A reformed-convict-turned-rapper tale is nothing new, but it’s crucial to Maino‘s [click to read] story. If his debut album, If Tomorrow Comes, is any indication, penitentiary life is vital to Maino‘s identity. Prison played such an integral part in shaping the Brooklyn native that he’s figuratively trapped behind bars years after being released. It’s a daily battle to break free from jail’s effects and create a new life.
Maino spent much of his early adult years in New York lock-up, but his music gives the impression of a different regional affiliation. His punching delivery and beat selection often shares more with the southeast than East New York, which gives If Tomorrow Comes a pronounced southern influence. However, the album’s greatest contributing force is the iron gate that kept Maino detached from his known worlds – both from the inside and outside. “Runaway Slave” addresses the issue head-on with the aid of a mournful melody as Maino struggles to adjust to post-prison life. The pressure even leads to him morbidly saying he could, “Die before my niggas come home from they bids / Die before I truly learn how to really live…How they gon’ remember me? What’ll be my legacy / How they gon’ talk about me when they pour that Hennessey?“
Concern and reflections of prison are peppered throughout If Tomorrow Comes, but the hard luck hustler theme also has its victorious moments. Maino smiles at naysayers on the now well-worn “Hi-Hater” [click to listen] and then turns to Just Blaze and T-Pain [click to read] to make “All the Above” [click to listen] a tale of rising from nothing. “Remember My Name” is less inspirational but similar in its message of overcoming adversity. A glorious keyboard beat from Dangerous, LLC sways through the speakers as Maino brags that he has “The face of an angel, the heart of a lion / Champion spirit blessed with the will of surviving.”
Maino often raps in an authentic tone that reveals he has weathered several storms. However authentic that voice may be, it isn’t always enjoyable. His verses are structured and delivered in a uniform manner that grows slightly tiring by the time “Soldier” and its whimpering military drum taps appear. While Maino can be lyrically poignant at certain moments, he’s predictable and boring during several others. His performance on the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League-produced sexplay song “Let’s Make A Movie” is understandably straight-forward, but the anti-baby-mama “Kill You” [click to listen] is disappointingly underwhelming. One might think that a relationship troubled enough to contemplate murder would spark deeper thoughts, but the song is heavy on anger and light on depth.
If Tomorrow Comes rarely escapes from familiar zones: suffer in prison, hustle on the block, and celebrate life seem to be the only relevant themes. Luckily, Maino manages to salvage a decent debut thanks to his magnetism and catchy singles. He’s far from the first artist to skate by on charisma and crafty beat placement, but his personable nature and genuine flashes of talent free If Tomorrow Comes from some – but not all – of its shortcomings.