Rick Ross must have been one helluva chess player in a former life. His ascension to power and status as the hottest act in the rap game is a result of strategic planning from everything to calculating who to beef with to devising a formula that works into his increased star power. After his in-house cabal, the Triple C’s, failed to make a blip on the radar after following his lead, the gravelly-voiced executive fell back and regrouped.
Deeming outsourcing to be the best move in strengthening his empire, Ross went out and snagged proven yet unrealized talent to keep the Maybach Music Group afloat. The new breed consists of three consecutive generations of XXL freshmen in Wale, the scribe from D.C. majoring in ambidexterity; Atlanta, GA’s very own Pill, a slumdog mentality built inside a kingpin rhymer; and Meek Mill, whose scrappy delivery embodies the same Philly streets responsible for his comeup. Under Ross’ tutelage, they release Self Made, Vol. 1. Their first venture as an unit as well as the label’s flagship project hopeful.
Self Made, Vol. 1 is largely a standard operation, subscribing to the lowest common denominator in terms of song topics and beat selection–which include ace cards such as Just Blaze, Lex Luger and The Inkredibles all contributing noisy arrangements to the equation. The clique fires on all cylinders at random, particularly on “By Any Means,” as they paraphrase Malcolm X over relentless bass and charged deliveries from each respective member. “Rise,” a plush-as-velvet number flips the script a bit, showing the gang can go hard over softer production as subtle horns and drum brushes help paint the picture of a smokey lounge being infiltrated by next-gen gangsters. The track also features Curren$y and Cyhi Da Prynce, who, doubled with Jadakiss and French Montana, go at lengths to help drown out the MMG’s own identity throughout Self Made.
Ross mostly negates his involvement to the hooks, which prove to be the album’s gift and the curse as they go on to be the most memorable part of each song. However, they also tread in the waters of repetition, shamelessly leaving the creative juices soured. “Pacman” opens up with the hook to “John Doe” as if Ricky was taunting, “yes, these are the same songs” while overshadowing Pill’s teeth-gritting raps in the midst of his slackness. The singular-phrased choruses of “I’m A Boss” and “Big Bank” sound like they were drummed up on the spot as well.
Meek Mill convincingly proves himself to be album’s MVP, from blowing past Wale and J. Cole on the otherwise trite “Fitted Cap” or securing the only legitimate hit in “Tupac Back” (which surprisingly manages to rise above being a parody into a damn good record). As a former heavyweight in the mixtape/blog circuit not to mention a major label release, Wale procures a demotion, flirting with unimaginative raps, doing his best to blend in, opposed to using his experience to help breed some chemistry amongst his new labelmates. He hits a low point on the dragging “600 Benz,” as he tries his hand at mimicking the Boss’ flow.
The game of chess was designed to be a deliberated process and ultimately, Self Made feels like a rush job. The noise from the promotion and name recognition alone should serve as a worthy platform to get the young gunners in the mix, but everyone knows it requires more maintenance to keep up a Maybach.