It’s imperative that Rick Ross stays rich forever. He is a magic lantern for our most fantastic and decadent late Capitalist dreams. In the sadness sweepstakes, a picture of him driving a Civic would rival Dorothea Lange in the Dust Bowl. If Rick Ross goes broke, then what next? Bain Capital? Bill Gates? Scrooge McDuck? Greece?
"Ross offers a level of delusional imagination only seen in the 1 percent and the involuntarily committed. "
Rick Ross has always had the luck of a lottery winner. The fact that he released on album on Def Jam in the first place is a minor miracle. When his debut dropped he was a 30-year-old morbidly obese and bearded former Slip N’ Slide second-teamer whose name seemed closer to a retired Florida pants-presser than the biggest boss that we’d seen thus far. At the time, Snowman t-shirts sold like snow cones in the summer, and it was obvious that Def Jam was looking to crown another coke rapper before the trend croaked. Then Rick Ross dropped “Hustlin',” rhymed “Atlantic” with “Atlantic” and posed for press photos dressed in all black and pouring coffee. Eventually, these would be replaced by pictures of him reading Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.”
Even when he played the villain, he came off like one of the halfway crooks in Bottle Rocket, a lovable goofball in over his head. So when 50 Cent attempted to end his career, it looked like his imported Italian curtains would be drawn. Yet we all know the outcome of that struggle. 50 still drops mixtape after mixtape vainly attempting to reclaim his buzz, while Ross was crowned MTV’s Hottest MC in the Game and made Maybach Music Group arguably the only artist-run imprint as popular as Young Money. As for Jeezy, he’s kept a consistent product, but the one-time rip-off artist has eclipsed his rival. You don’t need the Economist to know that during uneasy economic times, consumers gravitate towards escapism, and Ross offers a level of delusional imagination only seen in the 1 percent and the involuntarily committed.
God Forgives, I Don’t is technically Rick Ross’ fifth album, but his records tend to be a lot more like sequels. You’re seeing familiar faces, plot lines that rarely deviate from expectations, and fantasias only seen in popcorn flicks. William Roberts became Rick Ross, who became Ricky Rozay, the biggest bawse that we’ve seen thus far. He is Walter Mitty with Wing Stop franchises. But his true gift is an ability to make the absurd not seem so absurd. You don’t know where the lies stop and the truth begins, and that’s part of his charm. On “Maybach Music IV,” he claims that his seizure occurred while he was getting a blowjob and for all we know, that’s the realest shit on the record. (The least true is definitely, “Hold Me Back,” where he claims that he looks in the fridge and things are looking scarce.).
Ross frees the listener to indulge in the weirdest depths of their imagination. Hence, few experiences are more consistently fun. Everything you want is here: The Maybach Music Drops from the un-credited “sexy woman.” The trademark “huhnh” grunts. The “Rozay” bellows. 808 beats that sound like they were made with 1,000 thread count. Regal J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League instrumentals that sound fit for the medal ceremony for Olympic blunt cruising (we can only dream that Miami will one day kick–off the Games with a Scarface montage and the entire “Maybach Music” tetralogy.)
"A perma-fried fat man with a lazy eye and seemingly passable ability made himself into one of rap’s biggest and most consistent stars."
Rap may have never had an artist so successfully unsubtle as Ross. The first real song is called “Pirates,” in which Blackbeard explains, “We’re like pirates out here trying to float.” It’s such a left field and blockbuster-recalling metaphor that it can only spur you to alternate interpretations. I have visions of Rick Ross wearing a cutlass, eye patch and pantaloons starring alongside Geena Davis in an alternate version of Cuthroat Island. He’s liberated gangsta rap from reality, marooned it on an island and let it start hallucinating phantom ships in the distance.
This is to our benefit. See Ross rumble about having to “… fuck with the Haitians to make the killers crumble.” He brags that he is a “Blackberry Boss,” but on “9 Piece,” he bragged about selling dope on his iPhone. He is so Teflon that you imagine him still being able to conduct hits via Treo. Perhaps his most superb solecism comes on “Presidential,” when he struts on “Jewish marble.” For this, I imagine him elegantly gliding across a floor compromised of nothing but deli-bought rye bread.
It’s clear that Biggie built the blueprint that Ross has run with since his feud with 50. The “Get Money” refrain even pops up on “Presidential.” But Biggie was a far more skilled narrator, populating his songs with intricate webs of deceit and esoteric characters like Arizona Ron and Dark Skinned Jermaine. Nor does Ross come close to Tupac’s ghost, even if he landed a huge hit with “Tupac Back.” But not since Chris Wallace has another rapper successfully filled such cavernous spaces. Granted, it’s mostly the voice. His baritone achieves a rare equipoise of husky and smooth and he never gets lost or overwhelmed by the grandiose orchestration. He always seems in control and that only lends itself to the chimerical character he’s created.
That’s not to overlook his songwriting ability. He’ll never approach the depth of a Jay-Z or a Nas, but he’s uncommonly gifted at beat selection, assembling top-tier supporting talent and understanding how to maximize the talent of his collaborators. His world achieves harmony. Omarion has never sang better than on “Ice Cold,” while Ne-Yo has one of the features of the year on “Maybach Music IV.” Jay-Z delivers a dazzlingly weird freestyle on “3 Kings.” And even though his guitar solo is more cringe-inducing than Clapton-like, Andre 3000 delivers arguably his best guest verse in years on “Sixteen.” One I’m pretty sure that steals the melody from the theme song to Mr. Ed. Of course.
Yes, there are missteps. “Hold Me Back” and “911” are past-the-expiration date knock-offs of “9 Piece” and “John Doe,” which were in turn knock-offs of “B.M.F.” and “MC Hammer.” The Usher-aided “Touch n’ You” limps with the worst commercial concessions. While Wale’s intro on “Diced Pineapples” sounds plagiarized from a coffee house spoken word performance, heavily influenced by the African-American erotic fiction of Zane.
Ultimately, the record lives and dies with the Bawse. Though God Forgives, I Don’t isn’t as bulletproof as Teflon Don, it’s a good Rick Ross record for people looking for nothing more than a good Rick Ross record. It operates on the sort of bizarro drugged-out wavelength inhabited by Guns N’ Roses circa Use Your Illusion. Why are the wedding guests in the “November Rain” video jumping into the pool? Why is Slash ripping a massive guitar solo with no amplification in the middle of a cornfield? A better question is: Why wouldn’t he?
That’s the thing about Rick Ross. He is our walking Choose Your Own Adventure book. We indulge him and he goes deeper than rap, bragging about smoking psychedelics in a Maybach -- pronounced like Johannes Sebastian with the sensibilities of Sebastian Bach. What’s weirdest is that this all worked. A perma-fried fat man with a lazy eye and seemingly passable ability made himself into one of rap’s biggest and most consistent stars. And he can’t really offer any concrete answers for his rise other than hustling, prayer, and an ardor for yachts, crustaceans, and half-a-million-dollar cars. It had to happen to someone and it happened to Rick Ross. It’s legitimately inspiring -- that if you build it, they will “huhnh.”
Rick Ross' God Forgives, I Don't is out July 31 via Maybach Music Group. Watch the video for "Bag of Money," below: