Atlanta powerhouse producer Mike WiLL Made-It is responsible for many of hip-hop’s biggest hits of the last five years. Tracks like “Mercy,” “Bandz a Make Her Dance,” “Move That Dope,” and “Black Beatles” have skyrocketed Will and his EarDrummers Entertainment group to the top of the charts, becoming one of the most respected production collectives in modern rap music. His signature heavy bass and scintillating hi-hats combine to make sounds that are pleasing to the masses and underground fans alike. One thing that was never in question to be present on his debut studio album: sleek, robust instrumentals. A follow-up to his fan favorite 2014 mixtape, Ransom 2 has experienced quite a few setbacks regarding its official release. Dating back to the beginning of last year, Ransom 2 was promoted by Mike and his party-life proteges Rae Sremmurd via the unveiling of the duo’s song “By Chance”. That track got me instantly hyped for this project. But when I saw that it was included on their sophomore studio album SremmLife2 later that summer, I wondered what that meant for this album.
Ransom 2‘s creative direction became even more unclear once Mike WiLL revealed the album’s track listing. Outside of “By Chance” there was another blaring absence: “Al Sharpton” performed by Future. Released less than two weeks after “By Chance,” “Al Sharpton” is the track that raised my expectations for this album through the roof. That beat, bro.. It’s the hardest shit I heard in all of 2016 without a doubt. Future finesses how only he can, creating viral-worthy memes every few bars and crooning with his no-fucks-given braggadocio. Mike’s instrumental is hypnotizing and gracefully in-your-face. Its truancy is baffling to say the least. Possibly, Will only wanted previously unheard music to appear on this album (like its cover suggests), however I believe “Al Sharpton” to be too pertinent of a track to be left off here. Although my expectations may have been a bit too lofty, I don’t think that anticipating one of this generation’s best hit-makers to feature a handful of hit songs on his debut album is implausible.
To me, Ransom 2 is lacking personality from its leading star. Mike WiLL’s only appearance comes on the sixteenth track, lasting all of 28 seconds. There are no purely instrumental tracks either. Unlike other major producer albums such as Kaytranada’s 99.9% and Flume’s Skin, Ransom 2 opts to focus more on shout-out style posse cuts that blend in with the status quo of mainstream hip-hop. Nothing on this album pops out as culturally significant which I find to be rare for a Mike WiLL project. He is friends with just about every rap name out there; most of them are guests on this album. Nevertheless, his skills as a curator still need some improvement. Kendrick Lamar, Rae Sremmurd, and Gucci Mane sound goofy when they join forces despite solid performances from all three acts. Lil Yachty’s “Hasselhoff” might be the worst rap song I’ve heard this year. It’s awkward, ill-paced, and lyrically stagnant. I don’t expect Boat to be conscious in his bars, but I would like him to stay on-beat for a few seconds. Is that too much to ask?
The production here is what one might expect from Mike WiLL Made-It: crisp, polished, earth-shaking at times. And there are plenty of solid tracks here. Pharrell and Station Wagon P’s “Aries (YuGo)” is a lesson in how to be swaggy and humble simultaneously. 2 Chainz is bold and brash on the dark, glitchy “Y’all Ain’t Ready” beat; 21 Savage, YG, and Migos team up nicely on “Gucci On My”; and Young Thug serves up a Thugger special on “What You On”. Even the replacement Future track “Razzle Dazzle” features some personal bars from Hendrix. At the end of the day, though, this album is ultimately forgettable. The hefty guest list equates to zero hit songs, suffering from repeated soundscapes and lyrical themes. The closing track “Nothing is Promised” that hit airwaves early last summer is certainly catchy. But, in my opinion, simply having Rihanna on a song doesn’t make it a hit. In almost all cases it does, but seeing as the track was written and vocally backed-up by Future, RiRi feels somewhat out of place. His songwriting has difficulty translating to suit other artists’ strengths which is one reason why Future is so original. Multiple setbacks and creative misdirections later, Ransom 2 pulls its weight production-wise yet fails to fulfill the hype.