If the hedonistic, hood-rich lifestyle needs a soundtrack, Rich Gang, both a compilation and showcase of the Young Money/Cash Money label’s talents, is that disc.
The recurring production motifs of whizzing synths, trap drums and thunderous bass provides the ideal backdrop for images of glistening jewels, designer duds, flashy rides that cost more than most American’s yearly salaries, pool parties with racially ambiguous hotties with video vixen curves and gold-plated grills. In other words, if all the clichés of the typical rap video were to become image-less, Rich Gang would be the remaining sound bed.
Spearheaded by Cash Money co-founder Bryan “Birdman” Thomas, Rich Gang, attempts to highlight the label’s current stable while celebrating its astonishing success—mostly built from the massive crossover success of stars like Lil’ Wayne, Drake and Nicki Minaj —and remembering its humble beginnings.
“Project life to the high life…pain came from this gang,” Birdman reminisces on the opening track, “R.G.” while slightly ominous keys flutter underneath. Capped off by a characteristically frantic rap from the recently freed Mystikal (yes, the former No Limit soldier is now a Cash Money Millionaire), the number, along with the mellow and similarly reflective “Dreams Come True”—the album’s best track, it marks the brief glimmers of substance on an otherwise mindlessly flashy album.
Birdman’s intro gives a hint that though Rich Gang is being sold as a release by a collective of stars, it’s essentially a solo album by the label’s CEO. Birdman’s voice is the dominant one heard on the album. Minaj and Drake, two of the label’s marquee names, surprisingly appear only sparingly. The American Idol judge and recent Elle cover woman appears just once to harmonize about “her million dollar pussy” on the generic swag-sex radio number “Tapout”—which features, what else, but an auto tuned hook from Future—while October’s Very Own doesn’t show up at all. Lil’ Wayne, on the other hand, one of the label’s founding stars, appears far more; tossing out lackluster rhymes that sound more obligatory than inspired on the four tracks he appears on (six, on the deluxe edition).
Cash Money signees, either up-or-comers (Detail, Mack Maine, Cory Gunz, Gudda Gudda) or former stars in search of a rejuvenation (Mystikal, Limp Bizikit, Jae Millz, Bow Wow) round out the rest of the collective while the biggest names in urban radio (Future, Rick Ross, R. Kelly, Kendrick Lamar, Busta Rhymes, French Montana, Ace Hood, Flo-Rida, Meek Mill) come through to ensure the album’s place on the airwaves.
Yet, despite all of the undeniable star power, none of the guests truly deliver on Rich Gang. Kelly departs from the vintage kick he’s been on for the last few years to deliver some back-to-the-basics nasty verses on “We Been On” but it fails to register. “50 Plates”, featuring the Maybach don himself, is similarly anticlimactic despite its merger-of-two-titans promise.
Various attempts at pop-rap tropes, be it swag-and-riches celebrations (most of the album), crossover pop attempts (the hokey “Sunshine”) or strip club anthems (“Panties to the Side”) all feel calculated and hollow despite being the label’s attempt to show off its diversity.
Whether it’s true aim was to be Birdman’s new solo album, a celebration of the label’s reign at the top after starting from the bottom or a merely display of the label’s talents and range, Rich Gang ultimately sounds like nothing else but a tax write-off.
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