Following in the footsteps of 2009's set We Are Young Money, Rise of an Empire mixes Cash Money veterans with some newcomers to Birdman's hip-hop label. It's a smooth move, introducing new artists alongside Weezy and such, but here, it's an uneven and maybe even expected case of crazy-sexy-cool beating extra-anxious. When it comes to the former, there's Drake stomping over Hit-Boy's Viking-worthy beat on "Trophies," a two-headed monster of a track that pits verses-filled Southern rap victory against an emo-rap chorus ("I'm just tryin' to stay alive and take care of my people/And they ain't got no award for that"). "Senile," with Tyga, Nicki Minaj, and Lil Wayne, is a snarky, robotic keeper, plus a great example of how quirky futuristic thug music is something Cash Money excels at. Then there's Nicki on her own, channeling her vicious Roman Zolanski character on the creeping "Lookin A**," a number that combines her raw mixtape past with her star-studded present, and then adds some underground and experimental touches just to show this diva can do most anything. Wayne's solo "Moment" makes massive song number four as it starts off slurring and slow, then seems to awaken and stir itself into a Carter-worthy declaration of independence, but the young bucks only put two kicks through the highlight goalpost: "One Time" (some twerpy and weird cloud rap from Lil Twist) and "Hittin' Like" (brassy singer Shanell combining Beyoncé's power and old-school recess cool for a track that's a true jump-roper's delight). Other Freshman cuts like Euro's "Induction Speech" are bold enough and big enough for inclusion even if they can't reach the towering heights that the senior class provide. Call it a wobbly when it comes to quality, or a showcase for the young that's stolen by the old, but it's best to consider it a simple roster-promoting label compilation that just happens to come with an EP or so worth of fire.
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AllMusic Review by David Jeffries