Quite a bit has changed since the massive success of Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III pushed his Young Money roster into the public eye. His Canadian protégé became exactly who we thought he’d be: a colossally accomplished Billboard regular blurring the lines of rap, pop, and R&B into a millennial culture soup; his female doppelganger proved to be as enterprising as she is adept sharing his knack for eccentricity; and the rest of his cast confirmed their roles as bottom tier placeholders just getting in where they fit in. The Young Money camp is perhaps the most clear cut platform for rap classism simply because it cartoonishly juxtaposes its elite, A-list stars next to its bottom feeders. However, there has been a growing disparity between the two ranks as the individual brands of the household names begin to mash the Young Money imprint into insignificance. As the power players seemingly become less involved the role players are left to pick up the slack, and on Young Money’s latest compilation, they are withering beneath the large shadows cast by their contemporary titans of industry. Rise Of An Empire, Young Money Entertainment’s sophomore album, is marred by its lack of star power.
Upon a first listen, it’s easy to cast aside Rise Of An Empire’s blaring issues simply as byproducts of the inherent baggage all compilation albums carry: inconsistency, lack of identity, varied levels of creative control, etc. However, a closer look reveals Rise Of An Empire is just muddled by mid-level talent. The stars shine brightly but their presence is spotty at best. The rest of the roster just doesn’t produce in their absence. While We Are Young Money was a semblance of roughly disjointed but mildly enjoyable posse cuts loaded with artists willing to just make their presence felt, Rise Of An Empire feels almost entirely like an album pitching stand-ins as the next wave of world conquering MCs to no avail. It’s significantly less fun than the first outing and its camaraderie often feels incredibly forced in comparison. The compilation is less about the rise of an empire and more about the comprehensive documentation of its stagnation as a unit.
In the aftermath of the crew’s debut and the success that followed for its star-studded trio of mainstream representatives it’s clear what value the Young Money triumvirate now places on these gatherings: they are a mandatory obligation built to pacify loyalists. Drake makes one appearance. Nicki two. Wayne three (on the standard issue), one of which is rather obviously a Carter V throwaway. Their disinterest is palpable. The bulk of the workload is left for the rest of the crew – Euro, Tyga, Lil Twist, Gudda Gudda, Jae Millz, and Mack Maine – and it’s not that they succumb to the pressure its more so a matter of them being ill prepared to shoulder a burden of this magnitude. They don’t possess the collective charisma required to fill the void left by three of rap’s indomitable personalities.
Young Money’s Rise Of An Empire isn’t without brief moments of genius, however. Nicki Minaj’s “Lookin’ Ass Nigga,” a sharp critique on male ego; Drake’s “Trophies,” the boisterous Hit-Boy-produced loosie that crept into the fold; and Lil Wayne’s “Moment,” a sing-songy return to form, all showcase what makes each aforementioned artist such a tour de force. XXL Freshmen alums Lil Twist and YG link for “One Time,” which feels rather derivative of the DJ Mustard wave surging through urban radio right now, and it’s infectiousness is anchored by the rather steady Tyga verse sandwiched in between. “Senile” is far and away the best thing the album has to offer, and it molds itself in the image of We Are Young Money’s stellar “Roger That,” serving up yet another devastating Tyga/Nicki/Wayne combo. Its chemistry is refreshing. Despite the highlights, though, Rise Of An Empire simply cannot muster enough to save itself from its aptitude deficiency.
Young Money has been divided into two factions: the mega stars and the emerging artists still searching for their place within the musical landscape. With Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Drake growing increasingly distant from the collective these compilation albums are going to become increasingly less interesting, and the filler artists left to pack them will most likely fade into obscurity. Rise Of An Empire doesn’t carve out a lane for its lesser-known artists to excel it simply reminds us that Young Money’s pillars have outgrown the brand. Without them, the brand is a shell of itself.—Sheldon Pearce