Watch the quality of future albums by anyone who has been associated with Rick Ross for the past decade, because finally, since way back on 2006's Port of Miami, he's kept his best pen-work for himself. Rather You Than Me is such a lyrical masterpiece people have been comparing him to the legendary Notorious B.I.G., something Drake, who dropped his project 2 days after Ross, will doubtless be a bit perturbed about, given this chorus. While comparisons to Biggie are quite outrageous, this is easily the greatest Ross has sounded for an entire record, taking the focus and dexterity of his legendary feature verse on "Devil In A New Dress" and stretching it out over 62 minutes.
For a new listener, it can be difficult to place Ross. On "Triple Platinum", he acknowledges the boasts he serves up on his songs don't match his performance on the charts. While his debut, Port of Miami, is certified platinum, and he has 5 number 1 albums, he's never achieved the success of those he considers in his tax bracket: Jay Z, Diddy, Dre, and Birdman. Hell, Lil Wayne flipped Ross' 2010 track "I'm Not A Star" into the double-platinum single "John", proving just how far behind Ross was in terms of star power. That hasn't stopped him cultivating a reputation as one of the most decadent and opulent rap stars of the past decade. If faking it till you make it were an Olympic event, Ross is Michael Phelps.
Unfortunately, Rather You Than Me will suffer a similar commercial fate to his previous few records, which is a little concerning for Ross. The reason he sounds refreshed and venomous on Rather You Than Me is the exact reason why record sales are going to start mattering to the veteran. In January 2016, he signed an independent record deal with L.A. Reid's Epic, ending his 10-year association with the mothership that is Def Jam. Cosy and safe in the major label machine, Ross was able to put out two very lacklustre projects, Hood Billionaire and Black Market, in order to fill his Def Jam quota. Now, more so than even in 2006, quality will be his main concern. Promo runs aren't guaranteed, shows aren't booked years in advance, walk-throughs must be negotiated on a case-to-case basis, and while Ross must continue to flaunt his "boss" status, he must also deliver incredible content. There's no hiding behind huge marketing budgets anymore.
If Ross had an album like this in him all these years, it's almost criminal we're only hearing it now. He's actually dazzling, sounding more energetic than ever. Hooks are chanted, breathless flows are weaved around emergency-level production. On "Trap Trap Trap" he steals the show from his lyrical better, Wale, and a revitalised Young Thug. The chorus to "She on My Dick" is a monster, overcoming a poor Gucci feature to present as one of the stand-out songs on the album. He even matches Meek Mill for energy on "Lamborghini Doors". While lyrical content is mostly confined to outlandish boasting and expensive posturing, Ross gets more personal than ever before on a number of occasions.
The most striking song has to be "Idols Become Rivals", comfortably one of the most cutting and hurtful diss tracks of all time. I bet you didn't know Ross had such depth and emotion inside him. This track will give you goosebumps, and must have sliced Birdman right down to the absolute core of his being. Three verses of facts and pain, finished with a spoken word outro about DJ Khaled that might just make you shed a tear. Bars like "Shootin' dope, usin' coke, movin' like you the Folks" and "Came to the realization that your watch was fake" are just brutal. This is likely Ross' greatest song, where he matches emotion with lyrical ability ("Catholic record labels, n*** gettin' raped, boy / Birdman's a priest, moans in his synagogue / Publishin' is a sin, repent, forgive me Lord) for the first time ever. This is the centre piece. So many artists (50 Cent, for example) use beef to sell records. This doesn't feel like Ross did it for the attention, but attention is sure to follow. Birdman is an institution in hip hop, a mogul once considered in the same level as Diddy and Russell Simmons. Ross eviscerates his entire career in three verses.
Not many artists make it to album number 9 while remaining relevant. Rick Ross is a self-styled man and rapper, and in the 10 years since his debut, we weren't sure if he would ever make it from self-aggrandizer to critical heavyweight. If this is the direction he's going to continue to take, he'll be around for another 9 albums.