By John Connor Coulston // Staff Writer
After his acclaimed album Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne became the figurehead for mainstream hip-hop, but soon started on a rapid critical decline ever since. He’s become the laughing stock of the hip-hop community. Every project he’s released since has been panned by critics and hip-hop fans alike. This negativity reached its peak with Wayne’s latest album I Am Not a Human Being II, which will go down as one of the worst hip-hop releases of all time. Ridiculous lines such as “Buying Haterade by the 12 pack / like two stomachs” show that he’s no longer the “greatest rapper alive,” as many previously claimed.
Despite his loss of quality, Lil Wayne has maintained his popularity. His name instantly causes buzz wherever it appears, and he continues to sell out shows around the country. This could be one of the reasons he hasn’t put too much effort into improving his output. Luckily, it appears the backlash from IMNAB2 has done something to Wayne, who has vowed to worker harder even it kills him. Dedication 5 marks an important turning point in Lil Wayne’s career – he’s finally becoming self-aware.
This is evident in the interludes throughout D5, where Wayne comes off as down to Earth. He opens the album declaring he released this project to have fun and to say things he wouldn’t normally say on an album. While this makes one feel like you’re about to hear another IANAHB2, that’s not the case. While a majority of Wayne’s lyrics are corny, nothing comes off as offensively tasteless as “how you gon’ talk s— to diarrhea?” from his previous release.
The production choices on D5 are another step in the right direction for Wayne. He chooses to go over the instrumentals of Kendrick Lamar’s “B—-, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” A$AP Rocky’s “F—in’ Problems,” Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O.” and Drake’s “Started From the Bottom,” among others. While these are still mainstream beats, they mark a departure from Wayne’s usual choice of southern hi-hat filled instrumentals. He adapts to this new sound with a toned-down delivery that minimizes the obnoxious presence he sometimes brings to a track.
The best moments on the tape come on “Typa Way,” “Cream” and “You Song.” The first is a T.I.-featuring cut over Big Homie Quan’s “Some Type of Way” that shows the appeal that made Wayne the commercial success he is today. “Cream” puts Wayne on the instrumental from the iconic Wu-Tang Clan track of the same name. The fact that he can go over such an iconic beat and hold his own shows that he’s not as washed up as some may think.
The most polarizing moment on D5 is the Chance the Rapper collaboration “You Song.” Backed by a beat constructed by the producers of Chance’s “Acid Rap” mixtape, Lil Wayne delivers a song no one was expecting. While Chance handles a verse and the hook, Wayne follows the “love” theme of the track and delivers his best verse on the tape. He hasn’t sounded this levelheaded in years. “You Song” is something Lil Wayne needs at this point in his career: a change of pace.
Unfortunately, Wayne doesn’t follow the ideology of change throughout all of D5. Half of the tapes’ tracks put Wayne over trite instrumentals that do absolutely nothing for his creativity. For every track like “Typa Way,” there’s one like “Bugatti” that puts Wayne back in the same rut he’s been in the last few years. If the middle portion of this release was omitted, Dedication 5 would have shown a giant step in the right direction for Wayne’s career. There are several great moments that show a possible resurgence of quality in Lil Wayne’s catalog, but with his old habits weighing him down, his future is unclear.
Follow John Connor Coulston on Twitter at @JCCoulston.