Lil Wayne swears Tha Carter V is coming this week. When he unveiled its predecessor, Tha Carter IV, back in August 2011, the New Orleans rapper was already several years removed from a blazing streak that had allowed him to claim that he, with his unhurried wit and haunted croak, was the best rapper alive. But Weezy was still more than capable of surprises then, and his restlessly creative, simple-not-stupid template of in-the-booth epiphanies and wounded hedonism has informed much of hip-hop, and thus popular culture, ever since.
The seven-year wait for Tha Carter V feels extreme, even for someone who once released a series of mixtapes called Sorry 4 the Wait. It’s not really Wayne’s fault, of course. The album was delayed time and time again by Cash Money, whose label head Birdman allegedly blocked Wayne from releasing it, sparking a three-year legal battle between the longtime confidants. In the meantime, actual shots were fired at Wayne’s tour bus, Young Thug nearly appropriated the Carter name, and—thanks to a bizarre plot twist involving “Pharma Bro” villain Martin Shkreli—The Carter V faced potential seizure by the U.S. government. All the while, Wayne has stayed busy with an absurd amount of mixtapes and guest appearances. Here’s the improbable path to an album Wayne once said would be his last.