It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Rick Ross. Mired in controversy just a few years ago over his past life as a correctional prison officer and knee-deep in a war of words with 50 Cent, the Miami native was supposed to be another in the list of musical cast-offs during Jay-Z’s Def Jam tenure. Credit (or blame) his penchant for crafting tunes that have stuck to the public’s collective consciousness for five years and running, and Rozay has simultaneously become one of the more popular and polarizing hip-hop artists today. Now aiming to expand his empire, Ross has scooped up DC’s Wale, Philadelphia’s Meek Mill, Atlanta’s Pill and R&B chanteuse Teedra Moses to his Maybach Music Group, and formally introduces them with Self Made Vol. 1, the first project under his new imprint.

The three former XXL Freshmen set things off on the explosive “Self Made.” While Rick plays the sidelines, his latest acquisitions establish themselves over Just Blaze’ go-go-influenced backdrop, before smoothing things out on “Rise,” where Teedra’s soulful coos and Curren$y’s catchy hook carom off producer Cardiak’s midnight soul thump. The true star of Self Made, however, is Wale. While relative newcomers Meek and Pill are simply hoping to manifest a presence, Wale’s renewed hunger is evident as his nine features represent an official coming out party. Check “600 Benz,” where—up against D-Block general Jadakiss—he kicks witty bars of his own, spitting, “Tinted out, you ain’t seeing through/All black everything, this shit like an HBCU.” Later comes “That Way” where, behind Jeremih’s hook and an atypically chilled and groovy Lex Luger backdrop, Wale and Ricky wax poetic about the lavish life.

But therein lies the problem with Self Made Vol. 1: with so many personalities vying for attention, the artists struggle to display their own individuality, instead constantly relishing in their new spoils. Clearly influenced by their new boss’ 2010 summer dominance, Meek, Pill and Wale attempt to emulate the “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)” formula on their solo tracks “Tupac Back,” “Pacman” and the aforementioned “600 Benz,” respectively. While these cuts aren’t necessarily bad, their monotonous, repetitive call-and-response nature gets trite after hearing it on “Fitted Cap”—despite a great J. Cole verse (“I’m with your girl, you’re home alone/Bitch, you Macaulay Culkin”—and “Big Bank,” where the Bawse absurdly boasts about “dropping X pills in fish tanks.” Other times, the album’s momentum veers completely off course, like on “Don’t Let Me Go,” a forgettable track featuring forgotten Triple C member Gunplay, as well as Pill’s crude strip club cut “Ridin’ On Dat Pole.”

Heavy on panache, Self Made Vol. 1 is Rick Ross’ own rock nation, an audio ticker-tape parade simultaneously celebrating his new foundation yet meticulously crafted and catered to his own whims. While primed for another summer takeover, perhaps with their next outing MMG will offer more variety and fewer MC Hammers. —Meka Udoh

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