By Shelby Powell
New York City has been searching for its Hip-Hop savior for some time. Someone who can shine through the haziness of southern slang and hipster moodiness to represent their city on a national level hasn’t been easy to find. Maino though, has been able to venture into territory no big apple upstart has in a while. His singles have managed to get spins outside the five boroughs and rack up some pretty decent sales. There is a ground swell of support for him and he has the picture perfect rap pedigree to boot.
His freshman offering, If Tomorrow Never Comes, is one of the most anticipated releases of 2009 because some people hope this album will usher in an era where New York again has some space on the national stage apart from that already taken by its aging veterans. Fans are ready to support what they believe is a real dude making real music. But hitching a wagon to Maino’s rising star may not be wise for anyone hoping to ride his coat tails to prominence because this album is just a few rungs above average.
The album follows the steps Maino has taken from his prison release to his celebration of rap success. There’s a lot of album filler, skits and narration, but they bind the songs to the theme of progression. There is top notch production, just a smattering of features and it follows its crime to rhyme concept tightly.
There are a lot of high points, but unfortunately many of them come with an equally effectual low side. “Back to Life” sports a smooth JR Rotem track and a thoughtful conversation between Maino and Pusha Montana about leaving the streets for a legitimate rap career. But there is an out of place female feature on the second verse that drops the song into an abyss of nasty sexuality that the song can’t recover from.
“Gangsta” has an interesting blues intro that drops well into the body of the track. The “G-Shit” Maino espouses is a perfect compliment to the ominous beat, but verse two is all B.G. The New Orleans veteran manages to the kill the track and Maino’s less gangsta flow. The track adds to the album, but everyone knows letting your feature artist body you is a no-no. Then there is the Just Blaze, Nard & B produced, “All the Above.” The intro to the song builds as T-Pain and his vocoder raise the emotional level with a declaration of achieving your dream through struggle. You’re invested in the song before Maino starts rapping and spend most of his verse waiting on the hook.
However, the solidness of “A Million Bucks” and “Here Comes Trouble” can’t be denied. The songs are well constructed and catchy. Swizz Beats adds his signature sound on the former while the Justice League offers a frenetic track on the latter that Maino has no problem layering with tales of well… being trouble. But the poorly crafted “Let’s Make a Movie” is as bad as the other songs are strong. Maino’s misogyny aside, the song adds nothing to the album and probably should have been left on the cutting room floor. “Kill You” seems a bit Eminemish without the slippery wordplay and the hook is just really bad.
So as New York wishes on a rap star that their luck will turn and the home of the movement will receive some much needed burn, it’s inevitable that hope will sometimes outweigh reality. Maino is not a bad rapper nor did he produce a bad album, but his lyrics and flow are, at times, simple and mundane. He does offer substance, but he needs an injection of lyrical style. Considering all the above simply doesn’t bode well for anyone who is looking to put five boroughs on his back.
Out of 5
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