Last week, Lil Wayne released his fifth Dedication mixtape. 

Although it has received mixed reviews online, it is already one of the most-downloaded tapes of 2013—a year which has already seen the release of a full Lil Wayne album (I Am Not a Human Being II), the charting success of his singles "Love Me" and "Rich As Fuck," and assorted smash guest spots with rappers like Nicki Minaj, Future, DJ Khaled, and Big Sean.

A few storylines emerge. 1) Wayne is over, done. His punchlines don't punch and his flows are familiar. He might have hits, but it's all goodwill earned during one of the most prolific and creative runs rap music has ever seen—a run that ended long ago. 2) Wayne is still on fire. He's still funny when he wants to be. Most of the haters were hating back when he was on top, too. He's charting, his cosign means the most, and hip-hop's two biggest stars both owe him their careers.

Both of these seemingly-contradictory narratives feel somewhat true, simultaneously. And Dedication 5 captures the ambiguities of where Wayne now stands, much as the other Dedication tapes have done the same throughout his career. When he was reaching for the crown, he sounded hungry, invulnerable. When he was resting on his laurels—or relying on autotune—it sounded like it.

But of course, this is true of any of his releases. What differentiated the Dedication series from his other tapes is something he addresses directly in the intro. It's about freeing himself from making hits, removing that limitation from the equation, focusing purely on his raw enthusiasm for the art and expression of rapping.

"Nowadays, Dedication mean to me... the same thing it always meant. Get on the mixtape, have fun, enjoy myself. Say things I wouldn't say on my album, on anyone's album. Just get on the shit and go crazy. Talk what I talk, say what I say. And all the people that's featured on the mixtape—shout out to them anyway. I tell them the same thing. Do what you want, say what you want. Let's just have fun, enjoy ourselves, and show people that we can rap, we can make words rhyme. And it's still dedicated to you fuck niggas."

Absolutely fair enough. But where does 5 stand in relation to the ones came before it? Well, we'll tell you.

Written by David Drake (@somanyshrimp), Alex Gleckman (@andfeedingyou), Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin), Dave Bry (@davebry9), and Rob Kenner (@Boomshots). 

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