Album Review: ‘Ransom 2′
Mike WiLL Made-It

EARDRUMMERS

EARDRUMMERS

★★★★☆

Michael Len Williams II, known professionally as Mike WiLL Made-It, is a record producer known for his gritty trap beats and collaboration with other southern hip-hop mainstays like Young Thug, Juicy J, Lil’ Wayne and Rae Sremmurd. He has also been a very successful crossover producer, most notably on Miley Cyrus’s 2013 “We Can’t Stop” and Beyoncé’s 2016 “Formation.”

In his first studio album, “Ransom 2” — a follow-up to 2014 mixtape “Ransom” — Mike WiLL Made-It collaborates with several other hip-hop artists, including Lil’ Wayne, Swae Lee, Future, 2 Chainz, Migos and Gucci Mane, whose jail time delayed his verse contribution and consequently, the album’s release by over a year. In the words of Mike WiLL Made-It, he “can’t drop a trap tape without the trap god.” Gucci Mane has been featured on every project Mike WiLL Made-It has released and has become a necessary presence in his music

Mike WiLL Made-It’s typical production style is prevalent on the album, using beat and writing assistance from only a select few close friends like Resource and Marz. His close control and ownership over the development of the project makes it a very cohesive listen, showcasing familiar strong, atmospheric trap sounds and authoritative verses from rap’s finest. The album does not feature many radio hits, but does provide a balanced track list, emphasizing Mike WiLL Made-It’s production skills and vision equally with the vocal skills of some very famous names.

The album begins with “On the Come Up” featuring Big Sean, and is a powerful opening track with a dramatic bass line to emphasize its operatic soprano sample. Big Sean, Detroit’s poster boy for the rise to industry fame and its associated struggles, helps develop the track’s theme of grinding for success and refusing to stop, a message which permeates the first half of the album.

Lil Yachty, one of rap’s youngest stars on the rise, spits aggressively over one of the album’s hardest beats on “Hasselhoff,” but finds minimal success in the heavier rap style. Although “Hasselhoff” is a noble attempt at expansion from an artist whose style typifies the happiness and exuberance of youth, the stylistic digression from his usual work does not, and the song’s packed innuendos create repetition that is difficult to listen to. The same goes for the single “Gucci on My,” featuring 21 Savage, Migos and YG, which includes uninspired verses by some usually productive artists, creating a notable gap in quality in this portion of the narrative. “Oh Hi Hater” continues Mike WiLL Made-It’s trend of dismissing his doubters, and focuses on the construction of a successful vision, although it lacks memorable qualities.

“Perfect Pint,” arguably the best track on the album, highlights the strengths of Kendrick Lamar and Gucci Mane, also featuring Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi of Rae Sremmurd, a group founded by Mike WiLL Made-It. Swae Lee delivers his signature airy vocals on the chorus, while Gucci Mane raps in detail about his post-prison life. Lamar comments on gang culture in the United States and his home town of Compton, rapping in a staccato flow, “Everybody a Crip til’ they black and blue / Everybody a blood ’til they hemorrhaging.” The first instance of the emotional, human side of the album, “Perfect Pint” is a masterpiece in its own right.

“Aries (Yugo)” is likely the most surprising track on the album. Pharrell Williams, the song’s featured artist, is not the typical artist who collaborates with Mike WiLL Made-It, but, like he does with almost everything he touches, makes the album great. “Aries (Yugo)” represents the dichotomies of human nature through Williams’ alter-egos, Skateboard P and Station Wagon P.

On “Faith,” Lil’ Wayne takes the chance to show off his witty lyricism and a slow delivery, encouraging others to “always have faith” that they can “scrap and get it out the mud,” and rise to success despite obstacles. One of the most polarizing but talented rappers of the generation, he provides an excellent song as the album nears its conclusion. The beat from “Faith” cools down, melting into Chief Keef’s unexpectedly melodic vocals on “Come Down,” a direct contrast to the first song on the album. Chief Keef, who has been relatively quiet for years since his rough, raw raps on hit songs like “Don’t Like,” is an example of an artist who continues to develop and showcase more rounded talent portfolios. This track, followed by an outro, marks the end of the main project. However, “Nothing is Promised” offers a reminder to listeners that despite hard work and dedication, success is not a guarantee.

Overall, the highlights of “Ransom 2” significantly outweigh the album’s low points, and make for a cohesive and enjoyable project. The contributions of Lamar, Swae Lee and Williams highlight an all-star trap project with a welcome, emotional message. Mike WiLL Made-It does what he is best at: laying down award-winning beats and showcasing the diverse talents of a wide range of collaborators, even pushing them out of their comfort zones with mixed success. The album’s speaker-destroying beats, combined with its melodic piano arrangements, complement each other, creating an original sound. Although many years in the making and delayed on multiple occasions, “Ransom 2” is worth the wait, delivering what fans expected and more.

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