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Self Made, Vol. 2, the newest compilation from Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group imprint, is a snapshot of the hip-hop industry as a chummy university club of cigars and culinary excess. The heaviest boasts are conversational gristle, like “Where’s your sea bass?” and, “Tell my enemies, ‘fuck ’em.’ They know already, but fuck ’em.”
Last year’s Self Made, Vol. 1 was a flailing disappointment, but on the follow-up, the title suddenly seems brilliant. That’s because Ross—the Miami-based reigning king of gangsta rap—now has his team of regionless rappers subscribing to the live-fast nihilism of his recent work. Here, industry nice guys like D.C.’s Wale become pinstriped ballers; traditional gangsta verses become brashly existential; and everyone’s concerned with legacy.
The other central characters are Meek Mill, an erratic Philadelphia hustler who raps like he’s filing paperwork on the back of a moving pickup; Gunplay, a cleaned-up goon and a member of Ross’ Carol City Cartel; Omarion, a store-brand Usher; and Stalley, a Massillon, Ohio, rapper who rose in the ranks by pushing preachy sneaker diaries on the mixtape circuit. On his only showcase track, “Fountain of Youth,” Stalley and Ross reflect on being sad in a Mercedes, and the thing kills.
Spirited guest performances come courtesy Nas, Nipsey Hustle, French Montana, Bun B, and the indomitable Kendrick Lamar. Suffolk, Va., wunderkind Lex Luger sat this album out, but his apocalyptic, beach-storming production lives on through disciples like Young Shun, Rico Love, and Beat Billionaire.
One of Omarion’s change-of-pace slow jams, “M.I.A.,” is moldy déjà vu, but the other, “Let’s Talk,” is incredible. It’s a courtship ode that builds around the vocals from “Big Poppa,” with Omarion dropping some smooth blues before Ross does his masterful loverman routine. First, he’s in awe of your beauty. Then, he’s selling you on a life of counting his money. “All the chicks came like we at a Knicks game,” Ross raps. “Carmelo numbers first and the 15th.”
Maybe it’s the private-jet seizure or the weight issues, but whatever the reason, Ross has spent the last two years exploring his legacy as it would relate to his premature death. On such tracks he’s appreciative and celebratory, but on “Bury Me a G,” Self Made’s bicycle-kick goal of an album-closer, he’s also manic: The catchy part is when he yells, “Line us all up, bury me with my dawgs.” By effortlessly combining kamikaze and Maserati poetry with feel-good lines about “home-cooked meals for the real niggas,” Ross has delivered an album worthy of generating spin-offs and more sequels.
Wale raps on eight of the 14 songs, more than any of his Maybach colleagues. His performances are competent, even on the insufferable “I Be Puttin On,” which finds the rapper holding court over a Boi-1da beat alongside high-school fan favorites Wiz Khalifa and Roscoe Dash. It’s forgivable only because we’ve already heard “Power Circle,” a blissful eight-minute introduction that contains the most realized, well-delivered passage Wale’s dropped in a minute. It’s all here: Tom Ford fashion, a great double entendre about haters clapping at him before the encore, football wordplay, pledges to his inner circle, and meaningless but powerful sentiments like, “I be feeling like Malcolm just outta the Nation.” Similarly revelatory moments pop up through out the posse album. Like the Miami Heat, this awkward bundling of voices got it right the second time around.