Artist: Rick Ross
Label: Def Jam
Release Date: March 3, 2014
It is difficult to believe that rap fixture Rick Ross has only been in the public eye for eight years. It seems like it has been decades since the hefty, well-spoken, self-proclaimed Boss released the hypnotizing “Hustlin’” off of his debut album Port of Miami. Much has happened since Rick Ross’ initial release in 2006. He has become a permanent fixture in the music industry, started his own ubiquitous imprint Maybach Music Group and dropped five more albums. While his latest studio album Mastermind might not be a revelation, it is more of the consistent lyricism and stellar production both fans and critics have come to expect from the artist.
If you have listened to any of Rick Ross’ recent releases you know what to expect from his latest effort; cocaine dreams, solid features and of course endless boasting in the finer things of life. While with most artists this formula would have become tired three albums ago, Rick Ross manages to keep it fresh enough to keep hundreds of thousands of listeners flocking to digital shelves for his latest release. Although, it is incredibly tempting to disregard Rick Ross as just another ‘trapper-rapper’ without much to say that would be a mistake. What separates Ross from his contemporaries are an incredible knack for capturing emotion whether that is the joy of excessive spending like on the Scott Storch produced “Supreme” or the paranoid inducing “Drug Dealer’s Dream.” On the latter North Carolina native J. Manifest provides a canvas of subtle synths and punchy drum patterns for Rick Ross to retell stories of death and imprisonment. Say what you will about the Teflon Don but he does paint pictures with a great degree of vividness. On the song’s final verse he raps, “I seen a rich n*gga go to jail/ He put Wi-Fi in his cell/ Middle of the night, my n*gga wanna Skype/ I just count money for him, that sh*t just get him hype.” Regardless of the truthfulness of this cell with internet access, it is easy for one’s mind to easily conjure up images of a shirtless Ross hunched over a Macbook Pro counting stacks for his incarcerated friend.
Rick Ross has never been shy with making allusions to himself and the late Christopher Wallace. On 2010’s “Tears of Joy” he deemed himself “Biggie Smalls in the flesh, living life after my death.” “Nobody” only serves to further this perception amongst listeners. The song sonically borrows heavily from The Notorious B.I.G.’s “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You).” In fact it is practically indistinguishable apart from the inclusion of female vocals. Even Diddy’s riled up admonishments to Rick Ross sound like they could have been words uttered to Biggie during the height of the Bad Boy/Death Row beef. However, it is Rick Ross’ channeling of the late great that steals the show: “‘Blast for me’ — the last words from my n*gga/ On the pavement, born killers, body shivers/ Drug money, dollar figures/ Hustlers moving out of rentals, art of war is mental/ Having sushi down in Nobu/ Strapped like an Afghan soldier, nowhere to go to/ So it’s bang, no survivors/ Only riders on my rider, murder rate rises.” The Miami native does such an effective job emulating Biggie’s delivery and word selection that you may have to check the album cover art once or twice just to remind yourself who is actually rapping. It is also worth mentioning that both “Nobody” and “What A Shame” benefit greatly from having French Montana on the chorus.
There is no arguing that Mastermind is a star-laden album. Not only do the aforementioned French Montana and Diddy make appearances on the album, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Jeezy, The Weeknd, Lil’ Wayne and MMG’s own Meek Mill rear their heads as well with varying degrees of success. “Devil is a Lie” features Jay-Z and is yet another play off the rapper’s supposed unholy partnership with the Illuminati. The track which is produced by K.E. on the Track and Major Seven revolves around a soul-stirring sample that would make the creators of the Blueprint proud. Despite the infectious music backing and the solid lyrics by both artists, the song just does not reach the heights that 2010’s “Free Mason” did.
The Kanye West featured and produced “Sanctified” will probably be the most divisive song on the album. The song has so much going for it from the Gospel-themed chorus to the heartwarming synths that carry the verse and even the all-too-brief Big Sean cameo. However, the song falls flat in no small part due to a Kanye verse that is not sure what it wants to be. It starts off as a frantic rapid-fire flow transitions into typical Kanye fare before ending off with a whimsical rhetorical question; it is definitely a Kanye verse for sure, but one that was probably better left on the cutting room floor.
“War Ready” is the long-awaited collaboration between Rick Ross and former rival Jeezy. The result is as anticipated a bass heavy, trunk-rattling drug-laden rap song with enough gunshot sound effects to make any Hollywood movie producer feel outdone. While the song is not a show stealer hearing Jeezy rattle off double entendres, like “Start your own alphabet with all them G’s/ Open up a hundred doors with all them ki’s” alongside Rick Ross is arguably worth the price of admission by itself.
In a day where albums have become little more than mixtapes with label distribution, it is commendable that Rick Ross still takes time to add small touches to ‘Mastermind’ to make it more than a collection of songs. Whether it is the hilarity of the “Dope B*tch Skit” or the closing remarks at the tail-end of “Thug Cry” this album feels like an album and a good one at that. It is these slight touches that further distinguish Rick Ross from many of his contemporaries, not only is he a good businessman – he is a good musical artist.