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