I can’t tell my personal story without mentioning Rick Ross at least a few times. His 2006 debut Port of Miami featured more hood anthems than me and my middle school friends could handle. “Hustlin'” was our theme song for a long, long time — probably too long if I’m being honest. We imitated The Boss’ chants of “2-22!” and power grunts, doing what kids do. Since that time, the Miami, Florida native has steadily improved with each album release. Well, until he dropped the abysmal Hood Billionaire late in 2014. None of his albums have been perfect, but some have come somewhat close compared to other mass-marketed rappers. 2010’s Teflon Don and the emcee’s initial 2014 release Mastermind are easily some of the best rap albums to drop this decade. Ross has a way of mixing the gritty in with the smooth to create hard-hitting, cruise-inspiring flex tracks. On his newest, Rather You Than Me, Ross resurrects his hip-hop boss status by following his traditional blueprint but this time he widens his perspectives in a clear, mature fashion.
Nine albums in and Rick Ross still finds ways to surprise me. Opening track “Apple of My Eye” with R&B legend Raphael Saadiq boasts vintage Ross delivery — breezy and insightful — yet it feels more soulful and personal than many other tracks in his catalog. The first half of Rather You Than Me goes toe-to-toe with any of his previous albums, possibly surpassing them even. The trifecta of Santorini Greece, Idols Become Rivals, and Trap Trap Trap (featuring a surprisingly dope Wale verse) is rich, unexpected, and invigorating. Throughout this track list, the 41 year-old kingpin expands his lyrical breadth like never before. Ross opens up about rap friends who have since betrayed not only him but their own right hand men; he speaks on the seizure he suffered during the Super Bowl; he comes to terms with his balancing act past. On the third of four solo efforts, “Game Ain’t Based on Sympathy,” he raps, “Never was a gangster, I just wanted in”. His days as a correctional officer have sneakily avoided damaging the rapper’s street credibility. I find that rare and amusing.
There is plenty of signature ignorance on here too, though, don’t worry. The second half of the album starts unraveling with the very same track. “A pretty chick, she resembles Stacy Dash / If it was her, she had to kiss my feet and lick my ass”. Nice, bro. I share similar sentiments when it comes to Ms. Dash. On one hand, she’s astonishingly beautiful and a go-to hottie from my childhood. On the other, she’s an extreme conservative who doesn’t know when to say when. Whichever way you want to think of her, neither she nor anyone for that matter should have their tongues anywhere near Rick Ross’ anus. Honestly, I’m salty he felt the need to put that picture in his listeners’ heads (I know I basically did the same thing just now but I couldn’t be the only one to suffer through this image). Lamborghini Doors with Meek Mill is underwhelming at best. It’s not a bad track, it’s just cliche. Anthony Hamilton adds some soul about halfway through, but “now we coming up like Lamborghini Doors” is bland writing for today’s rap. The instrumental also sounds like a rehash from any older Rick Ross album. There’s simply nothing noteworthy happening in this song which is disappointing considering Meek is the only exciting guest in the second half.
But what about Nas? “Powers That Be” has a boring beat and unfortunately neither emcee brings any compelling energy to the track. Ross coasts through the song via patented bravado while Nas comes with weaker-than-normal metaphors and a less concise flow as well. The track lacks a real concept, making Nas feel slightly out of place. Of course, his bars are better than 85% of the rappers out right now (if not more) but this was one of the few times where he left me wishing for a replacement. As blasphemous as that is, “Powers That Be” doesn’t do it for me. Toward the back end, I thought the album could have ended with more of a bang. “Maybach Music V” with Dej Loaf is undoubtedly the worst in the series, and at five minutes includes minimal attention-grabbing moments. “Triple Platinum” with ATL veteran Scrilla has grown on me to say the least. Its instrumental is sweet and assuring, promising there are better times ahead. Ricky Rozay’s ability to transparently portray his life of brazen glamour and grotesqueness is one all his own. Rather You Than Me is not Rick Ross at his finest, but it is him at his most sincere.