I can't rap. I tried, as a younger man, to match the flow of my words with the beat of the music, but no matter how much practise I put in I remained starkly out of time. I mention this only because you may be sitting at the other end of the interweb reading this review, saying to yourself 'Rick Ross has no discernible talent'. Well he can flow. How, I don't know. One of the largest men in the entertainment industry, by all rights he should be lying on the studio floor gasping everytime he tries to spit a verse. He doesn't just keep up, he possesses that ability that all top drawer rappers must master: he can control the beat, take it over, dictate it. Without this skill, you are sure to wallow in mediocrity, and it has the power to propel even the most pedestrian of lyricists, and believe me Rick Ross defines the category, to the comparatively stratospheric heights that Ross has scaled in his short career. We're reminded about every 6 seconds that he is rich, the reason for his wealth is less forthcoming. But it exists.
God Forgives, I Don't. A title that demands attention from a man who demands the same. This record was always meant to be big. Ross has this uncanny ability to get cosigns from stupendously huge industry figures, and he manages to get them on his tracks. He picked up Jay-Z in the tidal wave that was Hustlin' from his debut Port Of Miami and he hasn't stopped. His previous guest lists reads like DMX's rap sheet: impressive, with Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, R. Kelly, T-Pain, Nelly, Kanye West, Nas, The-Dream, Cee-Lo Green, John Legend, T.I., Jadakiss, Erykah Badu, Styles P, Drake, Diddy, and Pharell all dropping by to help out. You'd expect his newest release to be laced with superstars. Ross is at that point in his career now, he's an industry leader doing numbers, that has people calling his cell rather than him running around town chasing guest verses. The unfortunately titled '3 Kings' is the first example of Ross pulling power on this release, Dr. Dre and Jay-Z certainly deserving of their 'king' status, not sure about Ross though..
You see, the problem is his lyrics. You wonder what he had to rap about before he became rich and famous, because I doubt very much he would still be pulling super models if he wasn't worth $50 mil. That just leaves hustling, and Ross' back story causes me to be quite unsettled as he reminisces about his life on the streets. If you're curious, just peruse the 'personal life' section of his wikipedia page. Even without the apparently fraudulent hustler lifestyle, his lyricism is bland, completely lacking of wit or humour, and tired. On Pirates he raps: 'Fascination with fortune afford me mansion and Porsches / Panamera abortions'. No idea what a Panamera abortion is. On '3 Kings', Jay-Z steps in and brutalises the beat for a stunning verse. However Dre's verse is poor, he appears to be slipping deeper and deeper in to a giant Detox-shaped hole, hopefully he pulls himself back. Rick Ross manages an even worse verse, culminating in the horrible final 4 bars: 'I only love it when the ass fat / We should listen to this track in my Maybach / I'm just tryin' to be a billionaire / Come and suck a dick for a millionaire'. If you're going to proclaim your own royalty you have to produce something listenable, and this is just rank.
This unfortunate inability to create or sustain any kind of lyrical aptitude is only further highlighted when you employ one of the games greatest to drop an epic 2 and a half minute verse. Lil Wayne tweeted recently that Andre 3000 appears every once in a while to drop and insane verse and then crawls back in to his hiding place again. On 'Sixteen', Andre gives us his views on his own history and completely vibes out. It's easily one of the top tracks of 2012 so far. 'And I set off these alarms, when camera’s snap snap snap snap / Return fire, pa-pa-pa, pa, pa-pa, pa, pa, pa / They’ll learn why, mere privacy, so essential / They won't make no laws, I break their laws til they see out our window'. Why Ross even bothers to rap on this track I don't know. He does manage the truthful, possibly even rueful line 'More that I make now, the more that the chicks smile'. It's Andre 3000 who is the star though.
So is there anything decent from Ross worth listening to? G5 Kids are on hand for the surprisingly energetic 'Hold Me Back', the production is a stunning return to southern hip-hop from a beat-maker who feeds Soulja Boy fast-paced gems. Lyrically it is weak, but it holds up well enough and is a decent listen. '911', the very next track, is placed extremely poorly, the beat by Young Shun sounds almost identical to the previous track. Still, it's also listenable, the feel and movement of the song pulls you along and you don't need to focus so hard on Ross' lyrics. Presidential is one of the better tracks, as you would expect from a Pharrell beat. It meandres non-threateningly along, Ross drops nicely on to the flow and holds it for the distance. In fact the production, whilst not as epic or stadium-sounding as I suspect Ross was hoping for, is tight, and not uninspiring. To that I mean there are moments, like Presidential, or 3 Kings with Jake One (who produced one of my all time fav tracks, Lookin Back by E-40). J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League produce Ten Jesus Pieces, another listenable track. It appears that Rick Ross has a knack for finding producers and beats who develop a good overall album. It's not a concept release, each track feels different (except for tracks 8 and 9) without creating a complete mix up of styles. It's got a Southern tinge that at times bleeds in to a dark shading, but it doesn't pigeon-hole itself. If it was better lyrically it might be a decent release. It's just a pity Rick Ross is one of the worst in that regards.
4/10. It's apt that Ross has spent so much energy and time advertising a product that no longer exists. The Maybach is to be discontinued in 2013, it has become irrelevant. Without wanting to predict anything, my assumption is Ross will go the same way. Without the brilliant Sixteen, Jay's verse on 3 Kings and the occasional moment of clarity from Ross this release would be close to a zero. There's something here, but nowhere near enough to create a good album.
Best Tracks: 3 Kings, Sixteen, Hold Me Back, 911