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 The outdated R&B-flavored cut is so blatantly pandering to female pop radio listeners, that even Ross feels the need to start off with a disclaimer: “It’s that LA Reid flow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