With all the limitations facing today’s music industry, it’s rare that any artist gets a second chance. This is especially true in the ever-changing world of hip-hop where if an artist, especially on a major label, doesn’t immediately finding an audience, they’re soon shuffled back into the over-saturated mixtape scene or indie-rap underground and seldom heard from again. That’s why it’s nothing short of astounding how Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group has not only successfully relaunched rap careers, but made artists left for dead by other labels among the most popular in the genre.
[UPDATE: We’ve just gotten word this show has been cancelled.]
But how do they do it? Ross is often celebrated for his keen ear for beat-selection, does this mean he has a discerning taste for discovering untapped talent too? With the Maybach Music Group taking over the Roseland Ballroom Sunday for a concert featuring MMG members Wale, Meek Mill and Rick Ross essentially taking a victory lap, we decided to take a look back at the difference MMG has made to their careers.
In the late 2000s, Wale was one of the genre’s most promising new artists. Charismatic, poignant and creative, he seemed to have all the tools ready to be Washington DC’s first breakout rap star. After his 2008 “Seinfeld”-tribute mixtape The Mixtape About Nothing, he seemed positioned to make 2009 his year. Unfortunately, his major label debut Attention Deficit failed to connect with any substantial audience.
But why didn’t it work? If anything, Wale had stripped away his more regional esoteric aspects (gone was his Go-Go-backed live show) and collaborated with everyone from Lady Gaga to underground rap hero Brother Ali to expand his fanbase. Following Attention Deficit‘s underwhelming performance (which label Interscope chalked up to under-shipping the album) Wale focused on touring until a guest spot on Waka Flocka Flame’s monster hit “No Hands” catapulted him back into the mainstream rap landscape.
Once it seemed Wale was capable of success again, Maybach signed him in early 2011 and helped shaped him into the popular artist he is today. A quick viewing of the above “I’m Chillin'” and “Ambition” videos shows a world of a difference. Under the Maybach tutelage, Wale altered his approach to rhyme-writing into a style that both emphasized his more appealing aspects, and noticeably toned down his potentially alienating slant rhymes. His Maybach debut Ambition, also revealed a substantially more focused sound. Instead of trying to reach as many fanbases as possible, Wale found his own lane and saw his personal following grow as a result.
Meek Mill was signed to TI’s Grand Hustle imprint in 2008, right around the time both artists were to serve a brief prison stint. As a result, despite a mixtape buzz for tracks like “In My Bag,” Mill got somewhat lost in the shuffle and left the label in 2010. Fortunately for Mill, Ross signed him to Maybach in 2011, which saw him land a spot in the XXL Freshman List as well as undergo a noticeable overhaul.
While Mill’s modifications aren’t quite as drastically significant as Wale’s, they’re still noticeable, even when comparing his two breakout party tracks, “In My Bag” and “House Party.” While “In My Bag” shows an undeniable charisma that makes Mill’s presence stand out despite a heavy influence from the rap climate of 2008, his 2011 Maybach-approved smash “House Party” fine tunes all of Mill’s strengths, allowing his unhinged but focused energy to blaze its own trail and make for one of the year’s most memorable songs.
But the biggest adjustment to Mill has to be the sound of his debut album Dreams and Nightmares. An album much more inline with the imprint’s catalog, boasting a sleek production and overall triumphant vibe that’s become the label’s signature sound, Mill spends the album dwelling on the conflicts he eventually overcomes and reflecting the struggles around him. While these are themes not entirely uncommon in Mill’s music, it’s noticeable that the album contains no sign of the club-friendly “In My Bag”/ “House Party” Mill that the rap world was initially drawn to. As missed as those elements are, the serious tone did allow for the album to be well received and heralded as Mill’s more “mature” evolution.
Trina featuring Rick Ross – “Told Y’all” 2002
Of course, no conversation about Maybach Music Group would be complete without discussing the boss himself, Rick Ross. 2012 marks a full 10 years that he’s been in the rap game, and while he didn’t make a major impact until his 2006 single “Hustlin,” his first taste of national success was in the form of assisting Trina on the 2002 single “Told Y’all.”
The lead single from the soundtrack to the Ice Cube/Mike Epps comedy It’s All About the Benjamins, “Told Y’all” (above) features a young Ross so energetic that he’s almost unrecognizable. Rocking a basketball jersey/white t-shirt combo, the beardless Ross spits a rapid-fire 14-bar verse without any of the trademark ad libs or boasts that have become his bread and butter. While it’s a solid–albeit oddly timed–verse, it’s clear why Ross needed to diminish the influence of his contemporaries in order to craft his own style and become a certified rap superstar. Perhaps it’s precisely these dramatic changes Ross made to his own style that allows Maybach to succeed as the go-to label for a career makeover. Few rap artists ever successfully change the game, but as we’ve seen, Maybach Music has managed to go one step further and change the players.