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Cash Money & Lil Wayne Present...
We Are Young Money Ross Pounds , February 1st, 2010 11:59

In a genre where 10-year plus delays aren't all that uncommon (looking at you Dr. Dre), the comparably slight wait fans are enduring for Lil Wayne's possibly ill-advised 'rock' album Rebirth shouldn't be that frustrating. But, in truth, it's becoming rather aggravating. Not because of the repeated broken promises but because Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. is a quite singular talent, and one of our generation's most groundbreaking and endearingly eccentric artists. Over the course of countless mixtapes and particularly on 2008's astoundingly good, career-defining Tha Carter III Carter has set himself so far apart from his peers that even something as apparently hideous as a rock album featuring both Pete Wentz and Lenny Kravitz from a man who can neither sing nor play guitar at any competent level is pushing many people's expectation levels to a feverish point. In the interim, and to tide fans over, Carter has released We Are Young Money, a collaboration between all the artists on the roster of his own Young Money Entertainment imprint.

The history of major label (YME is an imprint of Cash Money Records and distributed by Universal) rap collaborations is a pottered one, the albums often serving as little more than promotional exercises for upcoming releases from bright young things being pushed as the next Eminem or Snoop (indeed, see 2006's occasionally brilliant but mostly inconsistent Shady Records effort Eminem Presents: The Re-Up as a case in point), only for them to fall by the wayside as soon as the big name is ready to put out his or her latest opus. Thankfully, for the most part at least, We Are Young Money avoids this treacherous pothole. On the evidence of the talent shown here, one hopes that the likes of Young Money's resident female bright light, Nicky Minaj, very similar in terms of outrageous, but often hilarious, vulgarity to Lil Kim (sample line: “flow tighter than a dick in a butt”) and superb on 'Roger That', and young New Yorker Jae Millz (jaw-droppingly tight and reminiscent in his volatile wordplay of NYC legend Notorious B.I.G. on 'Streets Is Watchin'') go on to the bigger stages that their talent so clearly and richly deserves.

Also pleasing is Carter's knack for pulling in some of the next decade's great talent. New label signee Drake (Aubrey Graham) and Diplo affiliate Gucci Mane both shine here. Ex-Degrassi child TV star Graham, reminiscent in both aesthetic and in his scattergun, deliberately laboured drawl of Kanye West and the backpack rappers of the 90s, most prominently Common before he started appearing as cannon fodder in a string of mediocre action movies, steals the show on album standout 'Fuck Da Bullshit' and is now so far ahead of supposed contemporaries Wale and Kid Cudi that they might as well give up. Gucci Mane (now serving a year's jail time for probation violation) is outstanding in his guest-spot on 'Steady Mobbin'' his gruff, slick rhymes putting even Carter in the shade (“What the fuck is up/It's Gucci Mane the G” would be an unintentionally hilarious introduction from the mouths of most people but Mane makes it sound effortlessly smooth). It's only teen rappers Lil Twist and Lil Chuckee who struggle here, not making the most of their spots but unfairly hampered by some uncharacteristically weak production, in an otherwise flawlessly produced set, on the slightly cringeworthy 'Girl I Got You'. Ones for the future perhaps.

And yet, predictably, encouragingly, it's Lil Wayne who steals his own show. Featuring on the majority of the tracks, Carter leaves his labelmates standing, mouths agape, in the dust. His dexterous flow and trademark unwieldy verbosity are present and correct, his bizarre, self-inflicted croak instantly recognisable and, oddly, an immediately reassuring presence. Rapping deranged, auto-tuned hooks over the chopped-and-screwed quarter-note beats of various producers (David Banner's production work on 'Streets Is Watchin'' is some of the best he's done in years), Carter's lyrics come from another plane entirely. His work on the likes of 'Ms. Parker' and the album's best track, 'New Shit', are on a par with anything he's done.

What's fantastic, and so invigorating, about the Young Money crew is the diversity on show (rather than all coming from one region the label roster includes artists from all over the USA and, in Drake's case, Canada). Along with some fine, phenomenally varied production work from the likes of young guns Kane Beatz and Chase N. Cashe, everyone on board is given ample opportunity to shine here. Whilst a few fail to take their chances and are destined to be left behind (the sooner lunkheads Gudda Gudda and Mack Maine are jettisoned the better), on the whole We Are Young Money is a heartening and rewarding enterprise. With Lil Wayne soon to be taking his enforced break from the scene, there's enough evidence here to suggest that his motley crew can ably hold the fort while he's gone.