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Rick Ross isn’t a rapper. Or rather, rapper is only one job title on his increasingly large resume. At this point Ross is more cultural institution than he is artist. What started as William Leonard Roberts II is now Ricky Rozay, a rapper who’s also a label boss, a viral video producer of prolific proportions and a living meme. He’s a living, breathing symbol of excess, a brand as powerful as anything corporate America has ever made, proof that a lie told enough times, with enough conviction, can become the truth. In this sense he has more in common with Diddy than Kanye or Jay. Ross possesses an innate sense of showmanship, a seemingly endless capacity to entertain, and his music is really only the real estate he’s built his unstoppable Maybach empire upon.
As I wrote in my review of Self Made 2, no one has mastered the art of marketing and promotion in the digital age better than Ross. He’s turned MMG into a finely tuned machine designed to feed the internet’s insatiable appetite for headlines, with himself at the center. While this ability to be a constant presence in our browsers is his greatest strength, when it comes to his new album God Forgives, I Don’t, it’s also his greatest weakness. While the Bawse has clearly taken some extraordinary measures to elevate his fifth studio album above the fray, its release feels like just another day in the life. When Kanye dropped MBDTF, when YeHova dropped Watch the Throne, when Drake dropped Take Care, even when Frank Ocean dropped Channel Orange, those felt like moments in history. Ironically, we’ve become so accustomed to Ross as a daily presence in our lives that it’s harder for him to create that sense of the extraordinary.
And to be clear, there are some extraordinary moments on God Forgives. Ross’ vision is clearly on the long term – how many other rappers could have put together a track like 3 Kings? Other than Dr. Dre and Jay-Z, not many, although Jay would have never let another rapper take more than half of a track on his own album. The same holds true for the Andre 3000-assisted Sixteen, a record that’s immediately a big deal because, you know, a new 3 Stacks verse is as rare as spotting Rick Ross in a yoga class. Like Jay on Kings, Andre walks onto the Ross’ track and makes himself comfortable. By the time the eight minute Sixteen has come to a close Rozay’s opening contributions feel like a distant memory. You could consider these marks against Ross, hip-hop has a long history of deducting points for getting killed on your own sh*t, or you consider the strongest proof yet of Ross’ confidence. His priority is putting great songs on his albums, even if that means taking a backseat to a guest artist for a few minutes. He’s not worried, no one’s managed to pull the spotlight off Ross for very long yet.
When Ross is in the driver’s seat God Forgives is a thoroughly lush, cinematic and epically oriented album. The beats, even on more seemingly street oriented tracks like Amsterdam, are filled with orchestras and choirs, and when Rozay switched into player mode the album takes on a distinctly ‘70s feel, bouncing with relaxed funk and soul on Presidential and coasting on a soul sample on the bassline driven Ashamed. And while the album’s two most obvious plays for heavy radio play, Touch N’ You and the Wale and Drake assisted Diced Pineapples, lean closer to modern R&B, they’re equally relaxed, luxurious and old school. Even Ross’ detractors would have to admit that in many ways he’s bringing a musical complexity to his albums rarely found in the era of drum and bass club hits.
Album Rick Ross likes to revel in the finer things while Mixtape Rick Ross won’t rest until his enemies are six feet deep – it’s Mixtape Rick Ross that doesn’t forgive – and while Mixtape Rick Ross makes a cameo on God Forgives, I Don’t, frankly I wish he hadn’t. While So Sophisticated and Hold Me Back both bang, they lack the magic that made Teflon Don bangers like MC Hammer and B.M.F. had, and 911 is just straight up forgettable. I know Ross needs a couple bangers to flood the streets with, but as far as the album is concerned, if he was going to break up the opulent cohesion of the rest of the album, it has to be worth it. These tracks aren’t worth it.
So is Rick Ross the “Christopher Wallace of my time”, as he claims on Pirates? Not even close, but comparing Ross to hip-hop’s greatest emcees doesn’t really make sense. The world will not remember Rick Ross for his skill on the mic, his ability to dodge and weave through a verse. Instead we’ll remember Rozay as an unstoppable force, a consummate showman who delivered a remarkable run of consistency for five years and counting now. Rick Ross isn’t just a rapper, and God Forgives, I Don’t isn’t just a rap album. It’s more like the emblem on a Maybach – a symbol of luxury that only means as much as you allow it to.
Listen to More: Rick Ross Written by Nathan S.
Maybach Music/Def Jam
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Whip It ft. Rick Ross" (2006)
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