The Blahprint: Wale doesnt help himself working within Rick Ross' template.t help himself working within Rick Ross template. template.

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Against all odds, Miami’s Rick Ross has become America’s most popular gangsta rapper. You’d think that would be enough for the one-time corrections officer, but wads of industry money rarely come without the desire to waste it. Enter Ross’ recently relaunched vanity imprint, Maybach Music Group, and its flagship release, Self Made Vol. 1, whose title was presumably chosen unironically.

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Ostensibly, Self Made is a showcase for Maybach’s hodge-podge string of recent signings: Meek Mill, a spastically fast street rapper who is a superstar in Philadelphia but virtually unknown outside its city limits; Pill, an Atlanta rent-a-gangsta of moderate blog repute; and D.C.’s own underachiever Wale. Sticking closely to Ross’ blueprint, it’s a record of two extremes—of the wordy and sage O.G. reminiscing over lush and cinematic backdrops, and of the scattershot lunatic wheezing about nothing atop carefully riotous club bangers. Every MMG song, like every Rick Ross song before it, is either yacht music or fight music.

On “B.M.F.,” his 2010 hit in the latter mold, Ross accompanied producer Lex Luger’s apocalyptic synths with rambling, indiscriminate pop-culture references. (In Ross’ world, pop culture includes gang culture, with the hook—“I think I’m Big Meech”—referencing an incarcerated drug kingpin). Not surprisingly, “B.M.F.” hangs heavy over about half of Self Made. So now Meek thinks he’s Tupac, Pill thinks he’s “Pacman,” and they both become lost in an endless string of Luger-lite efforts from inferior producers. Lex himself makes just one contribution—“That Way,” a ballad built around a subtly fragmented Curtis Mayfield sample. It’s a complete departure from his signature sound and suggests he might be as bored of “B.M.F.” knock-offs as we are.

The Maybachers fare better with yacht rap. On “Pandemonium,” Ross, Meek, and Wale show chemistry trading utilitarian bars over producer Alchemist’s over-polished Blaxploitation funk. Wale has long struggled to define his sonic and thematic identities, and stepping into a pre-existing template frees him to do what he does best: rap thoughtlessly. Still, both Wale and Meek remain the most visible rappers in their hometowns, and they are best paired with parochial sounds. For Wale that’s go-go, while for Meek it’s a machine-gun flow that nods to both old-school rappers like Tuff Crew and Philly’s more recent importation of Baltimore club music. These, of course, are the types of distinctive traits that make rap stars, so it’s unclear why a label would go to such measures to steamroll them.

Self Made is a forgettably decent listen, but it still has no reason to exist. It fails as a launchpad for talent and seems unlikely to become a commercial success. (Who buys rap compilations in the MP3 era? Who forms a rap group in 2011?) Marketing-wise, it would’ve made more sense to call it what it actually is: a new Rick Ross album with far too many guest appearances.

By Any Means – Wale, Meek Mill, Pill & Rick Ross by Warner Bros. Urban