Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Album Review: Young Money

History does not, cannot, exist in a vacuum. It must have context, baggage, precedence. Sometimes, something new appears without prejudice attached, allowing us to evaluate sans expectations. Even hardcore hip hop heads heard Kid Cudi first on A Kid Named Cudi or the Day N' Night single. Without any idea of who or what he should be, we could appreciate the music for what it was. Satellite Flight, on the other hand, cannot evade the many previous Cudi offerings we've come to be familiar, and our own feelings about his previous works inevitably shape how we perceive the new album. And this, amongst other reasons, leads to the failure of Rise of an Empire, the new Young Money album released on March 11th. 

We can't hear Empire without thinking back to We are Young Money, the loveable debut by the group. If you don't remember it being loveable, only your dismay toward Young Money, you're allowing your perception of the individual artists to cloud your judgement. And, as a reminder, that very dismay probably didn't arise until well after the group album. If you hate Nicky Minaj, it wasn't because she was coming off the top, asbestos; it's because you didn't want to GO TO THE BEEECH, BEEECH, or your ears were assaulted by her Massive Attack. If you hate Drake, it wasn't because he was racing for your love like Ricky Bobby or because you weren't into girls like he is, let's be honest (leeeesbiaaaaanist!); you hate him because he turned into a  huge vag/can't throw a good pass in the dunk contest. Bedrock and Every Girl were two of the top singles of the year. Those songs were good, they were fun, they were catchy, clever and accessible, they were JAMS. Roger That and Steady Mobbin both came from the album, which helped explode the fame of Drizzy, Nicki, Tyga and Lloyd. And while top heavy, that high arcing top made it a worthwhile listen, a memorable piece of 2009.

So, what do you do when you've got stars, a huge brand and a winning formula? Fuck it all up, of course. Here are the steps they used to make this a terrible album:
1. Make sure no one sounds like they care about the project. No one sounds interested, at all, aside from newcomer Euro (more on him later). Drake sounds like a producer interrupted him eating a hoagie to do his songs, which he had to write on the spot. Trophies sucks, I'm sorry. The beat, the flow, the chorus, all blow. And I guess there's no award for doing collaborative tracks. Why all the individual songs?  Couldn't anyone be bothered to get into the studio together? Why even do this if no one wants to?
2.  Definitely change your sound, making yourself sound behind the times. Today, ratchet and trap rap have seized control of the gangster rap genre, as YG, Rick Ross, and especially Tyga dominate proceedings. Well, that's a good sign, right? YMCMB has the most en vogue rapper in the most en vogue genre, right? Well, Tyga shines easily on every track, but no one else in the crew vibes well with these sounds. Again, listening to We Are Young Money reveals a group with excellent beat selection, choosing odd, warm, smooth beats to rap over, a stark contrast to that era's synthesizer-heavy tunes. With goofy sounds, best summarized by Roger That, Lil' Wayne found himself in his comfort zone, as did the odd Nicki. Drake's intense bravado came off as comfortable, rather than forced, over them: we could hear the smile as he rapped, rather than the sown-on, reverse Ronald MacDonald he's been pulling lately. And everyone else in the crew could spit their average bars without damage. Again, going against the grain earned them a solid album.
Now they're buying into other style, those outside their wheelhouse. And it doesn't sound good. Nicki is arguably at her best on hardcore beats, so she floats, but the rest sink. And how about the played out R&B sounds on Video Model and Catch me at the Light? They sound like they came off of Crunk Juice, definitely not a good thing in 2014.
3. Leave out the stars, allowing the weak supporting cast to flail and fail. No one wants to hear a YMCMB song without Weezy, Nicki, Drake, and Tyga. Birdman doesn't count in this group; his wings were clipped long ago. Do you really like Gudda Gudda? Lil' Twist might be the worst rapper ever, with an even worse voice. I know I complained about Nicki and Drake earlier, but if not them, then who? Jae Millz has had his moments...but nothing you'd buy. Our frustration with these artists comes from the potential we know they have, and their inability to fulfill it. So here's the problem:
Lil' Wayne: 5
Tyga: 4
Euro: 3
Lil' Twist: 3
Gudda Gudda: 2
Birdman: 2
Nicki Minaj: 2
Drake: 1
Yup. Lil' Twist appears as often as Nicki and Drake COMBINED!!!! That's what you're paying for. Enjoy.
4. Trophies, Fresher Than Ever, You Already Know, Catch me at the Light, and Video Model. If these are on your computer or other music player, just throw the whole system away immediately. You've had your music privileges revoked.
So yeah, when a full third of your album is unlistenable, things aren't going well.

Things get ugly on this album. Mismatched sound and bad balance ruin it. But there's one diamond through this untrimmed golf course rough: Euro. Sporting an unusual, spoken word, legitimately excited flow, he's allowed to open the album on "We Alright", a genius move by the crew. I'm not sure he's a star in the making, but he had the strength to carry an album highlight himself (Induction Speech), where he can barely believe the situation he's in. His honesty is refreshing on the most candy wrapped (and candy rapping) group around, and whether he's so effective as a rapper or just a juxtaposition, he stands out alongside Tyga as the stars of the album.
Finally, let's look at the positives. because they definitely exist when things line up correctly. Besides Euro, Tyga owns every song he appears on. He and Nicki destroy Senile, in the good way, and Back It Up also bangs like a proper club track. Lookin' Ass is amusing and repeatable, despite what many have said about the Nicki-only single. And Good Day sends it off in a perfect way, returning to the original goofiness of YMCMB, combined with superb flowing by all involved and a strong beat. The group is a joke anyway; it might as well be silly, as it sounds better doing so. Ironically, I'd take them more seriously if they had relaxed a little more on this.

Overall score: 3/10

Top tracks:
1. Good Day
2. Senile
3. Induction Speech
4. We Alright
5. Back it Up

Party Bangers:
1. Senile (ratchet)
2. Back it Up (ratchet)
3. Good Day (all-purpose)
4. Lookin Ass (hardcore)

Get yolked:
1. We Alright
2. Back it Up
3. Good Day
4. Bang

Smoke to:
1. One Time
2. Back it Up

Slap in the whip on a sunny day:
1. Good Day
2. Lookin Ass
3. Senile
4. We Alright

1. Induction Speech
2. One Time

Best Flow: Euro
Best Beat: Good Day/Back it Up
Best One-Liners: Anyone except Lil Twist
Best Presence: Tyga

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