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Mike WiLL Made-It - Creed II The Album Music Album Reviews

Whereas the first Creed soundtrack reached for the rafters, the sequel is placeless and tame. Its only muse seems to be Mike WiLL’s contact list.

The standout scene in Creed isn’t a fight. It’s Adonis Creed, the main character, shadow boxing in front of a projection of his dead father fighting Rocky Balboa. Adonis has no relationship with his father, but in that brief moment he inherits the glory of his father’s career. Fueled by that distant admiration, and determined to forge his own path, he spends the rest of the movie escaping his father’s shadow, a struggle that deepens in Creed II. The film’s soundtrack isn’t as gutsy. Executive produced by Mike WiLL Made-It, the record is a bland collection of struggle raps and overwrought ballads. “Inspired by” the film to a fault, the album is so literal it hurts.

In theory, Mike WiLL is a perfect fit for a film franchise about the strain of legacy. A key player in rap’s pop coup over the past decade, he’s established himself as a shrewd expansionist. Starting with trap and strategically branching out, he’s built a solid catalog of strip club anthems (“Rake It Up”; “Pour It Up”), spacey trap ditties (“Turn on the Lights”), pop bangers (“23”), and everything in between. He often speaks of this versatility as a direct product of his fear of being pigeon-holed. “I don’t want to just have a rap label. I want to have a whole label. I want to have a whole dynasty,” he said in 2015. “If you’re a super producer you can produce on all levels. Any genre of music,” he said earlier this year, “You can produce artists. You can produce clothing. You can produce movies.”

Given his proven range and his will to keep on broadening, a soundtrack would presumably be an ideal platform for Mike WiLL to stretch his wings. Instead, the record is grounded to a fault. The soundbed is largely monochrome and dim, confined to a drab grayscale that’s often embellished with streaks of gloomy noodling and dull brass. Reproducing the weighty tone of the film, the vibe is generally either sad or serious—which ultimately comes across as safe. Whereas the first Creed soundtrack reached for the rafters and used Philadelphia as a muse for its pomp and brashness, this record is placeless and tame. Its only muse seems to be Mike WiLL’s contact list.

While the first film’s soundtrack had the benefit of being a compilation stacked with iconic songs like Tupac’s “Hail Mary” and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ “Wake Up Everybody,” the original songs (one of which was produced by Mike WiLL) were more than placeholders. They embodied the spirit of the movie, channeling Adonis’ strife and determination into chest-puffing fun.

Here, the performances are either remarkably phoned in or embarrassingly straightforward. Nas’ verse on “Check” is a literal plot summary. “He trying to be a father, but he lost his father to the same thing,” he raps. “Watching Me” squanders excellent, moody verses by Kodak Black and Slim Jxmmi to pad what feels like a drowsy Swaecation throwaway. Quavo raps a play-by-play narrative of a fistfight on a song imaginatively titled “F.I.G.H.T.” and it’s somehow more literal than the song name: “Knuckle up, knuckle up/Nigga got hit with the uppercut/He got a cut on his eye/Damn, now he can’t see, it done closed up.”

Ari Lennox and J. Cole’s sultry “Shea Butter Baby” and Crime Mob and Slim Jxmmi’s crunk throwback “We Can Hit (Round 1)” escape all this literalism and bring some much appreciated camp. Both songs are excessive and, most importantly, amusing. There is only one knockout, though. Pharrell and Kendrick Lamar are dazzling on “The Mantra,” spitballing flows and ideas into weird, technicolor lines. For them, legacies are built both inside and outside the ring, within the intensity of competition and the looseness of play. That attitude fits Creed II, which ends with Adonis defending his title by redefining what it means to him. If this colorless cash-in is the extent of his vision, Mike WiLL, too, might want to redefine his title—for this outing, super producer doesn’t fit.


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