Why does your favorite rapper have like seventeen best friends, and why do they all rap?
Rappers at the peak of their fame can sometimes convince the public to temporarily care about their sidekicks and nobody in recent memory has done a better job of it than 50 Cent. Curtis Jackson's G Unit crew experienced substantial commercial success in the early 2000's with Lloyd Banks, Young Buck and The Game all going platinum with their debut releases. In fact prior to the underwhelming Thoughts of a Predicate Felon—Tony Yayo's 2005 album that was so unpopular that it seems to have been scrubbed from popular rap memory—it seemed like 50 had cracked the Billboard code.
What did Curtis do right? Well for starters, his crew had actual talent. Lloyd Banks, perhaps the least charismatic of the crew, was still an accomplished punchline rapper back when that actually mattered, and Young Buck had a knack for penning hits, despite the fact that, according to 50, he was basically a functioning cokehead. The Game was just as much of an unbearable namedropper then as he is now, but he was expertly marketed and those songs 50 wrote for him were undeniably catchy. It didn’t hurt that 50 decided to bless Game with the absolute verse of his live on the incomprehensibly great “Hate It Or Love It.”
In order for a crew to succeed, they must be presented to the public in a way that plays off of their leader's strengths while still giving each rapper an identity to call their own. A rapper's first introduction to the masses is of the upmost importance. 50 Cent, a master of promotion in his own right, knows this, which is why when Game appeared alongside Jim Jones and Cam'ron in the video for “Certified Gangstas” (prior to the calculated and decidedly Interscope-ish launch of Game's career), he threw a fit and blocked Game from appearing on the album version of the track, their first of many qualms. As is the case with any branding exercise, a cohesive and digestible presentation is paramount.
After spending most of his 2012 becoming nearly universally popular amongst pop audiences, hip-hop heads and everyone in between, Future decided to cash in on his renown by introducing us to his friends. Trying to turn the dudes who routinely sleep on your couch into stars carries some obvious benefits: it gives you someone to stand next to you on stage and therefore avoid stagefright, it inevitably lessens your workload when completing mixtape tracks, and there's the off chance that one of your weed carriers might fuck around and have a charting hit (although, you’re probably gonna have to do at least a hook and a verse on that track, so you’re still putting your mans on).
Even at its strong points, Future’s Free Band Gang mixtape is anything but cohesive. Future is a performer so talented that he breathes life into every beat he graces and his protege Young Scooter (whose new Street Lottery tape is definitely worth your time) also manages to fit in well with his impossibly grandiose coke talk and even delivers the most heartfelt song of his career, the melodramatic "Appeal." Rocko—who you've definitely listened to if you've ever listened to a mixtape recorded in Atlanta—is at his usual journeyman self, rapping well but never spectacularly. He even helps make “Chosen Ones,” one of the tape's highlights, what it is. But most of Future's associates are painful.
Thankfully they are also mostly absent. Mexico Rann appears twice, once alongside Scooter on the delightfully spelled/censored "Muph*cka," and again on “Whip Game” where he doesn't necessarily call attention to himself as much as he actively doesn't fuck things up. I wish I could say the same about the perpetually AutoTuned Casino who has a Kool Aid Man-esque presence on the track and later starts his verse on the otherwise nod-worthy "Keep On Shinin" with "Big rock; Fred Flintstone." Well played, ‘Sino!
Maceo appears on the forgettable "Back At It" and offers absolutely no reason for me to believe that his 50,000 Twitter followers were acquired via legitimate means. On "Missing," Big Bank Black spends half of his verse talking about killing someone for talking shit on WorldStar before briefly channeling Lil Mouse, which kind of rules. Stuey Rock, who once paid Future actual human money to sing, "That pussy so good it will make you want to sing to it" on a track that received 500,000 views on YouTube, appears on "Freeband Taliban" which is only notable for reminding us DipSet stopped referring to themselves as the Taliban a decade ago because it’s both dumb and in really, really poor taste to compare yourself to them.
Oh and I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that Sisqo appears on the last song. Yes, the Sisqo who got a 14 year old girl pregnant in Zurich in 1999, which is also the year that “Thong Song” appeared on Unleash the Dragon.
If you think of FBG: The Movie as just another Future mixtape with a bunch of guest verses for his weed carriers to get weird over Mike Will and his imitators, you'll walk away satisfied. It's a solid mix of leftover album cuts, fun but forgettable posse cuts and a couple of genuine hits—it’s no Astronaut Status, but then again, few things are. But if the tape exists to convince the public they should care about Future's crew, it’s an indelible failure.