Release Date: Mar 11, 2014
Record label: Island
Genre(s): Rap, Southern Rap, Hardcore Rap, Dirty South
Following in the footsteps of 2009's set We Are Young Money, Rise of an Empire mixes Cash Money veterans with some newcomers to Birdman's hip-hop label. It's a smooth move, introducing new artists alongside Weezy and such, but here, it's an uneven and maybe even expected case of crazy-sexy-cool beating extra-anxious. When it comes to the former, there's Drake stomping over Hit-Boy's Viking-worthy beat on "Trophies," a two-headed monster of a track that pits verses-filled Southern rap victory against an emo-rap chorus ("I'm just tryin' to stay alive and take care of my people/And they ain't got no award for that").
If ever proof was necessary that the more things change, the more they stay the same, here lies a single digital copy of Young Money’s latest compilation, Rise of an Empire. Undoubtedly a shameless unofficial tie-in to the 300 sequel released about a week prior, the title also accepts a truth this titanic hip-hop label has been wrestling with constantly in the years since We Are Young Money: Young Money is not a deep roster, and it likely never will be. What Young Money does have compared to, say, Birdman’s own Rich Gang compilation, which was released late 2013, is a willingness to trust its gut and go with fresh faces.
Halfway through Young Money’s Rise of an Empire, the sequel to 2009’s label comp, We Are Young Money, new signee Euro spits about dropping out of Alabama State University—“I went from roamin’ hallways with a backpack, trying to find classes”—to launch his Hip Hop career in “Induction Speech.” The Providence, Rhode Island rapper puts his influences front-and-center on the track, quoting Jay-Z’s 2001 hit (“Y’all could have been anywhere in the world, but you’re here with me”). But all is not well in Wayne Manor. Where We Are Young Money portrayed the label as one big Playboy-Mansion-style party, Empire offers a gloomy portrait of a house divided.
Young Money, 2009: Lil Wayne lands on slightly wobbly legs following one of the greatest runs in rap history and extends each arm, for support, to a couple of ascendant stars he’s helped discover, recruit, and mold. To his left is Drake, a kid climbing the ranks and finding chart success despite—or with the help of—his soft Canadian heart and stint as a television actor. To his right is Nicki Minaj, the Queens-bred Trinidadian princess with a handful of dextrous features and a couple of fireball mixtapes behind her, the “Monster” verse still to come.
The first compilation from this hip-hop powerhouse – 2009's We Are Young Money – featured rising stars Drake and Nicki Minaj. This time out, we're introduced to a charming talkrapper named Euro and not much else beyond some diverse but mundane urban contemporary music dominated by familiar players. Contractually, Drake and Minaj are here; artistically, they've moved on.
The follow-up to Young Money's 2009 debut compilation, Rise Of An Empire opens with the one-two punch of We Alright from newcomer Euro, Lil Wayne and Birdman, and Drake's stentorian hit Trophies - a reminder that Young Money boasts some of rap's biggest crossover stars. But the rest of the album doesn't show many heirs to those thrones. The unfortunately named Euro shows potential with punchline-packed bars, but uses a flow too Drake-like to make his own mark.
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.