The fourth entry in Lil Wayne’s ‘Tha Carter’ series arrived after a period of superstardom, imprisonment, and experimentation. A lot was riding on the world’s most famous rapper’s follow-up to his biggest-ever album.
Hype for Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV started as soon as Tha Carter III dropped. Probably even before. C3 established Lil Wayne as the biggest rapper in the world. The album’s first week sales wouldn’t be topped by another rap album, and it would be nearly a decade before anyone even came close. In another world, Wayne could have cruised from C3 to C4 not only as the biggest rapper, but one of the most powerful people in entertainment. Instead, Tha Carter IV came out over three years later, on August 29, 2011, following 2 other studio albums, 2 mixtapes, and a prison sentence.
Tha Carter IV hits the ground running almost immediately. Like its predecessor, the album opens with four frenzied tracks of Wayne rapping his ass off, then swerves on the fifth track and becomes something of a grab bag afterward. “Blunt Blowin,” “MegaMan,” and “6 Foot 7 Foot” are the more famous cuts, but even from the album’s intro, it’s clear that Wayne’s still got it. His output never really slowed down, but after the Rikers stint, Tha Carter IV felt like a bit of a testing ground.
C4’s fifth track swerve, “Nightmares of the Bottom,” was famous before its release fueled by the hype built up for Wayne’s appearance on MTV’s Unplugged. One of the best parts of the album is that it does truly feel like part of a series, specifically as a sequel to Tha Carter III. There are moments throughout the album that feel parallel to its predecessor. “President Carter” is a nod to C3’s “Mr. Carter” and “Dr. Carter,” while “6 Foot 7 Foot” is more or less a direct sequel to “A Milli,” not just because of Wayne’s flow and the Bangladesh beat but especially because of a feature from Cory Gunz – famously cut from the album version of “A Milli.”
T-Pain and Busta Rhymes return after their appearances on C3 while “John” with Rick Ross and “She Will” with Drake feel like acknowledgments of the success those two have had since Tha Carter III’s release. Wayne is stepping into their worlds as much as they are his. “John” is essentially a suped-up version of Ross’ “I’m Not a Star” and “She Will,” (with a T-Minus beat) sounds like it’s from Drake’s Take Care sessions. Jadakiss, Bun B, Nas, and Shyne also appear to close out the album, stalwarts from every corner of rap come through to give Wayne the stamp of approval in what feels like a victory lap.
Tha Carter IV boasts work from other producers from Wayne’s C3 golden era including Infamous, Cool & Dre, StreetRunner, but it still felt like a reckoning with hip-hop’s changing landscape. Many of the C3-era producers Wayne worked with during C4’s early sessions ended up on I Am Not a Human Being, which was released a few months before the end of Wayne’s sentence. IANAHB was a success, but a bit of a clearinghouse and showcase for other Young Money artists that made it feel like a lower-stakes album, while Tha Carter IV was going to be a fresh start.
The changing landscape in rap, as it started to intertwine further with pop, and then electronic, is only a little obvious if you listen to Tha Carter III and Tha Carter IV on their own. But look at the difference in the songs Wayne rapped over on No Ceilings versus Sorry 4 the Wait — one released just before his prison stint and the other a few months after. On the first, he’s dominating every radio hit of the day, and on the other, he’s coming to terms with a new class of competitors who rode his wave. When Tha Carter III came out, Wayne was one of the only rappers utilizing the power of the internet, but by Tha Carter IV’s release, he was rapping over “Gucci Gucci,” a song some people considered a meme, and getting a Lil B feature on a Wake Flocka instrumental.
“How To Love” is a far cry from the same guy who released “Lollipop” but Tha Carter IV also saw Wayne grow up. The R&B cut is one of the best cuts off the album, especially on the LP’s latter half. It feels very post-808s, post-Bieber, and maybe most importantly, post-Rebirth. It’s nearly impossible to talk about Tha Carter IV without at least mentioning Rebirth, the rock-influenced album Wayne released in January of 2010.
At one point, the albums were mentioned as being packaged together, then as a triple album with We Are Young Money before it was determined all three albums would be released as separate projects. And while “How To Love” is softer and more acoustically-minded than anything on Rebirth, it certainly feels like an extension of that experiment. Surprisingly, this stylistic shift didn’t permeate Tha Carter IV more, especially now that we know how influential Rebirth ended up being for the next generation.
While it would be a long time before another Carter album, the fourth entry in Wayne’s most prolific series established him not just as a veteran, but the youngest elder statesman in hip-hop. He had respect from veterans older than him and from the few peers he could consider competition. He was helping new artists develop into superstars in their own right. He wasn’t yet 30 years old, and Tha Carter IV was his ninth studio release among a countless slew of projects official and otherwise. He’d now spent half a decade or more atop rap’s throne and Wayne wasn’t going anywhere.
The 10th anniversary of Tha Carter IV includes the addition of three bonus tracks, including “Up Up And Away,” “NovaCane” feat. Kevin Rudolf and “I Got Some Money On Me” feat. Birdman.
Buy or stream the expanded The Carter IV Complete Edition (10th Anniversary).