Young Money - Rise Of An Empire
At the beginning of Dedication 4, Lil Wayne's emphatic embrace of his new drug-induced trajectory, DJ Drama uttered 'One made you realise, Two is when the game became ours, Three that's when we showed you the future'. He was referring to Dedications 1 through 3. The first two mixtapes in that series are now deemed untouchable classics. The third, featuring names such as Shanell, Gudda Gudda, Jae Millz, Tyga and Lil Twist, was a dramatic departure from Wayne's all conquering discography. It was his flattest release in years, and despite his individual performance being 20,000 leagues away from his best, he still rapped circles around his young squad.
Rise Of An Empire features all of these artists heavily, and despite having the backing of one of the most successful stables in hip hop history, none of them have made major waves in the game since that 2008 mixtape, with the exception of Tyga. Young Money though can still boast a scorching hot roster. When Birdman decided to hand the reigns and recruiting power over to Lil Wayne during his untouchable phase during the mid 00s, his recruitment drive turned up Drake and Nicki Minaj, now international superstars in their own right. There is always material floating around from one of the holy trinity, so a compilation album is never far away.
This doesn't smack of a cynical, sales chasing nature though. Always at the forefront of the Young Money business plan has been unity and support, overseen by the new mogul blueprint Birdman. Whilst contemporaries like Maybach Music Group and G.O.O.D. Music feel like a collection of artists bouncing off each other, Young Money portrays a family dynamic. Birdman gifting Drake a Bugatti, and Wayne a Bentley, for example, fly as blatant examples when juxtaposed with Ross' latest lyric about giving Meek Mill a Range Rover. Endearingly, Birdman doesn't have to get on a record and boast about his purchase. That's the saving grace of Rise Of An Empire. There's more than enough flaunting of wealth, but Birdman acts as the mature uncle, corralling his charge's under his fatherly wing and sermonising his get rich story. It plays out as a giant love in. Casual observers may point to Drake's Started From The Bottom as a precursor to this, but Young Money has been tight knit since Big Tymers days in the late 90s.
Opening track We Alright immediately sounds like a concillatory act designed to calm any trace of disquiet in the ranks, whether it be through Drake's unfortunate Rolling Stone rant, Lil Wayne's even more unfortunate health issues or Nicki Minaj's Malcolm X controversy. Birdman utters 'Young'un, if you're alright then we alright' in his most fatherly tone, and the action adds clarity to the entire project. It's time for the young stunna's to say their piece. With the 3 major artists lending 3 individual tracks that act as focal points for the record, the roster is roused around them, hungrily accepting their chance at the spotlight. Euro's opening verse shouts his co-star more than once, 'I be spending time with the greatest of all time all the time', Lil Twist (better known as a pal of Bieber) announces 'Rolling with the Birdman homie, it's YM over everything' and Gudda Gudda, on his very first appearance, comes with 'Yea, man we came from the bottom / Stunna told me get these niggas so I got em!'. It's all nice and warm and fuzzy.
The unfortunate thing is, none of these guys can actually rap. Well, they can, but amongst their present company it feels almost juvenile, like a Major League team stepping out to practice with the Minors. Wayne sounds almost asleep until his scintillating verse on Senile. Drake's centrepiece, Trophies, is hotter than anything he managed on Nothing Was The Same, "That taught my ass to stay committed, fuck the credit Bitch check the numbers, I'm the one who really get it", with the chorus "I'm just trynna stay alive and take care of my people / And they don't have no award for that, trophies, trophies", which would be a direct shout out to another of his trademark rants after Macklemore recieved Best Album at this years Grammy's, if it weren't for this track pre-dating that incident by a couple of months. Nicki Minaj spits straight fire down the microphone for Lookin' Ass Nigga, a direct extension of her new persona that ditches the Harajuku Barbie alter ego for a more dynamic, lyrically focused hat. If only recent tracks like the Danny Glover remix or Boss Ass Bitch were included, it'd propel the tape to new heights.
Funnily enough, it is the Euro track, Induction Speech, that defines this record. He grossly underestimates the intelligence of his audience, "With punchlines you'll be K.O. backwards if you buy my hooks / Okay you might not have got that / That means O.K. as in doing O.K", before admitting "I'm on all of that, all because I can sorta rap". The fact that without reading the linear notes or being a die hard Euro fan you'd have sworn it was Birdman featuring on this track is more than enough evidence to suggest that, like most crews in today's game, depth of talent isn't their strong point. But Induction Speech uncovers a beating heart that lies within the Young Money stable, one that is powered by a love and respect shared amongst the individual artists. Roc-a-Fella had a similar feel to it. "I'm reminded, Forgot to text mack that I made it I typed that I made it / He hit me back like check in I told him I appreciate it, like twice". Whilst MMG feels like an all encompassing leader delivering battle tactics to his minions, TDE resembles a group of strong willed individuals who are only connected by percieved mutual benefit and Odd Future is a bunch of kids having the absolute time of their lives, Young Money most resembles a family. Bragging, bravado and ostentatious statements are always tempered by a deep respect for those around them who helped them achieve and scale the kind of heights us mere mortals can only view from afar. Whilst Rick Ross disconnects entirely from his audience through his schemes, Birdman assembles his crew and reminds them to give thanks whenever they drink from their golden chalice. Being grateful and acknowledging hard work is something everyone can relate to, and that's why Rise Of An Empire is listenable, even if the sum of its parts doesn't quite equal the finished product.