There was a time in the late aughts when the thought of Lil Wayne being out of the larger hip-hop conversation for even a short period of time seemed near impossible, but it happened. Lil Wayne wasn’t nominated for any major MTV Video Music Awards or BET Awards this year, and he’s been receding from the spotlight for a bit. These developments prompted his recent apology to fans in a tweet for a below-average year while promising “2 work harder if it kills me.” Unlike nearly every other hip-hop apology this year, something was coming out of it: Dedication 5 was dropping.
Is Dedication 5 Lil Wayne’s big, self-serious reclamation of The Throne? No, but it doesn’t have to be. The project inspired a trending topic while its release date was still up in the air; simple mixtapes don’t do that. Dedication 5—like Lil Wayne’s previous mixtapes—is an event, and the new age epidemic of #FOMO is automatically going to draw in throngs of listeners despite how hated on Lil Wayne is. Consequently, Weezy has to play host. He played the uninterested jester on last year’s fourth entry, and on this edition, he’s a more focused presence aiming to entertain. He does just that on Dedication 5.
Lil Wayne’s verses aren’t necessarily his best, and 29 tracks is still far too many to listen to him speak about the various unsavory ways he handles the female body. The freestyle beat selection is pretty predictable too (save the inclusion of “Cream”), but it’s the way he approaches the beats that help the mixtape feel like a worthwhile listen. He sounds engaged as he freely flows throughout the project, from the morning time exhale of the “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” freestyle to his faux-New Edition crooning on “Thinkin About You.”
For the better part of the mixtape, Lil Wayne is flinging punchlines with glee. He sounds more engaged than he has in recent memory in “Started” with lines like “Brains came out his fucking ear/I got a full clip, I empty the whole thing up in here” and the cold break down of the rules on “Bugatti”: “I gave you dick, you gave me pussy/It’s safe to say it’s an even exchange.” On the other hand, there’s clunkers like “If pussy lips could talk, I’d go down there like it’s whispering” on “New Slaves” and the ill-advised “Had a phone in jail, that’s a cellphone” on “FuckWitMeYouKnowIGotIt.” As mentioned before, there’s a lot of fat here. The latter is less bothersome since it comes in the midst of what’s arguably the best stretch of Dedication 5. From “FuckWitMeYouKnowIGotIt” to “Cream,” Weezy buckles down and delivers the closest thing he does to blacking out in what feels like years. Lil Wayne threatens in “Cream” but still finds time to drop a pretty screwy Quick Draw McGraw shoutout, while he ends “U.O.E.N.O” with the hilariously incongruous “MLK would be proud of me, cause I do this shit for all my niggas/Her mouth, pussy, or asshole, life is full of hard decisions.”
Lil Wayne is good, but he’s not in the same murder-all-beats mode he was during the Da Drought 3/Dedication 2 era. This leaves room for the guests to get their shine. T.I.’s three guest spots are solid as he glides through his double-time performances, while new Young Money signee Euro shows some promise with his ability to switch up his delivery pattern with ease. But as expected, the best guest spot is Chance The Rapper’s surprise appearance on “You Song,” where he melds accessible melodies with stunning technical prowess. He haphazardly dives in and out concordance with the beat while effortlessly holding it together with impressive rhyming and, most importantly, personality. He manically delivers “You the best bride and I’m the best groom/Wedding presents got my best man at the Best Buy buyin’ the Best of Fresh Prince for the bedroom,” and after cramming in so many words in his lengthened verse, Chance finishes with a hilariously terse “You feel like Kool-Aid in a wine glass.” That’s how you make delays worth it.
Surprisingly, one of the more intriguing moments of Dedication 5 comes in a skit. On one of the final tracks, Lil Wayne is asked if he considers himself a living legend. He doesn’t know, but he concludes by saying being Lil Wayne is “amazing.” Is this just contentment or a positive outlook on things to come, like the entertaining, but flawed Dedication 5 is? Fans could speculate, but it’s much easier to realize how refreshing it is to hear Lil Wayne sounding like he gives a damn. –Brian Josephs (@Bklyn_Rock)