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. The fledgling Euro can either adapt to the dominating example set by patron saint Lil Wayne’s bonkers plasticity, or follow Cash Money CEO Birdman’s stale Rap-by-the-numbers approach. Neither seems foolproof.
The label’s former camp prefers to imagine itself in solitary confinement: In highlight “Senile,” a hypnotized Tyga and a steely Nicki Minaj pop up like mechanized horrors inside a haunted mansion. Lil Twist, 21, spits through stick-ups (“Bang”) and strip club commands (“One Time”) with the malice of a Rap Chuckie doll. Lil Wayne’s “Moment” hinges on a boast—“All I’ve been doing is celebrating, I don’t even know what I’m celebrating”—that sounds oddly affecting (He claims that he’s baked, though he croaks like he’s been bedridden for weeks). He’s not Tha Carter III-era Weezy, but the hook alone calls attention to how his co-Rappers’ scare tactics ring hollow, like Drake’s canned fanfare in “Trophies” and Minaj’s haphazard interrogation of the male gaze, “Lookin Ass.”
Rise of an Empire’s second half shows that the latter camp would rather spend their time shooting the shit, which would be charming if its players weren’t so lackluster. Birdman’s “Fresher Than Ever” is little more than a stale posse cut; longtime affiliates like Gudda Gudda and Jae Millz exchange rote status update boasts, the sort of behavior Mack Maine condemns with his own, groan-worthy “Fuck Twitter, nigga / In real life, nobody follow you.” The three show up for a curtain call on standard edition closer “You Already Know,” a pale imitation of T-Pain’s Auto-Tuned sadness. Deluxe edition conclusion “Good Day” makes for a slightly better finish, with Lil Wayne’s hook quoting Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day” over Dnyc3’s bounce-meets-Pong beat.
So, where does Euro fit in? He joins Lil Twist and Bronx signee Cory Gunz in “Bang,” but only after paying respect to Young Money while kicking off intro track “We Alright,” also featuring Weezy and Birdman. “I’m fine, I be spending time with the greatest of all time, all the time / And ever since I’m living life every night like it's ‘99 / I’m way ahead of my time, I think I was only eight at the time / I rep them five letters forever,” Euro boasts, with all the earnestness of a straight-A student. He should listen to Rise of an Empire more closely, though: He may be part of an empire now, but it’s looking more and more like Rome in decline.