wayne started rapping that opening verse, I was instantly hooked.

I spent the rest of that afternoon eagerly waiting for the video to play again. I was so intrigued by his raspy voice, his charismatic and dynamic flow, that his lyrics were echoing through my head, and I couldn’t wait to hear more. Fast forward almost a year, and my wish came true, as the video for “Fireman,” the first single off of his then-upcoming fifth studio album Tha Carter II had released.

Wayne displayed an energy that I had never seen a rapper have before that video and it was unmatched in my eyes. His extremely unique cadence and flow, as well as the abundance of swagger and confidence he exuded, made him incredibly captivating to watch. From that day forward, I knew whatever CD this song would end up on, whatever he did next, I needed to hear it.

When I finally got my hands on Tha Carter II soon after its Dec. 6, 2005 release date, it blew by every expectation I had for it and has remained one of my favourite albums of all-time ever since. The LP is a near 78-minute, 22 track masterpiece that sees Wayne exploring a multitude of sounds, proclaiming to be the “Best Rapper Alive,” and showcasing exactly why he deserves that title.

This was an era where both Jay-Z and Eminem were on hiatus, and Wayne’s label Cash Money Records had lost pretty much their entire roster of artists. Even if that was a detriment to the label, it served Wayne extremely well, as all of their resources were put behind him, and Wayne put the label on his back and carried them to a level of success they’d not yet seen.

From the outset, Wayne lets the listener know who he’s representing, proclaiming that it’s “Cash Money, Young Money, motherfuck the other side” on the album’s Heatmakerz-produced opener “Tha Mobb.” It’s an intro that sees the New Orleans rapper immediately going for the jugular, asserting his dominance as he aggressively tackles the thudding bass of the instrumental, establishing three things: he’s here, he’s hungry and he’s gunning for the top.

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and in that case, Carter II-era Wayne’s pen could defeat Excalibur. Throughout this album, Wayne exercises every skill in his arsenal, knowing that he is the sharpest he’s ever been. Evolving past the simple, catchy raps that made early-era Cash Money albums popular, his writing is clever, it’s layered, and it’s perfectly delivered as he adapts his flow to any beat thrown his way.

The production on this album is significant for more than just its diversity though, as it’s the first Wayne album, both solo and as a part of the Hot Boys, that doesn’t have a single Mannie Fresh instrumental. This was a real departure from the sound fans had grown accustomed to and it could’ve easily affected the appeal of Wayne’s music at the time. Instead, he was able to deliver something that garnered him a level of acclaim and respect he hadn’t yet seen.

This is largely due to Wayne’s adaptability to this album’s sonic diversity, as he’s always on point, no matter what the instrumental backdrop of the track may be. His braggadocious tales of drug dealing are superbly scored by the triumphant trap instrumental of “Money on My Mind,” which remains one of the best songs he’s ever made. The crackling and soulful Isley Brothers sample on “Receipt” is perfectly complemented by his raspy yet buttery smooth delivery, as he showcases his softer, more romantic side.

Moments like the Kurupt-assisted “Lock And Load,” the bouncy “I’m a D-Boy,” and the  dub-influenced “Mo Fire” also stand out as highlights, but nothing on this album is as perfect as “Hustler Muzik.” As far as Wayne’s singles go, not one of them holds a candle to it. The track is smooth and introspective and showcases the many facets of his personality: the boastful hip hop star, the young street veteran, and fatherless child, still affected by his dad’s absence. It’s the quintessential Lil Wayne song, potentially his best, and one of the best songs in the history of his genre. It’s that good.

The same can be said for Tha Carter II as a whole. It’s just that good. Its impact can’t be understated, and neither can the excellence of Wayne’s work on here. This album symbolized a turning point in Wayne’s career, both artistically and commercially. In taking risks musically and making an album devoid of any of the trappings of mainstream hip hop at the time, Wayne managed to both come completely into his own and became a superstar in the process.


Blog era erasure: How streaming services are erasing hip hop history

While platforms like Spotify and Apple Music facilitate access to music, they’re also erasing a big part of modern hip hop’s history

From the late 2000s to the early 2010s, hip hop music was undergoing one of the most pivotal and defining moments in its recent history: the blog era. As someone who was going through their teenage years at that point in time, it was a defining moment of my life as well.

In 2007, I was just starting high school and there were no better artists to me than Kanye West and Lil Wayne. If you would’ve asked me then I would’ve labelled myself their biggest fan and said they were definitively the greatest rappers of all-time. I spent hours upon hours listening to their music, among others, while I played video games or did homework, and YouTube kept feeding me songs of theirs I’d never heard.

Wayne in particular had so much music on YouTube that I’d never heard, and a lot of it was seemingly on one CD I desperately wanted. The thing is, I couldn’t find it anywhere. It wasn’t on iTunes, at Best Buy or at HMV, no matter how hard I searched, it was nowhere to be found. So, I got home one day, and typed the title into Google, hit search, and there it was, in all of its double-disc glory, Da Drought 3.

Da Drought 3 was my introduction to music blogs and mixtape-hosting websites, and it started a long, long love affair between me and sites like DatPiff, Nah Right, 2DopeBoyz, illRoots, Rap Radar, OnSmash and so many more. It became an almost daily habit to get home from school and check if anything new had been released.

I was able to witness Wayne’s prolific mixtape run in real-time and get early exposure to blog era staples like Mac Miller, Nipsey Hussle, Wale, Big K.R.I.T., The Cool Kids, Kendrick Lamar, and a multitude of other great artists, all for free. It was an amazingly eclectic era, where I could find music around every corner and it brought me some of my favourite artists and projects of all-time.

From J. Cole’s The Warm Up to Frank Ocean’s nostalgia, ULTRA., this era saw the beginnings of some of the biggest and most critically acclaimed artists of the last decade. No labels, no pressure, just their raw skill and talent on display and free of charge, and they captured the ears and hearts of millions in the process.

The tragic thing is, as years have passed and we’ve developed these wonderful new technologies for music consumption known as digital streaming platforms (DSPs), these mixtapes are becoming lost to time. There is an army of J. Cole fans out there who’ve never heard of his classics like The Warm Up or Friday Night Lights, and it’s not their fault.

These mixtapes existed in a weird area where, because they were free, the artists never needed to clear samples, as they weren’t making money directly from the music. The mixtape was a free promotional tool used to gain exposure and the real money was in touring and merch. They were able to sample whatever they wanted and because it wasn’t something they were profiting from, there was rarely any push back from the original artists.

This is where the problem lies for these mixtapes — once a project makes it to one of these DSPs, it starts making money. Even though artists only make a fraction of a penny off of each play on Spotify or Apple Music, the fact that they’ll be profiting at all without clearing these samples is grounds for a lawsuit. Because of this, these projects don’t get put on DSPs and because of that, they’re starting to be overlooked and forgotten by younger listeners.

For those listeners, these DSPs have made music consumption so simple that all they have to do is open an app and whatever they want to listen to is right there. With such a streamlined process for acquiring music, who has the time to boot up their computer, download music and add it to their Apple Music library, or even download a separate app just for these mixtapes?

It’s a process that’s become overly complicated over time, not by way of ever actually complicating the process, but because DSPs make everything else so much simpler. A lot of these projects not being available on these platforms has essentially forced them to cease to exist to those who weren’t around for their release, which is tragic as they are some of the best projects of the last decade or so.

Even more tragic is the state in which some of these projects are released to streaming services, either heavily altered or just missing some of their best tracks. 

For example, Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings mixtape is arguably the greatest mixtape of all-time. Earlier this year, it was added to DSPs, missing all the skits and a third of its songs. While the tracks on here still showcase Wayne at his peak, the amount of songs that are missing makes relistening feel like rewatching your favourite film and some integral scenes are randomly missing.

If the non-inclusion of blog era classics on these platforms erases some of the most important moments in hip hop’s history, instances like this greatly alter that history and lessen the potential impact that these projects could have on new listeners.

It’s a shame that the unadulterated original versions of these classic mixtapes are going to fall victim to time, copyright issues and technological advancements in music distribution. This is especially disappointing considering that this era occurred so recently and essentially launched the careers of some of the biggest artists in the world today.

Still, for those who lived through the blog era and lived with the classic mixtapes that came out of it, it’s a period in time that will forever remain special. The careers it birthed and legacy it carries will live on with those who cherished the era, even if the original music itself doesn’t get the chance to.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Lil Wayne – Funeral

On his latest release, a potentially amazing album is bogged down by bloated sections of boring filler.

Lil Wayne is an anomaly. With a career spanning over 20 years, his continued relevance is a rarity in hip hop. His longevity lies in his willingness to evolve as an artist, as his ability to adapt has led to him amassing several styles throughout his career.

On Funeral, Wayne showcases these various styles, from auto-tuned crooning to high energy, multi-syllabic rhyming. Though the lines might not always be great, Wayne’s ridiculous level of charisma can make even his most absurd lyrics entertaining.

Wayne is in rare form on a few cuts on here. The initial three-track run from “Funeral” to “Mama Mia” displays his technical abilities at their best. The album peaks with “Harden,” a reflection on past relationships set over a gorgeous soul-sampled instrumental.

While there are some brilliant highs, there are also some horrible lows. However, nothing is as bad as the absolutely abysmal “Get Outta My Head.” This song would’ve been bad had it been just Wayne, but XXXTentacion’s screaming vocals make for an especially excruciating listen.

All in all, Funeral would have benefitted from some serious quality control. For every two or three good tracks, we get one that ranges from forgettable to outright bad. It’s frustrating because there is a great album in Funeral, it’s just hiding in a mess of horrible filler.

Rating: 5.5/10

Trial Track: “Harden”


The death of rap punchlines

A talent that was once renowned is now deemed corny–what happened?

Punchlines once ruled hip hop. In the ‘90s and 2000s, rappers like Big L, Lil Wayne and Eminem dominated the genre by rapping some of the most clever lines imaginable. Then, towards the end of the decade and at the beginning of the 2010s, it seemed hip hop began to turn its back on punchlines.

Rappers like Childish Gambino and Drake have coasted on barely passable punchlines that are more cringe than clever. Drake infamously rapped “Got so many chains they call me Chaining Tatum” on the egregious Views track “Pop Style.” Gambino’s 2011 track “Freaks and Geeks” was a haven for corny punchlines that, to a teenage version of myself, sounded astoundingly clever but in reality, are lazy and frankly gross (“An elephant never forgets/ That’s why my dick remembers everything”).

In fact, Childish Gambino, an artist who essentially blew up because of his punchlines, has never really been good at them. The entirety of his debut album, Camp, was based on them. On “Bonfire,” he raps “Okay, it’s Childish Gambino, homegirl drop it like the NASDAQ / Move white girls like there’s coke up my ass crack.” While those lyrics may have been clever for a young audience, they’ve aged like milk.

The juvenile lyrics were a foundation for Pitchfork’s devastating 1.6/10 rating that baffled all his fans. I asked myself: “How could something so clever and funny be so bad to them?” TheNeedleDrop also infamously gave him a 2/10 after primarily critiquing the weak bars. He followed with the album, Because the Internet, which fared better with critics but was still largely criticized for Gambino’s poor punchlines; he raps “Got no patience, cause I’m not a doctor,” on hit single “3005.”

While Gambino isn’t solely responsible for the steady decline of punchlines in rap during the 2010s, he was certainly a catalyst. But what made Lil Wayne, Big L and Eminem’s punchlines from hip hop’s rise to prominence so incredible?

Lil Wayne is constantly debated as one of the best rappers of all time for his smart play on words and unique ability to create punchlines. On “6 Foot 7 Foot,” Wayne raps “Real G’s move in silence like lasagna,” a bar that might seem like nonsense on first listen, but a quick backtrack will show how sneaky the pun in the bar is. True, the song is one of Wayne’s more recent songs, but the punchline is a reflection of how clever Wayne was in his prime.

Big L was also as iconic before his untimely death in 1999. Known to be a master of punchlines, some of his bars are truly hilarious, like on “98 Freestyle” where he raps “Before I buck lead and make a lot of bloodshed/ Turn your tux red, I’m far from broke, got enough bread/ And mad hoes, ask Beavis I get nothing Butthead.”

Punchlines haven’t exactly left; Eminem is still writing some, as can be found on his newest album Music to be Murdered By. However, the bars are substantially weaker than the rhymes back on his earlier works like The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP, both of which remain some of the best-written hip hop albums of all time.

Music to be Murdered By featured lyrics like “How can I have all these fans and perspire?/ Like a liar’s pants, I’m on fire.” It’s evident that Eminem has become lazy. It’s no secret that his lyricism has been questioned all decade.

Lil Wayne has also toned down the number of punchlines he’s rapped since Tha Carter IV. In 2020, punchlines seem to have become a thing of the past; no one particularly likes them anymore.

The most popular songs from the latter half of the 2010s offer less on the rapping front and more on melodies and captivating instrumentals. Rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, and Roddy Ricch have written songs with fun, albeit simple lyrics about their lives that are ultimately more compelling than a forced joke that tries to act as proof that the rapper is sharp with their pen.

Lyricism has been about more than just wordplay. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is lauded for its smart lyrics and substantive subject matter. While certainly not everyone’s favourite album from the Compton rapper, it’s a hallmark of lyricism with raps that tackle complex themes without breaking them down into cheap one-liners.

Hip hop fans at the end of the 2010s couldn’t care less about punchlines. They’ve become an important piece of history within hip hop but the genre has moved past them. Rest in peace to rap punchlines—it’s been real.



Graphic by


Exit mobile version