If the phrase “almost decent” were embodied in an album, I’m convinced that this would be that album. What drew me to “The Birth of a Nation: The Inspired By Album” was just how many big names were attached to it from all sorts of genres such as Gucci Mane, Lil Wayne, Vic Mensa, Anthony Hamilton, Killer Mike, Nas, choir groups from around the nation and The Game, among a number of others artists involved
These artists came together to create a collection of songs inspired by the newly released movie “The Birth of a Nation.” While I fail to see the inspiration in anything more than surface level similarities between the album and the film, I was surprised with just how good some of the tracks on this album ended up being
At the same time, my expectations were met by this album’s array of fatty filler tracks that generally tended to sound very similar to one another.
The new film “Birth of a Nation” is a dramatic retelling of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion that occurred in 1831. Being concerned with a violent slave rebellion, I thought that the ground for inspiration would be ripe for producing hard-hitting, angry songs about the state of America 185 years after Turner’s violent revolution.
Instead, I got power-ballads, so many power-ballads. But I am left utterly complexed with how anyone could watch a movie about a slave rebellion and say, “Yeah, I’m inspired to make a ballad.”
It’s one thing to make a ballad tied to a movie like “Selma”—it makes sense to have a slower song about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. (half of Common’s music is basically that anyway).
It also makes sense for a movie like “Selma” to have a song like that. But if a song is supposedly inspired by a movie about the deadliest American slave revolt in history (not to mention the fact that the movie takes its name from a literal Ku Klux Klan propaganda film), it makes no sense for that song to sound so similar to one featured in a movie about nonviolence.
This is easily my biggest complaint with the album: There are just way too many ballads, and they are all trying to copy the success of “Glory,” the hit track from “Selma.”
This album has a collection of genuinely good songs, but the vast majority of “The Inspired By Album” consists of derivative, boring, uninspired ballads. These songs come from people like Georgia Ku, Trey Songz, Ne- Yo and KAMAU.
It’s honestly hard to tell these songs apart from one another due to their respective singing voices, instrumentation and rap elements, and the fact that they all come one after the other in the track listing certainly doesn’t help. Frankly, I found it incredibly boring to listen to.
Admittedly, I did call this album “almost decent” at the beginning of this review, so it isn’t all bad. There are good songs on here that I think are worth checking out. These songs are angry and hard-hitting hip-hop tracks that work better with the subject matter of the movie.
The first six tracks are exactly what I initially wanted from this album. These songs stand on their own somewhat, but they really work better when taken together as a collective entity..
The rappers on these first six tracks actually sound like they were inspired by the movie “The Birth of a Nation.” Pusha T and Meek Mill deliver the best track on the album, “Black Moses,” in which they compare Nat Turner’s rebellion to modern America.
If that last sentence sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. 2 Chainz has a solo track on this album titled “Whip and a Chain” (bonus points if you noticed that this title might be a double-entendre), and it’s actually a pretty good track.
2 Chainz somehow manages to balance creating a song that is both high-energy and typically 2 Chainz with some surprisingly conscious lyrics calling for action from the new generation.”
The ridiculousness only ramps up in intensity after this. 2 Chainz was honestly just preparing you to hear Gucci Mane and Lil Wayne rap about social activism.
If I didn’t think that Gucci Mane, Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz were completely serious about what they said on these tracks, I would have hated these tracks for potentially being quick cash grabs.
But honestly, I think these rappers out-did the socially outspoken Killer Mike who appears just two songs later on the album in terms of technical proficiency as well as lyrical content.
Now don’t let me get your hopes up too high. This album isn’t the sequel to Kendrick reciting a poem to 2Pac, this isn’t Common talking to kids about what they want to be when they grow up and this isn’t even Jay Z telling a story about getting pulled over.
These tracks are simply ridiculous, and they’re all the better for it. They aren’t good songs because of technical proficiency or because they’re something new.
However, these songs are good because they’re almost a novelty. It’s ridiculously fun to hear Vic Mensa, Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz and even Lecrae rap over beats composed of rattling chains alongside snare drums. It borders on self-parody, but there’s just this bizarre sort of charm to it that makes it work.
I wish I could say that this charm was present over the entire album. But I can’t. Those ballads really, really bring the album down.
They’re boring, repetitive and really just don’t fit on an album of songs which were supposedly inspired by the movie “Birth of a Nation.” What’s worse is that the rap songs on here really aren’t that bad. And compared to the ballads, they sound genuinely inspired. I just wish I could say the same for the rest of the album.