Maino isn’t a typical rapper, and he’ll tell you so in an instant (“Never did I say I was the illest on the mic/I only ever said I was the realest nigga right?” he raps on “Unstoppable”). While he’s often knocked for his skill on the lyrical tip, the Brooklyn MC manages to always provide pure, raw emotion on tracks—slapped with a dose of aggression. As his debut album’s follow-up, The Day After Tomorrow, nears its February 28 release, Mr. Hustle Hard joins forces with DJ Green Lantern and DJ Infamous to deliver the album before the album (also known as a mixtape), I Am Who I Am.
For 22 tracks, the tape offers what Maino mentions in the intro: “Let’s give the people what they need [and] let’s give the people what they want.” Always sporting his authenticity on his sleeve, Maino kicks in the door on I Am Who I Am with the anthemic “Last of the Mohicans,” a track where he solidifies his bona fides (“I’m the last real nigga in the world you heard/They left me in a world filled with lames and birds”) while offering his signature fervent hunger. “My Mama broke, my father dead/Where’s the hope, you have no idea/Ain’t no food in the whole crib, I’ll do anything just for that bread/I’ll shoot a nigga in the fucking head/I’ll rob a bank, I’ll do that bid/I’ll sell them drugs just to live, I’m just trying to fill up the fridge,” he vehemently spits alongside Push! Montana. Together they prove they’re the last of a dying breed.
Featuring the chest-pumping “Cream” equipped with guest verses by T.I. and Meek Mill, I Am Who I Am is Maino’s gift to his core fanbase, offering quality street shit to ride and vibe to—at ignorant volume levels (“Bout That Life,” “Yes Yes Yall,” “Something Special”)—studded with times of rumination (“I would’ve never touched Cease if B.I.G. was here,” he raps on “Pac And Big.”). There’s also revelation, much of which is exhibited on the smoothed out rumored ode to former flame Lil Kim, “I Still Love You,” rapping, “I learned from you, my niggas was loyal to you/And everyone knew I took niggas to war for you.” The uplifting “Unstoppable” also shines.
Though those unfamiliar with Maino’s history and aptitude might not fully appreciate such tracks as the raucous, “Black Bandana” or “Call Me Hood,” or even the lengthy track listing, I Am Who I Am nonetheless provides an appeasing appetizer for what’s to come on his sophomore album. Hate it or love it, the Brooklyn homie goes hard on this one. —Ralph Bristout (@RalphieBlackmon)