Somewhere in the 10-gallon drum of tattoo ink that covers Rick Ross’ oft-exposed torso should be the words “generally positive.” He’s Mr. 3.5 cigs. Since his 2006 debut, Ross has used his unmatched ear for lush production, bombastic personality, and bellowing baritone to create five aggressively decent–sometimes great–albums, but never a classic.
On Mastermind, Ross’ sixth LP, the streak continues. The album is a collection of expertly crafted street narratives that detail the Miami boss’ opulent lifestyle and the horrible ends that meet those trying to take it from him. This is cool for what it is, but the bearded emcee has the ability to dig deeper, as evidenced by “Tears of Joy” and “All The Money In The World” from his best album, Teflon Don, and even his recent Pusha T feature “Hold On.” Consistency is important, and Rick Ross may never drop a wack album, but at what point do we begin to expect more?
From the metaphorically blasphemous Biggie redux “Nobody” to the legitimately blasphemous “Sanctified,” featuring Big Sean and Kanye West, Rick Ross knows how to construct a good song. His flow is just as pliable as ever, sounding at home over the former’s classic Life After Death instrumental and the latter’s ratchet/righteous combo. On the Sizzla- and Mavado-assisted “Mafia Music III,” Ross packs in enough color and imagery to fill every wall at Miami’s Art Basel. “Drug Dealer’s Dream” is Ross at his vivid and evocative best. Each verse is like a collage of FBI photographs with disparate events on the street, a drug deal here, a murder there, woven together to create a larger picture. Few are more adept than Ross at putting words together.
Watch what you say
Sometimes Ross’ rhymes don’t always have reason. Throughout the album, Ross’ trademark luxury and murder stream-of-consciousness flow seems more disconnected than usual, resulting in some pretty bad faux pas. You would think he had learned his lesson after his careless “UOENO” lyric cost him a Reebok endorsement, but the provocative Floridian still gets himself into trouble on Mastermind. On the aforementioned “Mafia Music III,” he describes a unnamed gunshot victim as receiving “Five shots to the stomach, 2Pac gift pack.” On “BLK & WHT” he makes an alarming and now well-documented reference to Trayvon Martin (“Trayvon Martin/I’m never missing my target”). While Ross is still a talented rapper, it seems like his foot is in is mouth at least as much as his beloved lemon pepper wings these days.
No clear hit singles
One way this album is different from its predecessors is that it does not have as many songs that clearly stand out as having hit potential. “Sanctified” seems like the front runner, but even among the murderer’s row of bangers that is “Nobody,” the Jay Z-featuring “The Devil Is A Lie,” “Mafia Music III,” and the long awaited reunion with Young Jeezy, “War Ready,” there isn’t one song that will be the soundtrack to the spring and summer. “In Vein” feels much more like a song by The Weeknd featuring Rick Ross than the other way around. The Lil’ Wayne feature “Thug Cry” samples the Souls of Mischief classic “93 ‘Til Infinity,” but will elicit more nostalgic head nods, or clucks of disapproval, from old heads than radio spins.
Turn my beat up
It’s been said over and over again, but Rick Ross has the best ear for production in the mainstream hip-hop world. The soundscapes vary throughout the album, but meld together cohesively. The subdued and synth-heavy “BLK & WHT,” for example, recalls something a Cash Money-era B.G. might drawl over, while “Rich Is Gangsta” is bombastic and aims to dazzle. “Walkin’ On Air,” produced by D-Rich, is classic Ross, as southern drum programming, complete with deep bass and hi-hat fills, pairs with regal synth horns to create theme music for Ross’ drug dealing, crab meats-eating, superhero. There may be more variety in the production on Mastermind compared to Ross’ other albums, but it is well-sequenced and harmonious.
Mentions of lemon pepper wings or Wing Stop show up on the album almost as much as Ross’ trademark adlibs. Try not to listen while you’re hungry.