Review: Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter V” Does His Legacy Justice

There’s a special ambiance that permeates the air whenever Lil Wayne drops a Carter project. It’s a remarkable occasion seeing that none of the projects hold a classic album distinction in the traditional sense.

But that’s because Lil Wayne doesn’t adhere to any traditional rap guidelines. His place in Hip Hop’s pantheon can be difficult to outline in words but it’s without question he was a trendsetter for paving the genre’s entry in viable mainstream acceptance. With his penchant for taking studio mastered melodies and completely adopting them with his own zany flow, his relentless flooding of the mixtape circuit found him planted in the eardrums of millions at a different entry point. And the industry official Carter albums would live on to be a place where his multitude of fans could convene on the same accord.

And despite being seven years, 30 days and an infinite amount of trend changes since the release of the last Carter drop date, the kicker this time around is the music is simply just good.

Like all of its previous installments, Tha Carter V is a mile-long, bloated package of unpredictable zest that’s light on introspection (not to discredit Momma Carter’s impromptu interludes over the course of its 87 minutes). Yet its allurement lies in the fact that “Mixtape Weezy” and “Carter Wayne” are able to co-exist with ease.

There’s the Swizz Beatz-boosted “Uproar,” which employs the same Moog Machine sample popularized by G-Dep and Diddy at the top of the decade that gives the album a DatPiff feel intertwined with soul-drenched records like “Demon,” a quasi-Gospel cut that actually gives Wayne maturity stripes.

Even with his elder statesman status, it isn’t hard to hear Wayne’s influence has transcended a couple of generations. Travis Scott cooly incorporates Astroworld inside Weezyana on the “Let It Fly” rager, Kendrick Lamar showcases he’s a rap martian descendant on the long-awaited pairing “Mona Lisa” (ditto for XXXTENTACION, who sheds light on what could have been with his haunting performance on “Don’t Cry”) and even daughter Reginae Carter impresses with her chorus on the reflective “Famous.”

Surmounting Struggles In Life and Onstage


NEWARK — Fred Hammond walked onstage after a technical delay: a big man in jeans, a dark blazer and rectangular glasses moving uncharismatically, stiffly, maybe wearily. A small band — two keyboardists, a bassist and a drummer — formed a crescent at some distance from him, and he stood alone at center stage. No choir or backup singers, no guitar player, and he wasn’t playing bass, an instrument he’s been associated with since he played backup with the gospel group the Winans in the early 1980s; as an equal member of the ensemble Commissioned later that decade, when he was helping to reshape gospel music along modern black-pop lines; and on his own records, sometimes with the choir Radical for Christ, in the ’90s and beyond. Would he carry this concert? The charisma came out in other ways. The show, Friday night at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center here, which began with a set from the A-Zamar choir from Rahway, N.J., became a fascinating example of what precision bandleading, narrative connectivity, musical intelligence, improvisation, spiritual grace and the power of the voice can do when the body has limitations. Mr. Hammond, who turns 52 on Thursday, has a temperate tenor voice and uses it as an instrument, ornamenting melodies all over the place. He doesn’t grandstand much; he only exhorts five people in the audience at a time, knowing that hundreds more will comply. He rarely shouts except when he preaches, or to kick off a song. (“A flat!” he’d command; the band would play on the chord, and he’d start singing, letting the band catch up.) His high register isn’t quite a falsetto; it’s even and humble, a tonal shift in tense moments. CONTINUE READING


mastakilla_jpg_300x300_crop-smart_q85As you listen to Selling My Soul, you might find it hard to believe that Masta Killa was the last official emcee to join Wu-Tang Clan, that he didn’t really start rapping until he joined the group. It’s hard to believe for a lot of reasons. First, this is purely veteran, laid-back flow top to bottom. Masta Killa’s art is not in the punchline, not in rhyming theatrics, but in a devastatingly precise wordplay, the kind that doesn’t need bells and whistles. Like his last two solo records, 2004’s No Said Date and 2006’s Made in Brooklyn, Selling My Soul is unerringly steady. But the surprisingly thing about Masta Killa’s late arrival to Wu-Tang is that, on this album, he plays the role of historian for the group. Though Masta Killa himself claims in the title to be giving us his soul — and not selling it in a Faustian way, but rather convincing us of its deep ties to music — that soul is clearly inextricably linked to the Wu-Tang. Hence you get a masterfully in-the-cut tribute to Ghostface on “R U Listening” or closer “Dirty Soul,” which not only pays tribute to Ol’ Dirty Bastard but also finds Masta Killa actually borrowing from ODB’s off-filter gonzo-flow. Not that he doesn’t sound like himself, but he definitely takes on a new, ragged edge. He also works classic Wu lines into “Intro” (“smokin’ on the mic like Smokin’ Joe Frazier” or “we burn so sweet, the thrill of victory/defeat” for example), directly borrowing from the past to show you his present state of mind. The past in this record goes back further than that, though, past Wu-Tang and into Masta Killa’s other muses, mainly soul music. He lists a litany of influences later in the record, but hearing these beats you don’t need them. They take RZA’s rainy, soul sampling — or the sped-up samples that came later, whichever you prefer — and tilts them on their head, giving the original artist more of the mix than the beat itself. The beat hides behind the keening vocals on “R U Listening.” “Things Just Ain’t the Same”  barely adds drums to the original beat. The excellent “Food”, produced by 9th Wonder, balances beat and sample a bit more, but the samples are still whole pieces, rarely cut up, so you get the past running alongside the present.

The result is an almost professorial vibe from Masta Killa. “The slowest I can go is knowledge, there’s no escape,” he spits, and he does seem to be trying to pass on lessons by the ton here, from a more zen space than any of his Wu-Tang kin. But it’s his unpredictable rhymes and laid-back demeanor that keep it from being overly self-righteous. The album can get a bit too mired in the past sometimes, as when Kurupt (the only guest here) quotes “Fuck Wit Dre Day” to reference his own past with a line that feels entirely too dated and linked to that long-ago beef between Dre and Eazy-E. “Wise Words” is a spoken-word piece over Tupac’s “Keep Ya Head Up” that feels more like mixtape fodder than a good middle-album track. CONTINUE READING

Album review: Meshell Ndegeocello

Rock — Meshell Ndegeocello is fearless. Who else would perform entire concerts dedicated to retooling the songs of maverick artists such as Prince and Gil Scott-Heron, only to follow it up with an album exploring and exorcising the discography of the ultimate maverick artist, Nina Simone? On her 10th studio album, Ndegeocello makes it feel effortless. She works from the ground up – taking the source material and rebuilding it with her own lusty vocals and electric bass lines. Like-minded singers such as Sinead O’Connor and Cody Chesnutt join in on several tracks, but it’s Ndegeocello’s contemplative, personal reinterpretations of tunes like “Feeling Good,” “See Line Woman” and Leonard Cohen‘s “Suzanne” that make this tribute worthy of its inspiration.

Review: Robert Glasper Experiment yields results at Royce Hall

Image“Any jazz lovers out there?” keyboardist Robert Glasper asked the crowd at UCLA’s Royce Hall Thursday night, which prompted an eruption of applause. “We’re going to play a little something for ya’ll,” he continued, dipping his voice into the mock-serious rumble of a late night lounge act. Glasper false-started a few recognizable jazz standards as he aggressively nodded at his band, the Experiment, which seemed reluctant to join as the crowd clapped with recognition. He then settled on the treacly melody of Cyndi Lauper‘s “Time After Time,” which was greeted with cheers and a joyful singalong before Glasper moved on. Glasper has a bit of an improv comic in him, and this bit has become a fixture during this cross-country tour, which heads to Europe next month. But something about its appearance on this night seemed particularly apt. The same morning, an otherwise positive book review for Ted Gioia’s “The Jazz Standards” in the Atlantic outraged the jazz Twitterverse by running under the puzzling headline “The End of Jazz” and closing with a declaration that jazz, like its songbook, was a “relic.” As Glasper surely knows, Miles Davis raised eyebrows for covering Lauper in the ’80s, and the pianist’s inclusion of the song here underscored Glasper’s thinking on his latest album, “Black Radio,” which similarly incorporates his favorite elements of pop music with nods to hip-hop, funk and soul with a variety of vocal guests.