Port Of Miami (2006)
Cocaine cowboys. Police corruption. Shoot-outs on speedboats. Miami-Dade County’s dirty little secrets have always made sensational entertainment and front-page news. But M.I.A.’s notorious crime stories have been curiously absent in Southern street rap’s recent resurgence. While the city’s free-spirited bass music laid the groundwork for hip-hop below the Mason-Dixon Line in the ’80s and Will Smith’s 1997 pop-rap depicted a happy-go-lucky vacation destination, Carol City rapper Rick Ross steamrolled over these preconceptions about Miami with his monstrous trap anthem “Hustlin’.” The street smash catapulted him from a 6-year stint on Slip-N-Slide’s B team to Def Jam’s starting lineup, making 305 the busiest area code in rap along the way. Bustling with boatloads of husky gangsta music, Ross’ debut, Port of Miami, officially lifts the veil off his city.
Drenched in sleazy keyboards and warped vocal samples, the album is haunted by the ghosts of Jan Hammer’s Miami Vice score, providing the kind of overly dramatic bursts that Double R’s repetitive flow can easily bounce off of. Take the Jonathan “J.R.” Rotem–produced “Push It,” where a diced-up selection of Scarface’s overblown montage music allows Ross to express the thrill of having all eyes on him (“Now I run the streets, they all mine/Twelve years overdue, call it due time… Whoever thought that fat girl would grow into Oprah/Or that boy Rick Ross would be molding the culture”).
To help anchor his sound, Ross relies heavily on a team of Florida-based beatsmiths. On “Blow,” Rick successfully boxes out Cool & Dre’s bloated digital tubas and chest-thumping drums, but it’s “Boss,” a clever synthesis of Journey’s 1980 arena rock anthem “Any Way You Want It,” which displays his strongest sonic synergy with the production duo. Elsewhere, DJ Khaled offers up the paranoid chords for the Lil Wayne and Brisco collaboration “I’m a G.” Even the Runners show their versatility with the blunt “Hit U From the Back,” where Ross promises to “fuck you, flip you like you’re crack, girrrl” over a lushly chopped-up vintage sample.
With so many of POM’s songs seamlessly combining catchy melodies with plus-size beats, the appearance of the generic Mario Winans–produced “Get Away,” an obvious “I Need a Girl (Part 1)” clone, marks the album’s only major sour note. The outdated R&B-flavored cut is so blatantly pandering to female pop radio listeners, that even Ross feels the need to start off with a disclaimer: “It’s that LA Reid flow right here!”
Lyrically, Ross’ take-it-or-leave-it style, which relies too heavily on his balls-out simplicity, can be considered lazy. But more often than not, Rick manages to fill out his verses with quick wit and vivid snapshots. On the steely DJ Toomp–produced “White House” and the J Rock–assisted “Pots and Pans,” Ross details the motivations behind his entry into the drug game with exceptional detail. His conscience doesn’t fully crack until the repentant “Prayer,” though. Fighting back the tears, he explains, “I swear to God I done some things in the past/If I could please, Lord, I’d help ya bring ’em back/I feel pain, mayne, ’cause I can’t speak on it/That’s why I got so many songs, I can’t sleep, homie!”
While the runaway success of “Hustlin’” could have positioned Ross for one-hit-wonder status, he confidently sidesteps this fate by delivering the goods on Port of Miami. With a cohesive sound the city can call its own, the bearded rapper gets the release he needs by exposing the dark side of the Sunshine State. His name is Rick Ross, but Miami will remember him by a new name: BOSS!—Brendan Frederick
Rick Ross makes crack music—literally! When the Miami native dropped his monstrous 2006 single “Hustlin’,” it was addictive, in both appeal and content, and it helped Ross earn a gold plaque for his debut, Port of Miami. The ex-trapper continued to build his rep by appearing alongside DJ Khaled and friends on a series of high-powered posse cuts. Now the Triple C’s front man re-ups with his sophomore set, Trilla.
Mr. M-I-Yayo starts out strong, as he builds upon his familiar hustler-as-rapper ethos on “This Is the Life,” an R&B ode to criminology, and the J.R. Rotem–produced single “The Boss.” T-Pain carries the catchy hook, while Rick Ross teen confidently brags, “Who gives a fuck what a hater gotta say/I made a couple million dollars last year dealing weight.” Ross plods along similar ground with R. Kelly on the fast-life anthem “Speedin’,” then quickly picks up steam on the conceptual “Maybach Music.” On the latter, Freeway Ricky and former Def Jam prez Jay Z trade bars celebrating their favorite mode of transport over J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s sweeping synth arrangement. Unfortunately, the Boss runs out of gas, as he raps redundantly on “All I Have in This World” (“My money in front of me, money you just frontin’”) and states the obvious on “Billionaire” (“If it ain’t about cash, I don’t really care”). Even the street-dreamin’ “Luxury Tax” finds Ross playing catch-up, as Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy and Trick Daddy lace the lyrical tour de force.
Luckily, the rotund rapper manages to vary his subject matter for “I’m Only Human,” a sampling of The Human League’s ’86 Euro pop hit, and gets all teary-eyed for a rare moment of introspection (“One thing that I wish I could change/Was to see my daddy at my football games”). With his potential far outweighing his effort here, Rick Ross coasts through Trilla, when he should’ve pushed it to the limit.—Paul Cantor
Deeper Than Rap (2009)
Rick Ross promised Deeper Than Rap would be the best album of his career. Making those types of claims can often lead to huge disappoints if you are not careful. In the case of Ross, his best music comes from a place that wasn’t entirely authentic. Before staking his claim as Ricky Rozay, rap fans was perplexed to find out he was once a corrections officer, which meant his entire Mafiaoso persona isn’t 100 percent true. On top of that, the Miami Don does not get along with 50 Cent, in which he addresses in the opening lines of “Mafia Music.” All of these pieces show Ross isn’t fazed by controversies, but rather thrives off them. With two successful albums deep in the game, Rozay exceeds his standards once again by branding himself as the boss of all bosses.
Deeper Than Rap is his quintessential style of well-selected beats and boastful rhymes. After leading listeners in with “Mafia Music,” Ross lays down what he represents through a number of solid cuts. Tracks like “Magnificent,” “Yacht Club” and “Rich Off Cocaine” show his bravado in full form, weaving in the pocket and delivering brazen rhymes. On wax, Ross’ storytelling is cinematic and charismatic, often letting his Mafia mystique take over. The best example is “Maybach Music 2,” which excels with guest appearances by Lil Wayne, Kanye West and T-Pain.
As a whole, Ross’ third album is a stunning display of wealth and braggadocio. Coupled with lush production, he has made leap and bounds in artistic progression, proving he can drop excellent songs that are addictive. “Usual Suspects” is his defining moment for a hip-hop classic, while the standout“Valley Of Death” finds him admitting his CO past and defending it. Real or fake, Ross is here to stay.— Eric Diep
Teflon Don (2010)
Teflon Don, indeed. In the face of the criticism involving his life before rap, Miami’s Rick Ross still manages to emit an untouchable aura. Credit his string of three No. 1 albums, beginning with his 2006 debut, Port of Miami, then 2008’s Trilla and last year’s Deeper Than Rap. If not that, then take into account his high-powered feature verses alongside Waka Flocka Flame (“O Let’s Do It [Remix]”), DJ Khaled (“All I Do Is Win”) and his Dream Team cohort P. Diddy (“Angels” and “Hello Good Morning”). While his rock-solid catalog should vanquish any doubt, the Bawse looks to cement his musical gangsta on his fourth Def Jam album.
Ricky Rozay shines bright on the tongue-in-cheek “I’m Not a Star.” Oozing a kingpin’s confidence, Ross proves his haters wrong, triumphantly spitting, “I’m not a star? Somebody lied/I spent a milli on the car, it come alive.” That only serves as an appetizer for the soul-satisfying “Tears of Joy” and the expertly laid Jay-Z duet “Free Mason.” On the latter, Ross romanticizes his success—“Big contracts, big contractors/Built pyramids, period, we masters/No Caterpillars, it was just a lot of niggas/A lot of great thinkers and a lot of great inventors”—while Hov beats down Internet rumblings of his supposed secret-society ties. On the flip side, it’s Ricky’s ties with superb beatmakers that keep him on top of his game. The rapper enlists Kanye West to craft the backing for “Live Fast, Die Young” and the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League for the symphonic “Maybach Music III.” Even newcomer Lex Luger lays the perfect mix of violent drum patterns and schizophrenic synths for “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast).” On “Aston Martin Music,” the bearded rapper rides atop a summery track, while Chrisette Michele and Drake trade harmonies on the hook. Then there’s the album’s first single, “Super High,” a Clark Kent–produced two-stepper complete with deep-rolling bass lines and live-DJ scratches that give it a true-hip-hop feel.
Lyrically, Ross shines when he takes on the personality of William Roberts II, his real-life alter ego. The Raphael Saadiq–assisted “All the Money in the World” finds the rapper reflecting on his children and his deceased father. His most poignant moment comes when he eulogizes his dad with lyrics like, “I can hear my daddy sayin’, ‘Lil nigga, go get him’/Passed in ’99, cancer all in his liver” and “I would never rap again if I can tell him that I miss him.”
Not that Ross’s record is without blemishes. The number of guest appearances leaves one to wonder where the Bawse would be without his connects. T.I., Jadakiss, Gucci Mane, Drake, Styles P and Kanye West all make contributions to the 11-track album. And though most of the collabos are winners, the half-rock, half-electro, P. Diddy–assisted “No. 1” just doesn’t fit the album’s soulful vibe. Then there’s the usual drug-dealer rhetoric, which sounds cool but is devoid of any real feeling, on the otherwise enjoyable “MC Hammer.” The Bawse offers, “I started selling dope, I’m too legit to quit/When it’s hammer time, I’m pulling out the stick,” without any conviction. Even on the aforementioned “B.M.F.,” where Ross compares himself to incarcerated scarfaces Big Meech and Larry Hoover, street boasts are thrown out recklessly. As if he was taunting his haters, Ross charges that it is actually his nameless adversaries who have the credibility problem, when he rhymes, “Talkin’ plenty capers, nothing’s been authenticated.”
Ricky’s truth is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but if it is simply judged on the music, Teflon Don is damn near spotless. The lyrics are on par, the beats are lush, and the imagery is larger than life. Whether he’s ever really ran the streets at all doesn’t seem to matter to fans. They’re fine with the fact that art doesn’t imitate life. —Rob Markman
The Albert Anastasia EP (2010)
Even with his back to the wall in 2010, Rick Ross didn’t back down. With questions about his past employment as a corrections officer still lingering, the Bawse refused to let the controversy deter him. He actually went on to release more-potent street music, in the form of The Albert Anastasia EP, an online mixtape aimed at reestablishing his rap dominance.
The May 2010 release was a proper warmup to Ricky Rozay’s fourth studio album, Teflon Don. Credit producer Lex Luger with a pair of assists for cooking up “MC Hammer” and the top-10 Billboard hit “(B.M.F.) Blowin’ Money Fast.” While both tracks would reappear on Teflon Don, it was “Blowin’ Money Fast” that emerged as one of 2010’s standout cuts. In fact, Albert Anastasia (named after the infamous mafia boss) offered quite a few highlights. “Knife Fight,” featuring New York rap legend Kool G Rap, is a rap purist’s dream. The beat’s scratched-in hook and soulful sample create the perfect backdrop for the Miami rapper to spit his multisyllabic bars: “I’m kamikaz’ for my brother’s common cause/And you can get a shit bag with this llama in my drawers.” On “Gotti Family,” Ricky lays his gangster on extra thick, alongside Memphis rapper Yo Gotti, and the menacing “300 Soldiers” is as enjoyable as it is eerie.
Murder isn’t Ricky’s only mission, however. “All I Need” is a well-laid love affair featuring Trey Songz and Birdman. But the R&B-tinged cuts become repetitive once you endure the John Legend–laced “Sweet Life” and “Super High,” his cookie-cutter rap/R&B collaboration with Ne-Yo, which also served as the first single off Teflon Don. Still, considering all that he has overcome, Ross’s tape consists of only minor infractions that do little to diminish its standing as one of the year’s best offerings.—Rob Markman
God Forgives, I Don’t (2012)
The humorously gaudy façade Rick Ross molded early in his career has morphed into a gigantic mansion with pillars of both hubris and delusion. But quite frankly, those attributes make Ross’s music irresistibly entertaining.
It’s well exhibited on the sumptuous God Forgives, I Don’t,Rozay’s fifth solo effort that’s triumphant, haughty, and self-exploring. Its lush production switches between shimmering strings to bellicose thumps, while its stories flex both elements of realism and imagination.
Greeted with the marching oomph of “Pirates,” Ross wastes no time making threats (“Any nigga want rumble, somebody hand me a shovel”) and sets the tone for his album’s bombastic, yet opulent mood.
And what better way to exemplify wealth than by featuring two of rap’s economic elites? On “3 Kings,” Ross stands alongside Dr. Dre and Jay-Z, with Dre shamelessly promoting his headphones, and Jay disclosing details on his contract renewal with Live Nation. Then, the Bawse briefly takes a moment to recall his mother’s struggle as a minimum-wage laborer, and justifies the lifestyle of a drug dealer on the Cool & Dre-produced “Ashamed.”
Cueing into the cinematic highlight of the album [and the fourth chapter of the acclaimed “Maybach Music” series], “Maybach Music IV” illustrates a gorgeous mise en scène thanks to J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s production, which accentuates Ross’s flamboyant descriptions of haute living. The ensuing transition from “Maybach Music IV” into “Sixteen”—arguably the strongest record on the album—is commendable in execution. And as expected, Andre 3000’s presence on “Sixteen” doesn’t disappoint; it’ll certainly go down as an addition to his long-expanding list of top guest verses.
By midpoint of the album, the sound shifts into the ominously assaultive zone with which Rozay has become synonymous in the past few years. “Hold Me Back,” a panting record filled with detailed steps of Ross prolonging his stay in the drug game, eventually finds the author succeeding in the trade. This is followed by “911,” in which Ross pleads God’s will to let him drive his Porsche to the pearly gates—a classic theme of redemption often pondered by gangsters.
Stunting (“Presidential”), sex (“Touch’n You”), ostentatious thug loving (“Ice Cold”), and an incredible title for a love song (“Diced Pineapples”), balance out the commanding exterior boasted in the initial segment of the album. This creates a fine equilibrium of album craftsmanship Ross has become famous for since Trilla.
Due to Teflon Don’s immense success, and critical praise, comparisons will inevitably arise. But if Teflon Don was a buffet-style feast with deluxe entrées laid out for the listeners, God Forgives, I Don’t is a full-course dinner that starts with a plate of bruschetta and ends with a zeppole. The former savors the palate and fills the belly, but the latter is what’s carefully planned to create a gastronomic harmony. Although Ross doesn’t completely succeeds on this mission, he’s very close on accomplishing such an audible feast. —Jaeki Cho
When Rick Ross’ car was riddled with 18 bullets in a drive-by shooting last January, it affected the rapper more than he let on at the time. And that brush with death—which caused Ross to veer off the road and collide with an apartment building, luckily leaving no one injured—informs Ross’ sixth album, Mastermind, more than most might have thought; the lushly produced project dwells early and often on the subjects of mortality, violence and the costs of being The Bawse.
Mastermind also comes at a critical point in Ross’ career, with younger artists hot on his tail in terms of relevance and many wondering what, after all the albums, collaborations and guest verses he’s put out since his 2006 debut Port Of Miami, he still has left to say. But as the album was pushed back repeatedly—first from the summer, then from Dec. 17 until it landed yesterday, a day early, on Mar. 3 as Def Jam tried to find a single that would catch on at radio—the question became whether Ross had anything left at all, or any way to put it all together in a way that could stick.
The album’s first single, “The Devil Is A Lie” featuring Jay Z, answered those questions to an extent; Ross has always had an exceptional ear for beats, and the “Lie” beat—produced by Major Seven and K.E. On The Track—as well as the Bink!-produced “Mafia Music III,” Mike WiLL Made It’s “War Ready,” Kanye West’s “Sanctified” and Scott Storch’s “Supreme,” all prove that that ear hasn’t diminished at all. Hearing Ross dance and drive through a reggae beat on the same album as he slinks through Yeezy soul and The Weeknd’s delicate soundscapes keeps things fresher than they were on God Forgives, I Don’t. When Ross is at his finest, he can treat a beat as his own personal playground, always exerting control while twisting and turning on top of it.
But even though the production is of the highest quality, and Ross has a newfound credibility—in everyone’s eyes except 50 Cent’s, of course—in the lifestyle of a drug kingpin that he’s cultivated over the years, that doesn’t really mean he’s changed up his lyrical rubric, and he seldom steps too far out of his comfort zone. He’s the bossman who gives Wale a Cartier watch and Meek Mill a Range Rover in “Rich Is Gangsta,” then he’s the drug dealer selling cocaine out of his Benz in “Black And White.” He’s lifting The Notorious B.I.G.’s hook and flow on “Nobody,” then repurposing Ol’ Dirty Bastard lines for “What A Shame.” “War Ready” is a meditation on the violence of the streets, where Jeezy outshines everyone and Tracy T pulls a hook straight out of the depths of Future’s hard drive, and Kanye steals the show on “Sanctified” right out from under Ross’ feet. And throughout, the tracks are peppered with gunshots and death references, reminding the listener that that January shooting never strays too far from his mind.
What Ross does well, and what he does again on Mastermind, is put together a body of work that is as formidable as he is, and taken as a whole it’s impossible to call this anything other than a very good album. Where people like Kanye and Drake and Kendrick Lamar keep winning by shaking up the formula and dabbling in the unexpected, Ross long ago identified his lane, and he is the undisputed kingpin of his brash brand of hip-hop. Ross die-hards will not be disappointed; anyone looking for something new and different was probably looking in the wrong place to begin with. Mastermind is a powerful album, an album with an identity, and one that has some solid songs and a handful of hits. Ross delivers just what he promised.—Dan Rys