At long last, more than a year after its originally scheduled release date in January of 2016, Atlanta superproducer and Ear Drummers commander-in-chief Mike WiLL Made-It has finally released Ransom 2, the highly anticipated follow-up to his 2014 mixtape.
Like the first Ransom, the sequel is a star-studded affair. While the initial project shined a spotlight on what was to become the next crop of Atlanta stars (including Young Thug, Rae Sremmurd, Rich Homie Quan, Migos, iLoveMakonnen, Bankroll Fresh and more), the second installment for the most part foregoes a new slate of mostly untapped talent to find Mike linking back up with old friends to explore new territory.
Sure, newcomers like Lil Yachty and 21 Savage are present, but these are hardly names hip-hop fans haven’t been inundated with already. Not as well known are names like Andrea, Fortune and Eearz, though, listeners should recognize them from the first Ransom.
Ransom 2, then, is the culmination of Mike WiLL’s career to date, a roundup of the best and brightest in his contact list, coming together for a curated all-star game atop the sounds of one of hip-hop’s (and pop music’s) leading hitmakers. That it’s Mike WiLL’s debut studio album, after initially being teased as a possible mixtape, in combination with such esteemed features, sets the expectations high.
Sonically, Ransom 2 is a direct descendant of its predecessor—a deeper exploration into the boundaries of how spaced-out, fried, blunted and weird trap music can get, all-the-while underscored by Mike’s signature 808s—thudding, plodding and, ultimately, brain-liquifying.
3 Standout Songs:
“Perfect Pint” (ft. Kendrick Lamar, Gucci Mane & Rae Sremmurd)
The Black Beatles meet a Black Hippy in what’s sure to be the album’s most buzzworthy track, and it’s also one of the best, but only thanks to Kendrick’s ability to flip and stretch his vocals to fit any environment. Kendrick linking with two of “real” hip-hop’s sworn enemies in Gucci Mane and Rae Sremmurd is what will lead to most curious listeners pressing play, and while K. Dot adapts to the territory admirably and still drops gems (“Everybody a Crip ‘til they black and blue / Everybody a blood ‘til they’re hemorrhaging”), it’s Swae Lee that steals the show. Over an eerie, minimal backdrop that gives the feeling of staggering through narrow, fog-soaked basement hallways with no end in sight, Swae’s hook is a haunting companion through the intoxication. Floating in only briefly like a guiding spirit, it’s a shame he isn’t more present.
“Y’all Ain’t Ready” (ft. 2 Chainz)
In what’s easily the most intimidatingly unnerving—and fucking incredible—moment on the album, what sounds like a chorus of ghouls and a lighter flick usher in the entrance of 2 Chainz out of what seems like the center of the earth. “Automatic weapons and Giuseppes” is repeated like a command from our new king who arrived straight out of another dimension, which 2 Chainz later alludes to (“This is a different dimension”). Few song titles have been as fitting as “Y’all Ain’t Ready” is here—this is what the soundtrack to the apocalypse in a distant dystopian future sounds like once we’re overtaken by an army of YSL-clad, AK-toting androids.
“Aries (YuGo)” (ft. Pharrell & Station Wagon P)
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my time on this planet, it’s that Pharrell can do no wrong. This becomes apparent within the first 15 seconds of “Aries,” just ask Mike himself. By the time Pharrell shows up, one’s brain is so numbed from the variety of gruff-voiced guests and assertive raps over skull-shaking production that makes up the first half of the album that Pharrell arrives like an angel descending from a white beam of light from above. Not that “Aries” doesn’t bump—the bass is ever-present—but the juxtaposition of Pharrell’s gentle melodies and Mike’s production is a combo that works in anthemic fashion. Skateboard—or Station Wagon—P’s still got it.
Ransom 2 is a step up from its predecessor, but like most pretty much every other major release from the last couple years, it could afford to trim some fat from its hour-plus runtime. While it's a cohesive listen grounded in Mike WiLL's murky, submerged world, many of the tracks fail to live up to the stature that their star power warrants.
The album's previously released singles failed to make a mark for a reason; "Nothing Is Promised" with Rihanna is generic and boring and "Gucci On My"—which sounds like it's bubbling up from the depths of a tar pit—collects uninspired verses from 21 Savage, YG and Migos in what should have been amounted to a triple-headed monster of a track.
Other missed opportunities include "Bars of Soap," a solo Swae Lee song with all the promise of a melodic masterpiece that instead is a hook-less sprint of raps that despite all it’s suave, futuristic sleekness points more to what could have been, and "Burnin," which features stellar production that nearly opens up a vortex in the ceiling, yet pairs it with rhymes from Andrea that fail to stand atop the beat and seem in a state of catch-up.
With standout features from 2 Chainz, Young Thug, Future, Rae Sremmurd, Pharrell and Eearz, combined with Mike WiLL's shining, speaker-obliterating production, though, the album's high points outweigh the low ones.
Ransom 2 is space trap, beamed in from a Bando from the outer reaches of a faraway nebula, and while the party falls short of expectations considering the guest list, the album sets a new benchmark in how truly out-of-this-world trap from Atlanta can sound.