One of the most prolific hip-hop producers of this generation was gifted control of a major motion picture soundtrack with strong ties to hip-hop culture. Kendrick Lamar curated the Black Panther soundtrack to outstanding effect, and considering Mike Will is on a similar level that Kendrick is in the rap game (albeit behind the scenes), this soundtrack should be pretty lit. Creed II is set to be a box office smash, and there are high-profile rap features all over this thing. They definitely pulled out all the stops to promote this film, and since hip-hop is without a doubt the most popular genre of music in the world by any metric, this seems to be a good strategy. One thing concerns me though. These epic collaborations between top producers and rappers only live up to the hype sometimes, and when they miss, they miss badly because of the lofty expectations. This soundtrack is chock-full of them, thus making it very much a boom-or-bust body of work. But enough with the speculation, let’s see what’s really REALLY good with the Creed II soundtrack.
- Mike Will is one of the most prolific rap producers of the 2010s. Has produced 12 platinum singles (many of them multiple times platinum) as well as many gold records
- Got famous for his early trap sound and working with Atlanta artists, but has since branched off and worked with all types of artists and grown his sound exponentially
- Has released his own studio projects himself as well in this same sort of collaboration style, but usually worked with his core artists such as Rae Sremmurd, Future, Trouble and Gucci Mane
- Best productions released before Creed II: The Album: “Turn on the Lights (Future)“, “Pour it Up (Rihanna)“, “War Ready (Rick Ross feat. Young Jeezy)” “Black Beatles (Rae Sremmurd feat. Gucci Mane)“, “Humble (Kendrick Lamar)“
- Best project released before Creed II: The Album: Edgewood (with Trouble)
If need be, here is a reference to how I score tracks/albums.
- Amen (Pre Fight Prayer): Spacey and trippy production, something out of Mike Will’s comfort zone. Lil Wayne spits a slower spoken word verse but still gives us the creative lyricism he always brings. 4/5
- Do You Need Power? (Walk Out Music): A seamless transition from the first track. The guitar comes in perfectly, and the piano leaves a nice backdrop for indie rock, Grammy-winning Kanye collaborator Bon Iver to croon over. 4/5
- We Can Hit (Round 1): Twitter was buzzing about this one because Mike Will managed to find Crime Mob and put them on a song that suited their skill set perfectly. Slim Jxmmi matches the energy very well. However, it sounds very similar to their classic from yesteryear Knock If You Buck; but that’s not the worst thing in the world. 4/5
- Kill Em With Success: More typical Mike Will production too. Eearz takes hook duty and is no better than average on either that or his verses. ScHoolboy Q and 2 Chainz both had nice verses though to save the song. 3.5/5
- Check: Whoa. Definitely wasn’t expecting anything like this sonically from Mike Will. Like Rick Ross said, it sounds like some country western shit. Both Nas and Ricky Rozay deliver some of the best verses on the project over the best instrumental by far. 4.5/5
- Fate: Mike Will stays in his pocket here as he gives us a beat that is tailored for his frequent collaborators Swae Lee and Young Thug. Swae Lee brings his trademark melodies, and Young Thug gives us a barely audible but still very catchy melodic verse. 4/5
- Shea Butter Baby: Another step in a different creative direction for Mike Will. Ari Lennox croons soulfully over this slower and warmer instrumental. J. Cole gives us a verse and also lays some nice harmonies down. Excellent song. 4.5/5
- The Mantra: This is the heavy hitting collab we’ve been waiting for, or is it? Pharrell and Kendrick are both geniuses in their own right, but neither really give us what they’re truly capable of over a more traditional sounding Mike Will instrumental. 3/5
- Watching Me: Mike Will is back to a darker guitar sound, good instrumental. Swae Lee doesn’t hit the heights of his hook on “Fate,” and Kodak is disappointing on his verse, Slim Jximmi is a bright spot, a solid verse from him. 3.5/5
- F.I.G.H.T.: Song was meant to be an epic collaboration on this hype instrumental, 6 minutes long though. I’m just gonna rate the verses one by one and call it a day. Eearz = good, Gucci = decent but vibe didn’t match beat, YG = extremely aggressive, Trouble = Good, Quavo = average, Juicy J = good. Too long and not epic enough bars to make up for it. 3/5
- Runnin’: Awesome Rocky-esque instrumental here, great energy. A$AP Rocky still seems like he hasn’t recovered from Testing, not a great verse or hook. Nicki and Ferg come correct to save the song and make use of the beat. 4/5
- Midnight: Slow, spacey, trippy R&B instrumental, total opposite from the last track but fits excellently. Amazing vocal performances from Tessa Thompson and Gunna, he, in particular, gets in his feelings to great effect. 4.5/5
- Bless Me (demo): Soulful vocals over a breakbeat from Ama Lou, but for a demo, it drags on a bit too long. 3.5/5
- Ice Cold (Final Round): Vince Staples plays with vocal effects to begin this song over a very dark, suitable instrumental for him. Spits short but well-delivered verses. Ludwig Goransson closes this instrumental out with an epic full orchestra outro. 4/5
- Love Me Like That (Champion Love): Slower tempo R&B instrumental here. Amazing R&B performance from rising star Ella Mai. Excellent vocals on both the verses and the hook, very emotional, perfect way to close the soundtrack out. 4.5/5
Mike Will gives us a solid soundtrack effort considering the hype and the stakes behind this album. He starts off very strong, going outside of his sonic comfort zone immediately and continues to branch out throughout while still keeping enough of the “old” Mike Will that us hip-hop fans have grown to know and love. The remarkable thing about this transformation is that every he goes out of his comfort zone regarding his sound it seems like he pulls it off. As far as the collaborations go, most are well done. There were definitely a few duds, and the album got a bit stale in the middle, but most of them were due to a result of trying to do too much and stepping outside the box. The highlights come at a premium and cancel out the risks that didn’t pay off. Some of these songs are some of Mike Wills best work of his entire career, and that’s saying something given his incredible production discography. Overall, Mike Will proved he was the right man for the job with this soundtrack. He successfully expanded his sound further as well as strengthened his already incredible collaboration prowess.
Final Score: 80/100