RickRoss.jpgThe trap-star-turned-rap-star shtick is getting old. Even though Rick Ross’ monstrous d-boy anthem, “Hustlin’,” scored him a joint venture between Slip-N-Slide and Def Jam, the former kingpin’s whole style is a tad cliché. Mr. Dade County joins forces with Mick Boogie for Rick the Ruler, a collection of cleverly crafted mixes, which serves as a teaser to the rapper’s debut, Port of Miami.

Ross’ speak-n-spell flow works early on for former pie flippers Jay-Z and Young Jeezy, who jack the bearded MC’s swagger on “Hustlin’ (Remix).” In other instances, Rick’s simpleton style fails him, like on the lifeless synth-driven “Real Shit,” featuring Daz and Slim Thug. This happens again with “Whip It Real Hard,” where, though the basic organ melody and staccato 808s sound hard, Ross wastes the track with wack lines like, “I’m in the kitchen cookin’, you know I’m wit’ it, wit’ it/So how them chickens lookin’? We done did it, did it.”

When Ricky alters his flow a bit, he’s a different beast altogether. Take his freestyle over Bun B’s “Get Throwed” beat, where he imitates the underground king’s double-time flow and brags about his city’s innovation (“Dade County nigga, we started grills”). He even spits a little pimpalation alongside Too $hort and Pimp C on the Lil’ Jon–laced “Money Maker.” When-ever he breaks free of the confines of cocaine rap, Ross starts to sound more like a rapper and less like a drug-dealing gimmick.

Though he has a solid platform to earn some stripes outside of his deafening hit, the heavyweight MC doesn’t dig much deeper here than on anything we’ve heard so far. Apparently, the most adventurous thing that’s ever happened to Slick Rick Ross is his dope dealing. But hey, you can’t knock his hustle.—PAUL CANTOR