The ballad of Weezy F. Baby

Lil Wayne’s five Carter albums themselves sort of encapsulate how much music has changed in such a short space of time.

Wayne’s first Tha Carter album came out in 2004, when people still bought albums on iTunes. His rise came with the sequel in 2005, when his cocaine rhymes, increasingly intricate flows, and weird metaphors started to bring respect.  He followed up with an endless series of free mixtapes, remixes, and freestyles. And just as people were asking whether Lil Waybe was, in fact, the best rapper in the world, Tha Carter III was released in 2008 and sold 1 million copies in its first week, one the last albums to do those kind of numbers. At the height of his powers, he was able to do anything he wanted. He called himself a martian. He made rock albums. He skated a lot. From the heights of rap superstardom, the only way was down.

By the release of Tha Carter IV in 2011, Wayne was overshadowed by proteges Nicki Minaj and Drake, both of whom were adept at creating meme-worthy music perfect for social media. Wayne was struggling with a culture that was shifting again, towards different kinds of rap and different kinds of rappers. In 2009, 50 Cent criticized Wayne:”He makes a lot of records and I think he’s gonna exhaust the public with his sound.” He was wrong. In fact, the public has demonstrated an unlimited appetite for new music as streaming took over. SoundCloud rap filled the extra space.

Whereas Weezy was once a pioneer of flooding the world with music, he was now being drowned by the tidal wave from everyone else. Future dropped two different albums in consecutive weeks last year—and have both go to number one. Under pressure from his  younger, more intellectual rivals and fighting his own label, Wayne’s sure touch also seemed to desert him. “When he has released music, it’s been ill-advised and coolly received,” Jon Caramanica wrote in the New York Times (paywall) of 2016 collaborative album with 2 Chainz. “His rhymes, once the most inventive in the genre, have been badly desiccated.”

Now, in 2018, Wayne is following the new playbook. Despite the hype, this album has had little by way of buildup. There were no singles. The artwork was released only hours before the album went live. And casual interest in a new release remains as high as ever. Lil Wayne’s newest is being streamed in huge amounts in its first few days. Of the top 25 songs played in the US on Apple Music on Sept. 30, 23 were from Tha Carter V.

Let us see what the chart looks like this time next week.

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