On ‘Induction Speech’, Young Money’s latest warrior Euro tells us that he’s just realised he’s made it. His version of making it comes in the form of an induction into Lil Wayne’s Young Money family. He’s the newest heir in a strange bloodline of rap-radio royalty and he’s most-likely praying for the success of Drake while simultaneously trying to shake-off the ghost of careers had by the likes of Gudda Gudda or Shanell- a commercial nowhere-land where you are always around but never moving forward.
The world that Euro is entering comes across as a fairly motionless one on ‘Rise of an Empire’. The album isn’t a precursor to the next chapter of the empire, nor is it a shameless victory parade for their progress thus far. In fact, it’s not even an exposé on the Young Money of 2014. It’s proven two things; firstly, Drake and Nicki Minaj are two of the most thrilling rappers on the planet and secondly, rap-crew compilation albums are a bit pointless.
Highlights (unsurprisingly) come from Drake and Minaj. Nicki’s stark dissection of second-rate suiters on ‘Lookin Ass’ is the most untamed she’s sounded since ‘Monster’. Whereas her feral flow usually stands out from it’s freewheeling intonation and whirlwind lyricism, there is something deafeningly still about the stillness of this tune. If this is what we can expect from her 2014 full-length, then puffed up fighting talk will be traded in for a more sinister brand of cut-throat menace that won’t even stop to blink. The unsettling sample and austere beat of ‘Lookin Ass’ might come close to bringing about a reaction but your mind will soon be numbed again by the rent-a-verse wordplay provided by the empire’s less-celebrated subjects on ‘Fresher Than Ever’. This cut, like a lot of the other of ‘...Empire’ rehashes exhausted ideals such as being able to feed your family or being disillusioned with other rappers in the game. Sometimes these lyrical flurries work as cheap entertainment but when they are being delivered in such a forgettable manner by rappers who don’t even have a Wikipedia page, it’s just futile. The same thing happens when the ceremonious braggadocio of Drake’s ‘Trophies’ is followed up by a song called ‘Bang’. Opening lyric: “turn up”.
As for the Tsar of the imperium, Lil Wayne manages to act as a linchpin for his proteges by lurking in the shadows and flying in for the odd punchline-heavy verse on tunes like ‘Senile’. For all his recent missteps, Wayne’s voice is the sound of new money jubilation and there’s a timelessness to his cartoony ad-libs and cringeworthy way with words but you have to be in the mood for nostalgia to enjoy Wayne rapping. If you’re not, this will feel like watching ‘Scrubs’ before going to an Asher Roth show. None of it should really be happening anymore.
As the production swings from uninspiring twerk soundtracks (‘Back it Up’) to gummy Young Money gratitude (‘You Already Know’) it’s hard to know who comes off worst on ‘Rise of an Empire’. The dynamic misfits (Drake, Nicki) seem so detached from their kinfolk that their presence on the compilation feels more like a favour than an obligation. The bench of understudies appear just as mediocre now as they did before Weezy gave them a deal and they don’t look any closer to superstardom. Then there’s the head honcho Wayne- he looks down upon his fully-formed realm of upstarts and sees that his most worthwhile alumni have fled the nest. With the news in that his next studio record will be his last, Caesar could be looking at his Rome on the brink of a silent nose-dive.
Words: Duncan Harrison