Years ago, in an interview on BET’s defunct Rap City, Bryan “Birdman” Williams explained how the roles of he and Mannie Fresh’s Big Tymers duo compared to the roles of Juvenile, Lil Wayne and other members of the Cash Money Records roster. He categorized the Hot Boys members as the lyricists of the crew, while he and Mannie Fresh were “game spitters.” Things done changed since then—the label’s universal dominance has died down, and their team of emcees is much smaller—but the more they change, the more they stay the same. Birdman’s talent delegation, organizational skills, and formula for flossing has earned him financial success and a spot behind one of rap’s top players, so he’s not going to change it now. On Pricele$$, that works to his advantage and to his downfall.
As the founder of one of the most successful Rap labels of the decade, Birdman knows what works for his fan base: jewelry, cars and virtually anything else expensive are unapologetically the entirety of this album’s content. But in true businessman/emcee fashion, he minimizes his flaws and constructs a disc full of capable singles. His makes up for his own trite, unmemorable rhymes by enlisting more nimble wordsmiths; he enlists a capable roster of producers to contribute interesting, infectious soundbeds; and Lil Wayne and Drake ably handle most of the choruses. Jim Jonsin utilizes guitar riffs for the Rock-tinged title track, T-Pain tones down some of his usual glossiness to make the synthy “Shinin’” work, and he calls upon Drake, Bun B and producer Boi-1da (Drake’s longtime right hand) for the surprisingly effective down-the-line joint “Mo Milly.” He even steps into Dance music with the fun, Kevin Rudolf-produced and –featured “I Want It All.” Birdman fortunately stays away from the contrived contemplative tracks that incapable game-spitters force to sound multi-dimensional, so what Pricele$$ results as an album that’s much more tolerable than Birdman detractors would expect or like to admit.
But let’s face it: Birdman may minimize his flaws, but that doesn’t get rid of them. This reviewer can’t recall one witty lyric from the Cash Money founder on Pricele$$, and despite Young Money’s attempts to change things up, the fact of the matter is that this is an album with Birdman on every song. And unlike other materialistic rhymers, Birdman doesn’t have any redeeming qualities: he doesn’t have the charisma of Wayne, he doesn’t have the dry wit and wordplay of Fabolous, and he lacks the larger-than-life persona of Rick Ross, so he falters without his assets around him. The uninventive rhymes and the unvarying subject matter take their toll, even though the disc is only 13 tracks and 52 minutes.
This album will more than likely get listeners more excited for upcoming releases from Wayne and Drake, but perhaps that’s the point; Birdman eats off of those projects the same as he does off of this one. Birdman may not know how to rap well, but by leading a team of capable emcees and beatmakers around him, he knows how to make music. And in this industry, that sixth sense of knowing what goes where is, well, priceless.