The term “hip-hop” has always seemed to encompass more of a mindset than a particular style of music. You’ve got west-coast gangsta rap, the original New York breakbeat culture, the soul-influenced scene on Chicago’s south side and the crunk movement of the “Dirty South” just to name a couple. If you look past the parental-advisory stickers, the copious amounts of weed and the gang-related violence, the thing that ties them all together has to be the desire to get ahead and move on from a past not entirely worth remembering.
This has been true for nearly 40 years now but sometimes some artists get lost in the struggle between art (supposedly what made them want to rhyme in the first place) and commerce. Not to say that making money from music is a bad thing at all but if it becomes all that matters, you’re probably gonna wind up making some fairly lame music. Sadly this is kind of the case on Young Money: Rise of an Empire, the second compilation by Young Money Entertainment, the label vehicle for everyone’s favourite inked-up diminutive drawler, Lil Wayne.
As a hip-hop fan, browsing the tracklist of this collection is legitimately exciting. There are appearances from some of the biggest names in the game at the moment: industry frontrunner Drake on the Rocky-esque brass swagger of Trophies; Nicki Minaj on the low-key Senile (with Tyga and Lil Wayne) and the defiantly self-referential Lookin’ Ass; Bieber associate Lil Twist on the ominous Bang (with Euro and Corey Gunz) One Time and Back It Up and Weezy himself on 5 of the record’s 14 tracks to name just a few.
It also seems strange (and kind of sad really) that with no less than 8 high-profile producers boasting such varied bodies of work between them could come together and make such a samey album. Florida pair The Runners have worked with everyone from Rick Ross to Avril Lavigne; Hit Boy was behind Yeezy and HOV’s game-changing Niggas In Paris and Noah “40” Shebib has been Drake’s right hand man for years with his record Nothing Was The Same showcasing 40’s untethered potential and insane talent as a producer.
The thing is, you would hope and imagine that with such a broad cross-section of the label’s roster on offer, the end result would be varied and colourful. Unfortunately this really isn’t the case. Virtually every song has the exact same sonic palate (Big bass and stammering electro hi hats) with each track flowing pretty uninspiringly into the next and any innovative or exciting moments are few and far between.
Remember when Death Row used to put out unapologetic, visceral label showcase albums showing off the massive, earth-shattering production of Dr. Dre, Snoop’s timeless THC-infused infectious chill and Nate Dogg’s immortally smooth howl? Remember the Bad Boy family surrounding Sean Combs – the man who only recently re-dubbed himself Puff Daddy? The premise of these compilations was to show just how vast and all encompassing the talent of these crews was whereas here on Young Money: Rise of an Empire it seems like despite some irrefutably talented star-power, it adds up to nothing more than an unfathomable amount of money being spent with the single-minded goal of making more money through a set of songs about… you guessed it: finally ending famine in the third world.
Just playin’, they’re totally about money.