On one side of the rap continuum lies the mixtape: manic, unpredictable, thick with uncleared samples and, usually, the accompanying stink of grungy amateurism. On another extreme, far enough away that we start seeing odd similarities, is the crew album, composed of a sundry assortment of voices that brings together bench players and stars, allowing the second stringers a chance to substantiate themselves beyond a few scant guest bars. These albums often exude a talent-show vibe that, despite a clear insistence on sounding professional, comes across as slapdash, the number of voices and producers making for wild sonic chaos and huge gaps in quality.
Perhaps just a little more scattered and weak than the previous two installments, the Rick Ross-governed Self Made, Vol. 3 achieves little out of the ordinary, while providing a few solid tracks that stand out from the general unevenness on display. It opens with a verse from Lil’ Snupe, the 18-year-old talent signed to Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers imprint before being tragically shot to death in June, who then gets a reverent shout-out from Ross. The mourning only lasts for a brief moment, however, as elegiac murmurings cede to soundbites of posh British women repping the label and a series of vroom-vroom racing sounds on “Gallardo,” which bizarrely equates luxury-car purchasing with paid sex. This is hip-hop at its most juvenile, all simplistic sentiment, hater paranoia, and throbbing masculinity, a feeling only encouraged by the Ric Flair sample that opens Mill’s “Bout That Life.”
For a while, it seems like the album will only provide condensed versions of familiar tics: Mill spitting out breathless, frenzied verses; Wale getting unnecessarily technical; Ross offering his signature—and always entertaining—beefy grunts and armchair declarations of bawse-hood. But there are a few nice surprises on the album’s back half. “Know You Better” has a twisted piano line that outshines Omarion’s underwhelming performance, and “Coupes and Roses” is a genuine coup for label stalwart Stalley, a slinky, totally unexpected bit of jazz-rap that finds him deftly stepping around cooing sax lines. “What Ya Used To” further cements Hit Boy as one of the most interesting producers working today, with a cyclic, off-kilter beat reverberating under Rockie Fresh’s rhythmic repetition and the producer’s own passable guest verse. Gems like these make up for misfires like Mill’s tedious “Levels,” and the somber huddle that emerges as Wale takes on one of his signature social messages on “Poor Decisions,” which Ross mostly uses as an excuse to shame those less successful at imaginary crime than him.