Maino :: If Tomorrow Comes... :: Atlantic Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

"You get truth from me, but these rappers 'gon lie
I'm a part of these streets, till the day that I die
I wave hi to the haters, mad that I finally made it
Take a look, and you can tell that I'm destined for greatness"

Jermaine Coleman is in many ways the music industry horror story - a struggling kid just off a prison bid who inks a major label record deal, visions of balling like a star just within his grasp. Those sweet dreams often as not turn sour as the behind-the-scenes politics of the business result in singles not being pushed, full-length albums being shelved, and artists who linger for years on end in the rap version of what Hollywood terms "developmental hell." Maino has lived this struggle for the last four years, having recorded "Death Before Dishonor" in 2006 only for the album to never officially see the light of day. A half dozen plus mixtapes later, Maino is willing to give the majors a second chance, but even his album's title suggests he's not sure whether or not tomorrow will come. For some this may make "Million Bucks" featuring Swizz Beatz a curious choice for the album's first track.

"Good Lord, look what a beautiful day
My enemies ain't here, they gone away
I feel good, everything is okay
Feel like givin, all my money away
Cause niggaz is broke, it ain't no bread in the hood
Look what they did, they sellin 'pheds in the hood
I ain't gon' change, I'm coming back to the hood
Do what I do and give back to the hood
I'm blessed, went places I never been
I lived to see a black President
I'm good, yes I feel good
Drinks on me - baby, what's good?"

The track stops suddenly though just before the three minute mark, and in a Quentin Tarantino like moment our star reveals that was the END of the story, and the rest has yet to be seen. Maino takes us back to the beginning in "Scene 1" as he's just getting out of prison on a ten year sentence for a drug-related kidnapping. From that point forward rewrite your expectations of Maino. At first glance he might seem like the prototypical New York mixtape rapper who is gold in free downloads, but Jermaine Coleman is a man who has had a plan for a long time that he's just now getting to execute. A lot of rap artists get described as painting cinematic portrayals with their words, but very few actually make an album structured LIKE a movie. The last time I can remember it happening was legendary producer Prince Paul's "A Prince Among Thieves" a decade ago.

It may seem sacrilegious to suggest "If Tomorrow Comes..." is worthy of comparison to that hip-hop classic, but try listening to any part of Maino's album out of order (such as the single "All the Above" featuring T-Pain) then try it again playing the entire album start to scratch. Don't skip the skits, they tell the story too. The line between the real life Jermaine Coleman and the rapper Maino blurs constantly. He's happy to be a free man on "Back to Life," looking forward to living it up and getting some freely offered punani, but at the same time aware he's being watched by his P.O. and expected by many to wind up right back in the pen. Maino vows to succeed on the Prettyboy & Bradd Young produced "Remember My Name," yet the Blast Off produced "Gangsta" featuring B.G. shows the siren call of the streets luring him back to a fast money lifestyle with deadly consequences. The Just Blaze produced "All the Above" actually comes a third of the way into the story, right after Maino meets with Kay Slay trying to get put on.

"You've been seein me lately, I'm a miracle baby
I refuse to lose, this what the ghetto done made me
I put that on my father, tryin to hope for tomorrow
When I think that I can't, I envision Obama
I envision them diamonds, I envision Ferraris
If the world was perfect, all my niggaz behind me
Ain't you happy I made it? Man I'm makin a statement
Take a look, and you can tell that I'm destined for greatness"

Musical production holds the story together as Coleman's alter-ego takes us through a series of highs and lows. From the squeaky bump of J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League on "Here Comes Trouble" to the old school electro funk Mista Raja provides on "Hi Hater" to the smoothed out Chris Styles' ride for "Hood Love" featuring Trey Songz, it all seems to fit like a glove. Each song fits the mood Maino was aiming for lyrically, and each mood fits the scene of the movie he's starring in on the album. Coincidentally or not the song CALLED "Let's Make a Movie" comes just after the halfway point, although a more apt title might have been "Let's Make a Sex Tape." Still the fact that the album operates on so many levels that there's a movie being made within the rags-to-riches movie Coleman portrays on "If Tomorrow Comes..." may leave your head spinning.

Given the beginning of the album was foreshadowing the story to come, I'll offer you this line from the closing scene: "Just when I started to feel like it was no more hope... is when hope presented itself." Does this mean Maino finally achieved the American dream? Perhaps so if you take it at face value, but like any good movie that just came out in theaters, it's cool enough that I want you to see it for yourself. It's easy for Coleman's alter-ego to live out this dream through rhyme, it's much harder to make a skeptical listener or critic actually CARE about the story being told. Maino/Coleman has a husky and compelling vocal delivery, puts far more time and effort into his presentation than most rappers do, and writes tales that feel like they could be ripped right out of his life's diary. Now that's where the skeptic comes back in to sound a cautionary note by saying that being COMPARABLE to "A Prince Among Thieves" is not the same as being EQUAL TO. The effort is laudable but it remains to be seen how compelling Maino will be on future albums without a cinematic format. For the moment at least though he's got my attention, and you might be surprised by "If Tomorrow Comes..." too. Play it all the way through at LEAST once. It's worth it.

Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10

Originally posted: July 7, 2009