Pain music exists as a hip-hop staple. Nineteen-year-old South Florida rapper YNW Melly knows this well, breaking out in 2018 with his shattering single “Murder On My Mind”—currently sitting at 73 million views on YouTube—off his debut I AM YOU. The ache of the cut brought Melly into the spotlight and kept him there all year. He even Blessed the Booth with a bevy of off-the-wall flows. With a throng of profiles, interviews, and reviews to his name, the young songster plods forward with the release of his sophomore effort, We All Shine.
Per the title, We All Shine is a brighter and, at times, more sing-songy affair. Here, when Melly doubles down on his signature gun and prison talk, he proves himself to be an artist growing into his own. Yet, when he wanders into freewheeling territory, Melly often loses sight of why his music is successful.
In that breath, the EY3ZLOWBEATZ-produced "Beat a N***a Block" is a quintessential gun talk ballad with soulful undertones. We hear, indulge in, and affirm Melly’s pain. There's an aim to the track that feels missing from "Robbery," a song with poor construction that ultimately goes down as criminal elevator music. Thankfully "Beat a N***a Block" takes all the meat of the final verse of "Robbery" and flips it into a fully realized tune, one that reminds us why YNW Melly and his piercing inflections first garnered attention. Those same inflections and croons give Melly a leg up over featured guest Kanye West on “Mixed Personalities.” West simply does not hit the notes as Melly does, which is a boon to Melly and his fresh, slack drawl.
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Meanwhile, the TrillGotJuice-produced "No Holiday" is everything we want from YNW Melly. The spry and stringent vocal range, the simple truths of loss, and a rattling identity crisis all come together to make this track the spiritual successor to "Murder On My Mind." There are moments of gut-punching hurt and humor all the same, proving little can keep Melly down. We even get some political commentary between tear-jerking hooks. Consider this the heartbreaking centerpiece of We All Shine.
Yet, the dissonance between "City Girls" and "Hold Up (Wait 1 Min)" makes the sex talk on the album less than gratifying. While the melodies are gummy and easy to sink into, the move from promising a whole new world to a woman to remarking on women "swallowing penis" makes it difficult to buy either persona. If we're selling sex, go for the outlandish. More lines about squirting on money, fewer allusions to themes from Aladdin. To his credit, he strikes a strong balance on "Mixed Personalities" and we can appreciate him becoming a more matured lover on "Control Me," too.
The ultimate problem of We All Shine is not that YNW Melly is out of things to say, but rather that he is struggling to say them. The pain and personality simply aren’t as dialed in this time around. The moments of We All Shine are reduced to just that: moments. Too often, sections of songs outshine the songs themselves. YNW Melly's unique voice and cartoonish inflections, his expert use of juxtaposition—it's all present but painfully subdued. His one-of-a-kind presence is here, but it does not save the album.
Standout Track: “No Holiday”
Best Bar: “This Turkey dry as fuck, don’t wanna eat it.”
Favorite Moment: YNW Melly’s commendable sense of humor on “No Holiday.”