Rick Ross’ career hasn’t exactly been on a winning streak lately. His last album, Hood Billionaire, felt like a half-baked version of his other 2014 offering, Mastermind, and it ended up flopping both critically and commercially (It was Ross' first album to miss out on a top five debut on the Billboard 200). To make matters worse, the rapper found himself locked up in June, facing felony charges of kidnapping and aggravated assault. Amidst all this musical and legal trouble, many have questioned whether the veteran MC has started to slip after nearly a decade in the upper echelons of hip-hop.

Into this turmoil steps Black Dollar, a musical offering that may just be the shot in the arm that the Miami rapper’s career needs. Although he released it for free, Rozay took a page from artists like Future and Chance the Rapper by blurring the mixtape/album divide and delivering album-quality sound and coherence. While Black Dollar might not reach the fantastic heights of Ross’ best free project, Rich Forever, it marks a solid return to form for the Maybach Music leader. It’s been a long time since he’s sounded this hungry, finally sporting raps that feel driven rather than forced. While he doesn’t stray too far from the traditional Rick Ross formula of drugs, girls and money, he does manage to find new inspiration in familiar topics.

This isn’t to say he remains entirely in his comfort zone. On Black Dollar, we hear Rozay take on the issues of civil rights and racism in a more direct way than usual, particularly on “We Gon' Make It.” The track starts off with a newscast clip describing the turmoil surrounding the Baltimore riots and the death of Freddie Gray. “They say we just a bunch of thugs/Don’t stand for nothing/Disgrace to our race/Don’t belong in public,” he laments, before launching into inspirational verses about overcoming adversity. He also brings around a cadre of guests, most of whom register solid (if largely unremarkable) performances. This includes MMG mainstays Wale (“Beautiful Lie”) and Meek Mill (“World’s Finest”), as well as Future (“Take Advantage”) and August Alsina (“She Wanna Fuck”). Only The-Dream’s contribution really stands out, smoldering on the laid-back chorus of project highlight “Money Dance.”

Despite the improvement, Black Dollar is not without its faults. Its overstuffed tracklist definitely allowed a few duds to slip through, the most glaring of which is the painfully repetitive “Money & Powder.” The beats also leave a bit to be desired; most are serviceable, but certainly nothing outside of the Teflon Don’s normal wheelhouse. It’s clear that while the project might have been treated like an album, it doesn’t fully cross the bridge from the less-curated world of mixtapes. By the time one finally reaches standout closing tracks “2 Shots” and “Dead Rappers,” there’s a bit of a lingering feeling that Black Dollar could have been something more. Yet, considering the slipping quality of his recent releases and the tumultuous nature of his private life as of late, Black Dollar is the first solid evidence that Rick Ross is on the ascent again. Let’s hope there’s more to come. —Chris Mench