At their best, label compilation albums shine light on up-and-coming stars. At their worst, they come off like a handful of hot street singles from established stars, tethered together by second- and third-stringers. Lil Wayne’s latest crew adventure, Rise Of An Empire, definitely plays like the latter: star power (Wayne, Drake and Nicki Minaj) keeps the engine running for a while, but some of the other rappers assembled here just can’t get buckets of their own. The end result falls well short of any positive acclaim.
The album opens with expected bombast, courtesy of producer S-X and a Euro-Birdman-Wayne 1-2-3 punch. “We Alright” is a good way to start the party, but it really feels like an opener when placed next to Drake’s headlining “Trophies,” which:
1. Is the best track on the album, and
2. Has been around for a minute.
That, more than anything else, should tell you everything you need to know about Rise Of An Empire. Young Money has the pick of the litter when it comes to beats (and credit where credit is due, everything sounds crisp here), but name a rapper outside of the established names capable of taking a Hit-Boy beat and knocking it out of the park. Newcomer Euro isn’t going to take home any rookie of the year votes, and YMCMB’s expected attempts at pushing Gudda Gudda/Jae Millz/Mack Maine probably won’t lead anywhere. Again. So the album hinges itself on its star attraction.
Then there’s Lil Twist. His second collaboration with Tyga on the album – a wanna-be strip club anthem “Back It Up” – is just painful on the ears, from the shrill hook to the paint-by-number bars served up by Twist:
“Y’all already know what’s up/Been gettin’ paid since a young age
Now that’s young money, watch me throw it up
I’m in King of Diamonds like what the fuck?”
He follows that gem up with: “I’m in the strip club with my big bro/Named Weezy F, and we do it the best/Already 60 racks and leave the floor messy/Young Money, homie, YMCMB.”
The rapper is front and center throughout the project, taking a lot of time to say nothing. Yes, he’s in Young Money, so shallow subject matter is par for the course. And we can have an entirely different conversation about how much freedom the young Dallas rapper really has on such a project. But if you’re featured on as many songs as Drake and Minaj combined, you’d better deliver, which Twist doesn’t.
Twist is the poster boy for a group of rappers who simply can’t keep up with their superiors. Nothing here sounds downright offensive to the ears, and there are definitely a handful of songs that deserve inclusion in your iTunes library. But the name of the game is rap, and when the ratio of capable emcees is so clearly outweighed by less-talented counterparts, there’s little reason to visit the “Empire.”