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Rick Ross Delivers A Winning Formula On ‘Mastermind’

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

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  • WkEnD

    WORST ALBUM HE MADE!!! Doesnt deserve XL at all… Come on XXLMAG.

  • Jack

    This album was absolutely fucking terrible

    • Sphez bavi

      As if u could do better stop hating

  • tommy

    what a great album, could be Rozay’s best

  • Mike

    garbage how much did he pay xxl for this review

  • 44wade


  • 44wade


  • CleanYourEarsXXL

    AlBum Is GarBage fuck is XXL talkin about Even Ross groupies should know dat!!

  • peter

    damn ross got more haters than fans lol
    PS: I ain’t a hater

    and this is a good album tho

    • Vic

      “PS” lmao

  • HipHopHead999

    For all of you hating, you probably didn’t even listen to the album. Otherwise, if you fucking actually listened, you’d realize it definitely deserves a 4/5. People like to hate Ross because they got it twisted about his past, or simply because they think it’s cool to hate on ALL mainstream rappers.

  • juan carlos

    Man people don’t lie to yourselves this albums producers were all top scale.
    You know hes not know for lyrics and he wont try to be lyrical stop hating

  • ARAM


  • 8====D~~~~(.)(.) = babies

    lol xxl .. funny niggas

  • deep

    great album #mastermind

  • Inquiring2mind

    I can tell by this rating alone, that this review was biased. XXL, you just exposed yourselves as affiliates of mainstream hip hop. This is why people don’t buy albums and more importantly this is also why people don’t understand why the best lyricists are not signed.

  • Saugdenstock

    When I forget that he is 100% phony I actually like to listen to Ricky’s albums… especially when he gets outshined by every single guest feature on the album.

  • thatboyshortt318

    They didn’t even quote one lyric of his in the review.

  • Nick James

    Welcome to XXL…where every album gets an XL rating….

    • Vic

      Seriously, if you’re an established artist you have to drop some major shit for XXL to give you anything lower than XL.

  • finisherz

    These are opinions not facts this album garbage best tracks are the two i already have with jeezy and jay the rest is history and they gave beats a perfect 5 xxl is a joke gotta be run by white nerds half sleep on molly!!!!

  • finisherz

    Ace Hood starvation 3 is better all the way around..and that was a FREE MIXTAPE that should of been sold on I TUNES!!!!

  • dub

    This album is crazy stop hating people dam

  • Panos Pal

    i like Ross but this album is weak !!! I think this is the worst album that he ever did.

  • BrianRaider

    I Love The Album! This Review Is Accurate As Fuck Good Job Dan! I Still Am Adamant That GFID Was The Classic! I Think Trilla Was Also But It & The Inspiration Only Got L’s In 2006. But I’m A Fan Of Rick’s Music. I Aspire To Reach The Levels He Has Sustained. & I Think This Review Is A Testament To Why Y’all Are The Best In Reviewing Right Now. 1luv!

  • Toro

    Only XXL-worthy beat was Sanctified

  • Junghova

    I’d give it a 4/5. Some hot bangers on it and definitely better than most of the last number of rap releases as of late.