If Ice Cube held the honor in the 90′s, Rick Ross is this generation’s version of “the rapper you love to hate”, for many reasons. Although he purports to be a big drug dealing gangster, his past actually reveals that he was at one time a corrections officer. He’s made some truly ignorant tracks in his day, such as “B.M.F.” and “Hustlin’”, the latter which found him rhyming “At-lantic” with “At-lantic”. And lets not forget he’s a big, sloppy dude, one that lacks the natural cool of Biggie, and many times expresses himself unintelligibly. So what is it we love about Rick Ross?
Over the course of his last few albums, Ross has managed to carve out his own brand of luxurious, rich guy rap; the same kind of sound that made us hate Nas’ It Was Written back in the day (which in itself, has come into its own over time). At the surface, we have the shirtless, tattooed 300 pound guy standing on couches, mumbling things about being a “bawse” or what have you. But as his last two albums, Teflon Don and God Forgives, I Don’t revealed, Ross has proved to have a pretty astute ear for production, and can turn out some pretty dope verses, when he wants to.
Mastermind is the fully realized version of Rick Ross. It’s one that finds him actually becoming the millionaire villain that he’s rapped about being all of these years, after the 2013 drive-by attempt on his life, which is touched upon on “Shots Fired”. It’s also one that builds upon the blueprint laid forth on his previous two records, and improves upon it. Rick has moved on from the business of making one-hit wonder “singles” and instead focuses on making complete bodies of work that are hard to deny.
Case in point, this album’s first ignorant single, “No Games”, has been left off the album completely, as have any attempts to recreate “B.M.F.” for the umpteenth time, over any number Lex Lugar soundalike beats. The closest thing we have to that is “War Ready”, which deserves merit based on the fact that it finds him and Jeezy putting their differences aside for a collaboration. It might be the album’s weakest moment, save for the hook on “Blk & Wht”, a track that still bangs, thanks to a slow-rolling beat by D-Rich.
Otherwise, Rick’s got another pretty solid LP here, a fact that is hard to admit for this jaded old hip-hop head. As the album opens, the neck can’t help but nod to the soulful grooves of “Rich Is Gangsta”, which finds him finally touching upon his past as a corrections officer: “Feds tore apart the squad n***a, that’s why I had to play the part n***a / that wasn’t me that was a job n***a, it gets deeper that was just the start n***a.”.
Things get a bit more raw on the JAY Z featured “The Devil Is A Lie”, and again later on the G.O.O.D. Music assisted “Sanctified”, both of which find him over chopped up gospel soul. The same can be said for the dancehall infused “Mafia Music III” with Sizzla and Mavado, which is a great juxtaposition to Ross’ smooth flow.
Even when Ross commits rap blasphemy by mining the classics for ideas, he somehow makes it work. “Nobody”, a cover of Biggie’s “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)” seems tailor made for Ross, where he pays homage by adopting Big’s delivery, but doing so with his own lyrics. Later on “What A Shame”, we find interpolations of Wu-Tang’s “Shame On A Nuh” and Camp Lo’s “Luchini”, while “Thug Cry” borrows from “’93 Til Infinity”. As an older head, its the kind of thing that pisses you off on the first listen, but sinks in with the rest of the album later. Maybe we’re past caring, or maybe it reminds us of a better time. Either way, somehow it works.
On paper, Rick Ross’s grandiose persona goes against everything that shaped this listener’s ear for rap music, and directly contradicts what we learned from Public Enemy and De La Soul. However we’ve realized we can like this too, and we do. While much of the music that plagues commercial radio and Wal-Mart store shelves is still pretty awful, Ross has found his groove and settled right into it. Well played.
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