This wasn’t meant to be for Jermaine “Maino” Coleman. The fact that the Bed-Stuy product is finally releasing his debut, If Tomorrow Comes…, in the face of major uncertainty (coming off of a 10-year bid in 2003, splitting from Universal Records, and seeing countless label release dates pushed back) is an achievement in itself. So it’s only right that Mr. Hi Hater celebrates his success on wax.
The festivities kick off with the raucous “Million Bucks,” featuring Swizz Beatz. The frantic, fun-loving track—thanks to the steel-pan knock, Coke-bottle clanks and the beefed up bass of Swizzy’s production—prompts the Hustle Hard General to show his gratitude, spittin’, “My enemies in here, they goin’ away/I feel good, everything is okay/Feel like givin’ all my money away.” And this won’t be the last fans hear of Maino’s euphoria, as songs like the album-closing “Celebrate,” the breezy but utterly formulaic “Hood Love,” featuring R&B crooner Trey Songz, and the Just Blaze–helmed “All the Above,” with T-Pain, display the rapper’s appreciation for his current position, as well as for his previous hard-knock life.
Don’t think If Tomorrow Comes… is all popped Champagne, though. The album narrates Coleman’s journey from inmate No. 92A5456 to Atlantic Records signee—documented through the five skits (which reenact key moments in Maino’s life-changing ride) peppered throughout the album. Then there are the joints where the rapper paints pictures of his struggle to the top, like the telling “Back to Life” and the B.G.-assisted “Gangsta,” where the Brooklyn bully recalls his introduction to the streets: “Since papa died, I was staring eye to eye/With them gangstas, boss niggas you idolize/I was young and wild, cuttin’ class, wasting time/’Til my nigga introduced me to that other side.”
But for all the good—like the ode to domestic violence, “Kill You”—there are many empty moments as well, and most of them are due to Maino’s incapability as a lyricist. He does his best, but the muted bass and banging production of J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s “Here Comes Trouble” can’t save lackluster rhymes like, “I ain’t got rap friends, all my homies are in jail/Been in black Benz, gettin’ drunk as hell.” The same problem plagues the block-inspired “Soldier” and the token heartfelt track, “Floating,” despite dope production from newcomer Mush Millions and Charlemagne, respectively. There are some very familiar moves, as well, when Maino rehashes past hip-hop moments. Joe Budden fans will recognize “Runaway Slave,” which boldly uses the exact same beat as Jumpoff’s “Pray for Me,” off his Padded Room album—not to mention that the rhyme style Maino uses is a swagger jack from Beanie Sigel’s “Die,” off The Truth. The disc’s lowest point comes on the slow and sensual “Let’s Make a Movie.” On the cut, Maino displays a forced sexuality delivering limp lines like “We could have sex in HD digital/It ain’t really difficult, let me see your nipples, boo.”
It’d be a crime for the album not to include Maino’s most popular single, “Hi Hater,” but after circulating for over a year, the anthemic, hand-waving cut comes off a bit dated.
Nevertheless, to understand If Tomorrow Comes… is to understand Maino’s mind-set through all the ups and downs. The tumultuous rapper has seemingly overcome all of his troubles and traded in Brooklyn bricks for greener pastures. As poetic as it all sounds, the album’s glaring missteps prevent his first go-round from being the solid overall effort it should be. Still, there is some promise shown. Maino paraphrases the album’s theme on “Celebrate,” as he passionately spits, “Look how lucky I am, I could’ve been dead/Could’ve been gone, I guess I am blessed.” Now raise your glasses. —Sean A. Malcolm