Maino - If Tomorrow Comes

Posted July 22, 2009
Tags: Maino,

Hip-hop has always been about stories, and Maino has a hell of a story to tell. Born and raised...

If Tomorrow Comes Album Review

Hip-hop has always been about stories, and Maino has a hell of a story to tell. Born and raised in Brooklyn, the birthplace of a long line of gangsters/rappers, Maino’s spent ten years behind bars for his part in a drug-related kidnapping. After his release in 2003, Maino decided to start hustling music as hard as he had hustled the streets, eventually triumphing and landing a deal with Universal. Hollywood would end the story there, but Maino’s real life struggles were far from over. After splitting with Universal he landed with Atlantic Records, only to have to continue to fight to see his debut album, If Tomorrow Comes, released. Every artist has to struggle before they see their first album drop (except for maybe Bow Wow) but Maino had to struggle more than most, which makes If Tomorrow Comes more than an album, it makes it a minor miracle. Oh, and he also slapped Yung Berg.

The good news is that Maino is much more than a feel good story. On If Tomorrow Comes Maino proves himself to be a legitimate rapper, albeit one who relies more on personality and history than rhymes to carry his music. In some ways he’s following the blueprint laid down by Plies, whose own “criminal gone legit, but not too legit” story echoes Maino’s. But if anything proves Maino is much more than just a Plies follower it’s the album’s structure: each song is a cinematic affair that tells another chapter in his struggle to find rap stardom after prison. Kind of like Jay’s American Gangster…very kind of.

Unsurprisingly, Maino is at his best when he’s at his realest, when we feel like we’re getting an unfiltered look into the concrete hard life that made him. The best example is the Back to Life, a track that lays out Maino’s first post-prison days, days in which he formulated the plan to become a rapper. (He also reveals that he’s confident he can hustle people into buying his music, even though he can’t rap. Why he chooses to reveal this information is beyond me - do with it what you will.) Even better is the introspective Runaway Slave, a track that has Maino contemplating dying “before I start living out my plans, die before I see my son grow into a man.” It’s a bravely honest song, and also one of the album’s best. Unfortunately, that honesty doesn’t always work so well, particularly on Kill You, a track detailing Maino's fantasies about killing the nagging mother of his child. It takes an extraordinary amount of lyrical skill and emotional delivery to pull of a song like this – just ask Eminem – and Maino’s not remotely up to the task, leaving Kill You sounding like the angry ramblings of a domestic abuser. Fortunately If Tomorrow Comes is too strong to be dragged down by the weak Kill You, though I have to believe Maino will someday regret making that track.

If Tomorrow Comes is as much a story of celebration as it is of hardship, and Maino deservedly chooses to frequently revel in his success. Just take All of the Above, a Just Blaze and T-Pain backed joint currently burning up the airwaves. All of the Above is Maino at his most inspirational, a rapper with enough credibility to say “if I can do this you can do anything,” and sounds damn good while he does it. By contrast the strictly party focused Million Bucks feels disappointingly flat. Swizz Beatz repetitive production style veers dangerously close to annoying, and picturing Maino doing the The Money Dance is like picturing Trina rapping about abstinence. Both tracks illustrate that when Maino strays from his strength, describing his life, he can be very hit or miss, hitting hard with the bouncing Celebrate but striking out with the formulaic and forced Let’s Make a Movie (though he does manage to impressively rhyme “difficult” and “nipples”).

On his next album Maino will have to rely less on the story of his past and more on his future as an evolving rapper to succeed, but in the interest of not having a middle finger and a Hi Hater directed my way, let’s end on a high note. Hip-hop can be many things, but to Maino it was and is a path to a better life, and he should be applauded for walking down that path, no matter the obstacles. You can begin clapping now.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted July 22, 2009
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