Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Lil Wayne’s ‘Funeral’ Debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200
With no advance singles and barely any advance notice, Lil Wayne has released a new album — and now it’s the No. 1 album in the country. This statement was true in late 2018 following the much-anticipated drop of his Tha Carter V album, and it’s true once again this week after the debut of his Funeral atop the Billboard 200.
However, depsite their similar paths to success, the momentum and excitement over the two albums isn’t quite comparable — as evidenced by the considerable drop in first-week numbers between the two sets. What’s the difference in content or context between the two albums? And who could be the next veteran rapper to follow Wayne to No. 1? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. Funeral debuts at No. 1 this week, with 139,000 first-week equivalent album units moved — a formidable number, but less than 30% of the units moved by previous full-length Tha Carter V in 2018. To what do you attribute the dramatic dip?
Josh Glicksman: In general, Lil Wayne is an artist that benefits more from allowing a forthcoming album to build hype rather than a surprise release. Funeral isn’t quite the latter, but given its small window to gain some momentum — including zero promotional singles ahead of its release — there are likely many listeners that just missed the memo on a new Weezy full-length. It’s also an extremely tough point of comparison to put it directly up against Tha Carter V, perhaps the rapper’s most highly anticipated album throughout his illustrious career. I don’t think there was ever much of a chance for repeating those numbers on Funeral.
Carl Lamarre: For starters, though there was a dip in Wayne’s opening week numbers from 2018, he still got a No. 1 album. I think the anticipation for Funeral fell flat in comparison to Tha Carter V because Wayne was the underdog last time around. Let’s remember, Carter V was years in the making, marred by controversy and delays. We all wanted to see Wayne win, so people came in droves to push Weezy over the edge. With Funeral, there wasn’t much momentum. Granted, he did some press this time around, which was an admirable attempt to get eyes on Funeral, but still, there wasn’t a storyline for this release.
Jason Lipshutz: Throughout his entire career, Lil Wayne has experienced a startling disparity in the commercial performance between his Carter albums and his non-Carter albums, as if the full-lengths in the Carter franchise were essential and the other projects were for diehards only (which, if you’ve listened to the glory of Rebirth, is somewhat fair). The fact that Funeral’s numbers didn’t fall off a cliff when compared to Tha Carter V is actually pretty admirable. This album was never going to perform as outlandishly as its predecessor, and the fact that it scored another six-figure No. 1 debut is all Wayne really needs at this point.
Andrew Unterberger: Aside from it not having the Carter brand name, Funeral also just didn’t really have time on its side — it came not even 18 months following the release of Wayne’s last official album, which came three years after his previous full-length and five years after his last widely released LP. The anticipation just isn’t there in the same way, and the fact that there was no charming teaser video to reintroduce Weezy this time around couldn’t have helped much.
Christine Werthman: Tha Carter V was meant to cap Lil Wayne’s iconic Carter series waaaaay back in 2014. Showing up four years later in 2018, after everything from breakup tweets aimed at Birdman to leaks from Martin Shkreli (what a time), raised the bar sky-high and made even casual fans want to see what Wayne would do. This number gap between these albums is really a credit to the anticipation surrounding Carter V, while Funeral is a standalone that was officially announced only a week prior to its release. Maybe the nearly-a-surprise-drop method doesn’t quite work for Weezy.
2. Though it wasn’t the highest-charting Hot 100 hit upon the album’s debut, “Uproar” ultimately turned into the breakout hit single from Tha Carter V. Do you see Funeral having another sneak hit buried in its tracklist somewhere?
Josh Glicksman: Not sure that the second song on an album qualifies as a “sneak hit,” but it wouldn’t surprise me much if “Mahogany” is ultimately the biggest hit from Funeral. “I Do It” nabbed the highest-charting debut thanks to it being the lead single, its New Music Friday placement and the sheer star power, but “Mahogany” has all of the tried-and-true components of a Lil Wayne standout. It has the bouncy, looping backing beat à la “A Milli” and “6 Foot 7 Foot”; long, word-packed verses that allow Weezy to put his lyrical prowess on full display; and a vibe perfectly suited for dance circles and TikTok challenges galore. This one is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.
Carl Lamarre: “I Do It” featuring Big Sean, and Lil Baby might be the money track. Big Sean is his signature ad-lib personified, slinging out some of his best lyrical work in a minute, *Big Sean Voice* boi. As for Baby, he has yet to miss and continues to be a fluid feature guest. To me, Weezy, Baby, and Sean are a winning trifecta geared for Billboard success.
Jason Lipshutz: The easy answer would be the Adam Levine collaboration “Trust Nobody” — bet against Maroon 5’s commercial consistency at your own risk! — but I could see a world in which “Mahogany,” which is just three minutes of Wayne spitting bars with vintage urgency, crosses over based on its hypnotic looped sample and Wayne’s ferociousness. “Mahogany” may not be a No. 1 hit, but there’s a chance it lingers in and around the top 40 for weeks.
Andrew Unterberger: I’ll say “Mahogany,” if for no other reason than it feels the closest in formula to “Uproar”: A collab with a longtime producer (Swizz Beatz for “Uproar,” Mannie Fresh for “Mahogany”), a hypnotic beat, a free-associative flow and no other features. It seems like the song with the best chance of outliving the Funeral release cycle, in fans’ hearts and minds if not necessarily on Hot 97.
Christine Werthman: “I Do It” with Big Sean and Lil Baby. That’s the one. It sounds the most contemporary, and the Sean chorus with the slide on “dooooo” is fun to sing. If I’m wrong and it’s that Adam Levine one, I’m going to be pissed. Truly!
3. Between Lil Wayne and Eminem we’ve now had two No. 1 debuts in 2020 from rappers whose commercial breakthroughs came over 20 years ago. What other rapper of two decades’ experience would you like to see join their ranks this year (who might actually have a semi-plausible chance of doing so)?
Josh Glicksman: Can you imagine if Nelly successfully adapted his massive early ‘00s sound into an album in 2020? Sure, there’s a chance that it’d be a swing and a miss, but if he made contact, it’s headed way out of the park. He’s responsible for some of the most infectious jams from the beginning of the millenium, racking up ten top five hits on the Hot 100 between 2001 and 2006. Throw your favorite cuts from Country Grammar or Nellyville on next time you have the aux cord and then try to tell me you’re not ready for it to get “Hot in Herre” again in 2020.
Carl Lamarre: Jay-Z is a cheat code because you can’t argue against his gaudy stats. Not only does he have 13 solo No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 to his credit, but he continues to be a blockbuster name in music. His evolution on 2017’s 4:44 gave him an extra life in the hip-hop game. Whether he was bulldozing MCs on “Bam” or tapdancing his way through the hate on “Moonlight,” a spirited Hov flashed signs of greatness. Who wouldn’t want to see a repeat from Jiggaman?
Jason Lipshutz: I’m more than ready for a T.I. renaissance — Tip was one of the most indispensable hip-hop artists of the second half of the 2000s, with 2008’s Paper Trail and its many hits serving as an exclamation point, but the 2010s were uneven at best for the King of the South. With the right project and some flashy cameos — maybe he and Rihanna link up for a “Live Your Life” sequel? — T.I. could be back atop the Billboard 200 with a late-career triumph.
Andrew Unterberger: Obviously, endlessly-pined-for new albums from OutKast, Lauryn Hill and Dr. Dre would all be greeted like manna from heaven (and all but guaranteed No. 1 debuts) upon release, regardless of how good or timely they actually were. But in the interest of shooting for something a little more plausible at this point, let’s say a new album from DMX, who’s been almost entirely out of the game for the past decade and even spent a year in prison at the end of the last decade. Get him focused and in the studio with trusted partner Swizz Beatz, and see if they can’t recapture the magic that sent his first five albums (!) to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 around the turn of the millennium.
Christine Werthman: Nelly! He’s celebrating 20 years of Country Grammar by playing it in full at Bonnaroo, so maybe this will drum up lots of enthusiasm and we will either get another Nelly album — one that’s closer to Country Grammar — or better still, the St. Lunatics will drop their long-awaited sophomore album, featuring more should-be classics like “Money Talks.”
4. Wayne throws out a lot of looks over the course of 24 tracks on Funeral. Is there a particular direction, either displayed or suggested over the course of the album, you’d like to see him go further down with future releases?
Josh Glicksman: I’d like to see him throw out fewer looks, if anything. It seems unlikely that the established rap veteran is going to go through a sonic overhaul more than two decades into his career. That’s not to say that Wayne shouldn’t implement his sound in a way that plays to hip-hop’s ever-changing algorithm of success, but something like the emo rap-influenced, Adam Levine-assisted “Trust Nobody” simply doesn’t work. I’d much rather see him pursue what he knows will work over 12 tracks versus him throwing 24 tracks worth of spaghetti at the wall to see how much of it sticks.
Carl Lamarre: Unfortunately, the only times we were able to see Weezy and XXXTENTACION collaborate was when the young neophyte passed in 2018. Following his demise, XXX’s estate gift wrapped Wayne two robust features in “Don’t Cry” and “Get Outta My Head.” I like the idea of Wayne teaming up with the youth, considering he’s a revered face for kids who grew up in the 2000s. Seeing artists like Eminem and Wayne join forces with the Juice WRLDs and XXXs of the world bodes well for both the older and younger generations.
Jason Lipshutz: Lil Wayne has influenced an entire generation of rappers, and to hear him placed alongside some of them on a song like “I Do It” — with Big Sean copping his wordplay, and Lil Baby adopting his helium-voiced flow — was pretty compelling to hear. Weezy needs more mentor-protege opportunities, chances to nod to the new generation of MCs as well as occasionally run circles around them.
Andrew Unterberger: “Dreams” sounds the closest Wayne has gotten to the legions of skate-rap acolytes of decade-ago-Wayne who are having major streaming (and occasional FM) success these days. If we have to have one hitmaking rapper shrieking over punchy guitars on alternative radio, I’d rather it be Mr. Carter than Machine Gun Kelly.
Christine Werthman: The Mannie Fresh-produced “Mahogany” is a personal favorite. He’s so cool in his delivery, matching the temperature of the smooth, jazzy sample from Eryn Allen Kane’s 2015 track “Bass Song.” He fluidly circles back to the word mahogany until it loses its meaning and begins functioning as a poetic three-syllable sound that’s there more for rhythmic purposes than for color identification. And then when his voice melts into gloopy distortion at the end, it just makes the whole thing feel like a complete, intentional thought. More of that, please.
5. Pick an “F”-word (or phrase) that best describes Funeral to you.
Josh Glicksman: Weezy F. Baby, and the ‘F’ is for fine? I’m not sure that Funeral is going to have much of an impact on Wayne’s legacy one way or another. It has its standout moments, with reliably impressive metaphors serving as the main ingredient in his verse du jour, but he could’ve easily clipped the tracklist by one-third and delivered a more coherent, efficient album. It’s a reminder that Wayne has never lost his ability to rap with the best of them, but I don’t know how often listeners are going to return to Funeral over a different full-length or mixtape within his Hall of Fame discography.
Carl Lamarre: Future Hall of Famer. We have to acknowledge when we have a GOAT in our presence, and Wayne is undoubtedly one. After watching his career almost drown into oblivion, he resurrected it with CV. With Funeral, he continues to be a lyrical behemoth, proving why he can run laps around anybody of any age.
Jason Lipshutz: Let’s go with “Free” — as in, he’s finally unshackled from his label drama and able to toss out 24-song albums whenever he pleases. I’ve missed uber-prolific Lil Wayne. Haven’t you?
Andrew Unterberger: Fair enough. It’s not an album I’m gonna return to a ton, but it sounds like he’s trying, it sounds like he’s having fun, and it has a handful of tracks worth saving for future retrospectives. Can’t complain, even at 24 tracks.
Christin Werthman: Far better than I expected! Also “forward,” because this album shows Wayne is still keeping it moving and, contrary to what the title might imply, has more life in him.