Young Money's latest collaboration album, "Rise Of An Empire", features labelmates who've skirted success over the years. Unfortunately, the new album doesn't hint they will ever achieve it.
Since the release of We Are Young Money in 2009, Nicki Minaj has risen from femme fatale on the rise after dropping the excellent Beam Me Up Scotty to ubiquitous representative of aggressive femininity. Drake, once Lil Wayne’s fresh-faced protégé, is now the biggest crossover success in hip-hop — not just Young Money. Lil Wayne’s career has been on a slump in recent years, but it if the blogosphere’s inquiry about Tha Carter V’s impending arrival tells us anything, it’s that his word still holds weight.
Their progress is important to note, and it’s not because they’ve become Young Money’s biggest stars. It’s because of the progress. A majority of Young Money: Rise of an Empire seems like it very well could’ve been an alternate, less popular version of the label’s debut compilation. Whereas We Are Young Money is a showcase, Rise of an Empire is more of a reminder — and not necessarily the type that you remember. Being rich has been Young Money’s strength, but it has never told it in such a haphazard, boring fashion. Rise of an Empire drags with its irrelevancy, from its haymaker misses at club bangers to the lack of the supporting cast. In fact, most of the artists being the “supporting cast” on a collaborative effort are in itself indicative of the album’s problems.
A majority of the artists here are hampered by the simple manner of creativity and imagination. New signee Euro is one of the more notable presences in the album, but for the most part it sounds like he’s just happy to be here. He’s energetic in all of his spots, but he trips up in some obvious flubs. Chief example is his clunky, “I'm here now, it's all clear now, somebody pour up/I'm eating good, y'all can't see my competition till I throw up/I'm tore up but I keep shit 100 that's from the toes up” on album opening “We Alright.” In “Induction Speech,” he ruins a perfectly good punchline with loquaciousness: “With punchlines you'll be K.O. backwards if you buy my hooks/OK you might not have got that/That means O.K. as in doing O.K.”
But within Euro’s flaws lies an honest effort, which is more than what can be said for the other features. Lil Twist’s constantly reminds us throughout Rise of an Empire why he hasn’t progressed past being perpetual next up. It’s paper-thin lyricism that’s delivered in stilted fashion; you can definitely picture a line like, “I left the jail in Givenchy, they should have posted that homie.” Mind you, this comes from a song simply called “Bang.” From there picking phoned-in performances become more of a pick your poison exercise. Picking one from “Fresher Than Ever” and “You Already Know” is too easy, although their lineups don’t inspire too much confidence to begin with. Shanell’s attempted R&B jammer “Catch Me at the Light” sounds like it could’ve been chance at being a hit during Chingy/Tweet-era R&B. In 2014, novelty is its only appeal. Lil Wayne and Christina Milian puts on their best Black Eyed Peas impression with the poppy, bass-heavy “Video Model,” which contains unimaginative lines like, “She pop that, like a video model.” The claps and constantly bubbling synths throughout the album that were once signature Young Money in 2009 sounds tired here.
The high points of the album are ones we’ve already heard. Drake’s “Trophies” is the most anthemic track on Rise of an Empire and Minaj’s male-assaulting “Lookin Ass” already had its turn lighting up social media. “Senile,” which features David D.A. Doman’s tipsy, Six Flag Octoberfest-esque keys, features notably nimble verses from Minaj, Tyga, and Lil Wayne. The problem is they’re not the ones who need exposure.