On Lil Wayne’s 13th album, Funeral, the Best Rapper Alive reminds us of the power of longevity.
If there is one thing that rings true following the death of Los Angeles powerhouse Kobe Bryant, it is that longevity reigns supreme. Spending 20 years in Lakers purple and gold was simultaneously the best gift he could give the LA fandom while cementing his role as one of the most unbreakable spirits in basketball.
It’s too fitting that Lil Wayne’s 13th studio album, Funeral, dropped five days after Bryant’s passing. Wayne is Bryant’s rap analog. Their careers span nearly the exact time frames and arcs. Both were teenage wunderkind turned internet trendsetters turned family men-slash-business conglomerates.
After a welcomed return to music with a retooled release of Tha Carter V in 2018, Wayne’s latest is a reminder of the power of longevity. Funeral’s 24 songs buck the industry trend towards shorter, repeat-friendly albums in favor of a walk through the Hall of Wayne.
On the eponymous intro cut, Wayne reminds that the killer edge that vaulted him to the top of the game never dulled. “Welcome to the funeral, closed casket as usual,” the lyric that guides the intro and main verse, is self-referential. Wayne’s dubbed himself the “Best Rapper Alive” 16 years ago and he’s starting 2020 with a similar energy.
The album is glued together by the strongest version of Weezy: spastic. His tracks feel borderless, lacking the tightly wound structure that drives mainstream rap. It’s form-fitting for a rapper synonymous with the freestyle.
When he’s not embracing his word play, Wayne loads Funeral with his usual hallmarks. “Clap For Em” is a thumping tribute to Wayne’s carnal desires bathed in almost satirical use of autotune while “Never Mind” and “Trust Nobody” (featuring Adam Levine) harken back to an experimental 2010s Wayne who was inseparable from his guitar. There’s even a feature from Young Money running mate Lil Twist, who hasn’t been properly active since Wayne’s early 2010s heyday.
While “Bing James” isn’t a Bryant tribute to the same tune as LeBron James’ freestyled speech, it’s place on the album (track eight) LA connection (Jay Rock features), numerous references to purple and gold and final 24 seconds of silence add up to Wayne’s nod of respect to a similar genre defining talent.
Watching rappers age is a trip. A infantile genre, rap’s credo was summarized by Drake on “Paradise”: “I’m here for a good time, not a long time.” Too many artists — Mac Miller, XXXTentacion — miss out on expressing their creativity over a lifetime. Others — Jay Z, Snoop Dogg — transcend the musical rat race, putting their eggs in other baskets.
On Funeral, Lil Wayne convinces us that he still sleeps in the studio. Hopefully he stays that way.