There are some parties that famous people only show up to out of obligation. The Met Gala, for example. There’s no way that, if invited, you would not go the Met Gala. But then you turn up, and everyone is terrified and uncomfortable and miserable and surrounded by assholes.
Then there are parties that famous people go to because they are actually fun, and their friends are there, and they can get drunk and be themselves while also partying like millionaires. “Ransom 2,” Mike Will Made-It’s new album, is one of those parties. Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar and Pharrell and Gucci Mane and Future and Lil Yachty and Migos all show up, check their jackets at the door, and proceed to wile out–not because Mike Will is some weird, looming dictator of a scene, but because he’s the motherfuckin’ man and they want to party with him.
This is Mike Will’s moment: the man behind “Formation” and “Black Beatles” has another monster banger on his hands with Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” and hopefully, “Ransom 2” is just the appetizer to whatever the pair has cooking on Kendrick’s new album. But “Ransom 2” deserves a deep dive because of both its rugged production and its ridiculous wealth of stars, some of whom turned up the party with strokes of genius, and some of whom did not. Here’s every cameo on “Ransom 2,” from worst to best.
- Lil Yachty (“Hasselhoff”)
Lil Yachty the human is mostly very good. Lil Yachty the rapper is mostly very bad. Go ahead, call me an old. Also call me when he learns how to rap in time. The toothless Yachty putting on a tough, hypermasculine front is just as laughable as when Andy Samberg does it, but minus the self-awareness.
21. Eearz (“Emotions Unlocked”)
You know those dudes who hand you their mixtape on the corner and then demand $5? I’m pretty sure they all sound like this. You couldn’t get a computer program to code a line more generic and uninteresting than “Spendin’ my day, smokin’ my weed and reflectin’, countin’ my blessings.”
- Big Sean (“On the Come Up”)
Big Sean is a tryhard. I bet he spend hours on rewrites. He has a notebook full of numbered bad puns and similes. He uses a thesaurus. He listens to Enimem’s “Encore” every day and takes notes, and watches Jimmy Fallon every night. He laughs at everything that Kanye says. He happily will run errands for Pusha T.
Fuck, that sounds just like me. Carry on, Big Sean.
19. Lil Wayne (“Faith”)
Lil Wayne has sleathily slipped into 2017 Carmelo mode: everyone still tells him he’s a star and treats his name with respect. But more and more you see him jogging back on defense and taking possessions away from younger, better stars, and the long fadeaway long 2s that used to swish are now clanking off the rim.
18-11. YG, Migos, Trouble, Lil Wayne, Hoodybaby, Chief Keef, Slim Jimmy, 21 Savage, Kendrick Lamar
All these bros are fine.
- Problem (““Big God”)
Question: how do you fit this odd assortment of syllables (“In front of church, guns, a TV and a bootleg DVD / You old players need to stop hatin’ on these young ballers / Barkley and Shaq, TNT”) into a rhyme scheme?
Answer: You don’t. Problem is delightfully blase about his flow, and couldn’t care less for your math-based music theory. Fuck your 16, Problem is here for 21 bars: rambling, slurred, out-of-tempo bars. He sounds shambolic yet utterly liberated.
- Gucci Mane (“Perfect Pint”)
In direct contrast, Guwop comes in precise, fresh and focused, brimming with internal rhymes:
“I’m in the trap saran wrappin’ with the Vaseline /
You know the clean lean jump like trampoline”
His raspy voice perfectly matches the snare, and he sounds as nimble as ever.
- Young Thug (“W Y O”)
Gucci has been doing piano duo gigs lately, but really, it’s Thugger who should be embracing these low-key cabaret settings. I would pay unlimited money to see a leaned-out Thug and Metro Boomin’ confuse the Carlyle audience with a maudlin version of “Harambe.” He probably won’t, though, because he’s rich.
7, 6. Fortune (“Oh Hi Hater (Hiatus)”) and Andrea (““Burnin’””)
Iunno who these people are, but damn can they flow. They’re water and fire: Fortune’s song is woozy and bluesy; his cool, clipped cadences breath easy. Andrea meanwhile, doesn’t take a syllable off, slamming her voice into the concrete beat over and over.
- Future (“Razzle Dazzle”)
“Razzle Dazzle” is Mike’s best beat on the record: crisp and haunting, with both the grim energy to be a workout anthem and the wooziness to accompany a 2 a.m. smoke sesh. Future attacks this minefield of hi-hats and synths like Le’Veon Bell relentlessly bouncing and weaving through the hole. (Unrelated note: every time I listen to this I just think about Future in a full pinsuit belting the other “Razzle Dazzle.”)
- Swae Lee (“Perfect Pint”)
As the crown jewel of Mike Will’s collection, Swae gets the most runtime on the record, trying on several hats with varying degrees of success. “Bars of Soap” is essentially 64 bars of Swae trying to be Big Sean (“Money talk, it’s a lecture”), which is bad. But he gets his Michelle Branch flow on for the angsty, melodic “Come Down,” and embraces his Trap Shirley Temple identity on “Perfect Pint” — his angelic, lovesick crooning readymade for whatever ghetto Nicholas Sparks bootleg comes next. I hope Swae stays 16 forever.
- Pharrell (“Aries (YuGo)”)
There’s absolutely no reason Pharrell needs to be trying on other people’s records in 2017. He’s now a member of both the black elite AND the Hollywood elite; he’s basically made the full transition to spiritual leader/motivational speaker who can create whole careers with just the widening of his eyes. But Skateboard P breathes fire into both the anthemic chorus and the rap, proving he’s one of the very few artists who still can do you both (there’s Frank… Anderson.Paak…Nicky… and see #2). He gets his guru on, drops nonsensical references and and stunts on police brutality along the way:
“Paparazzi yellin’ freeze while the cops are yellin’ freeze / From the ambulance / that nigga dyin’ in the street / He do the Hammer Dance”
- Rihanna (“Nothing Is Promised”)
“Ain’t none of us perfect,” Rihanna sings. That is untrue. Rihanna is perfect. Listening to her jump on the flow makes me wonder why other rappers even bother trying to sound swaggy.
- 2 Chainz (“Y’all Ain’t Ready”)
There’s more attitude than effort on “Y’all Ain’t Ready,” and yet so much to unpack. There are three different hooks, all of them so simple yet fire enough to carry their own songs. Every verse couplet could be another hook, making the song a huge chorus tree. 2 Chainz slips into seemingly every recent in vogue Atlanta flow for a couple bars, and ad libs incessantly. It’s his effortless attitude and singular drawl that make the track undeniably his own.
2 Chainz, better than anyone here, understands all of the nuances and contradictions of Mike Will’s music. The song perfectly combines grittiness with lavish excess; menace with absurdity; hilarity with grimness; maximalism with restraint. It amounts to one of the funnest and catchiest songs of 2017.