At the beginning of his career, Rick Ross was plenty bass with redundant bars. He had great ears for impeccable beats, his voice made anything he said believable but he somehow said so much without saying anything substantial. After character questions concerning a past as a correctional officer via his beef with 50 Cent, Ross’ third LP Deeper Than Rap showed flickers of a potential fury (especially the slapping ‘Mafia Music’). The fire eventually raged out with Ross’ 2010 magnum opus, Teflon Don – which also produced his biggest single till date, ‘B.M.F (Blowing Money Fast)’. Teflon Don was Rick Ross at his most compelling as a rapper and also a boss at convening a gathering of superstars that dazzled at his request.
Ross’ follow-up to Teflon Don, 2012’s Rich Forever mixtape doubled down on Ross’ kingpin persona, his words were accompanied by a bigger snarl in his voice and the big beats made sub-woofers quake while the lush beats had the right snaps. He climbed higher but he obviously didn’t brace for the fall, he’s been stuck at halfway house ever since. In an attempt to sound human while retaining his near-god image, Ross’ 2012 album God Forgives, I Don’t ended up lacking a unique soul or feel. It was Ross trying to do Ross things without totally doing Ross things. He allowed Andre 3000 to play an untidy guitar solo, Dr. Dre and Jay Z brought repelling verses, brought Ne-Yo on to slop all over ‘Maybach Music IV’ and he created a song about a fruit his doctor advised him to eat due to his health with a spoken word intro by Wale. The album did have its redeeming qualities, but you get the drift.
Ross decided to ‘boss up’ and release two albums in 2014, Mastermind & Hood Billionaire. The former didn’t do too much to restore Ross to his artistic pinnacle and the latter; did we even listen to the latter? He came back again in 2015 with two back to basics projects, Black Dollar (mixtape) & Black Market (album) which tried to show an apparent maturity in Ross’ approach. Both bodies of work had their highlights but there were still some jagged parts, e.g. mentioning dick far too many times in one song, bringing a soppy Mariah Carey hook, letting us hear Chris Brown sing sorry for the hundredth time while autotuning away every ounce of sincerity.
That maturity is back in full effect on Rick Ross’ new LP – Rather You Than Me, tempered by his custom made brags by the Boss, Ross has obviously gained new perspective which is embedded in the new album’s DNA which feels more pertinent than his last couple of albums. ‘Apple of my Eye’ kicks things off introspectively over a lush production with Neo-Soul maestro Raphael Saadiq, it kicks off with nostalgia while doubling down as triumphant entry. From remembering the days of material paucity to casually dropping a line about the Meek Mill and Nicki Minaj situation to bragging about packing weed in the white house, every line is delivered with a casual but absorbing sincerity.
The triumph spills into the Bink! produced ‘Santorini Greece’, the instrumentation is lavish and Ross delivers in full effect. In between his bank account catching the Holy Ghost and pseudo-flirts with Martha Stewart, Ross’ raps are grounded by modesty including weighing in on racial profiling while taking shots at Jesse Jackson. Also, “Diabetes ramping through my bloodline/Now a fat boy happy to see the sun shine” is definitely one of the most emotionally triumphant lines in Ross’ entire career.
Bink! comes along with three more standout sumptuous beats for Ross to spill his guts on, ‘Idol Turn Rivals’, ‘Game Ain’t Based on Sympathy’ and ‘Scientology’. On the former which samples ominous keys off Camillo Siesto’s ‘Agua de dos rios’, Ross goes for blood with a series of lacerating lines towards Birdman. Instead of being brawny with his lines, Ross is calculated and composed with each line spilling the right amount of blood. Horn blasts, soulful keys and jazzy drums set the stage for ‘Game Ain’t Based on Sympathy’, Ross reminisces about his days of poverty albeit American cheese and gang violence. Ross tries to ruin the song by painting a nauseating erotic fetish but two winning verses on either side makes sure the song stays safe.
Another uncool ‘pissing’ fetish comes up on the modish ‘Dead Presidents’, it also doesn’t help that the cut produced by Ross mainstay Beat Billionaire totally sounds like the sleepy version of ‘B.M.F’. The beat doesn’t quaver, Yo Gotti’s hook is uncharismatic, Future’s fire Marshall-esque verse doesn’t quite sound assured and Jeezy’s verse is obvious time filler. Beat Billionaire does redeem himself on album closer ‘Summer Seventeen’, the beat does bang right for Ross to be at full growl and Yo Gotti’s contribution is more notable here. Nas effortlessly dropping couplets on ‘Powers That Be’ is another proof that Ross knows how to collect fire verses. Young Thug darting across in gorilla manner and Wale’s run-with-it contribution on album standout ‘Trap Trap Trap’ perfectly sit with Rick Ross’ head honcho performance.
Rather You Than Me isn’t the record to push Ross back to his peak, but he has taken the right turns and found the way out of his artistic limbo. Just a couple of steps in the right direction, muting the word dick and using better sexual innuendos will bring Ross full circle.
Writers Rating: 3.75/5
Words by Peter Dennis Adedotun (@ayo_dennis)