Rick Ross - Mastermind
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Record Label: Maybach
Regardless of where you stand on his music, it's hard to deny the fact that Rick Ross has been a major talking point in hip-hop for more than a few years now. Beyond his own solo projects that continuously garner a mass amount of attention, the bawse has been hard at work building up his Maybach Music Empire for the last few years, quickly making him and his MMG signees some of the most talked about artists in mainstream hip-hop today. It's important to note the status of Ross and his franchise when going to his new studio album Mastermind, because for once, some of these stories aren't flat out lies.
To be honest, the conversation of Rick Ross being a liar and how that doesn't actually matter has become almost as tired as the argument against his authenticity; we get it, Rick Ross is pure entertainment. This time around, though, some of what he's saying might not be so far from the truth. Sure, Rick Ross isn't out there building up a drug trafficking empire, but he's likely every bit as rich and powerful as he says he is. On the intro of "Drug Dealer Dreams," his checking account balance is revealed and, spoiler alert, it's really high. So while some of the details of these stories are definitely rooted in fiction, some of the underlying messages might give us a little insight into the real Rick Ross.
All of that said, Mastermind doesn't do much more than scratch the surface of Rick Ross and who he is. Instead, there are the kinds of songs you would expect from a Rick Ross album: songs about being a drug kingpin and the struggles and triumphs that territory comes with. The enjoyment somebody gets out of a Rick Ross album is no longer determined by how long they can buy into his fantasy world, but whether or not this narrative has any life left in it. Mastermind answers the question with a resounding "yes," but whether that will remain true following this album is certainly up in the air.
Not to discredit Ross as a rapper, as he's proven to be much more capable than anyone gave him credit for when he was first starting out, but Mastermind is mostly anchored by it's flashy, luxurious production. Rick Ross has always had a thing for soul influenced beats, and there is no shortage of those throughout the album. The most notable of these would be "Sanctified," in which Kanye West does a complete turn around from his Yeezus material and offers one of his most soulful beats since The College Dropout. The entire affair feels a bit like Kanye featuring Rick Ross (Yeezy was even kind enough to hand Big Sean the mic), but that doesn't diminish the impact of this late album highlight. Aside from West, big league veteran Scott Storch also offers up a smooth beat that Ross feels more than at home on with "Supreme," and "Rich Is Gansgta" kicks the album off with Rick Ross doing soulful bombast with near perfection.
But soul isn't the only sound Ross chases after, and Mastermind proves itself to be a pretty diverse outing. The laid back funk of "Mafia Music III" is a nice change of pace, and there are, of course, trap bangers abound all over the album. "Drug Dealer Dreams" is perhaps the best of those, with Jake One offering up one of the best beats on the album as Ross paints a picture of losing a friend to the hustle. You've also got your token Mike Will Made It beat that every major label rap album seems to require these days, and the menacing "War Ready" finds Ross and his old rival Jeezy finally on a track together. It might not be the strongest outing from any of the parties involved, but all things considered the results could have been a lot worse. Really, it just comes off as an inoffensive mid-album trap single that's neither a highlight nor filler.
Beyond the beats, another contributing factor to the success of Mastermind is the guest spots. Aside from the aforementioned Kanye West and Big Sean features, there are a slew of other rappers that show up and threaten to outshine Ross, and sometimes the threat comes from the artists you'd least expect. "The Devil Is A Lie," for instance, finds Jay Z attempting to outdo the previous to Ross verses and, in some ways, succeeding. Elsewhere, on album closer "Thug Cry," Lil Wayne of all people offers up a verse that puts almost all of his post-Tha Carter III material to shame. Even French Montana mostly stays out of the way and doesn't deter from the two (that's right, two) tracks he's featured on. The only feature that really doesn't belong here is The Weeknd, and "In Vein" ends up sounding like The Weeknd featuring Rick Ross, something that might have been more desirable two years ago. Today, though, the result is about as boring as anything you could find on Kiss Land.
The fact that the things that stick from Mastermind rely less on Rick Ross and his rapping is a little alarming, but not exactly surprising when his rhymes come under scrutiny. Aside from a couple of downright offensive lines ("Trayvon Martin/I'm never missing my target"), there's nothing entirely notable about the verses Ross gives us here. His storytelling abilities are fully in tact when he puts them to work, like on "Mafia Music III" and "Drug Dealer Dreams," but other songs find him using recycled flows and lyrical trends that we've seen and heard from him a dozen times. Mastermind never feels outright boring or even subpar, but it's hard not to worry that Rick Ross as an artist might be on the decline. This album may be a step up from his previous outing, 2012's God Forgives, I Don't, but Mastermind hints that the Rick Ross story may have nowhere else to go. If this really is the end of the road, at least it's one hell of a sight to be seen.
This is pretty dead on, enjoyed this read quite a bit Jake.
What's interesting to me, reading this, is that at times this really feels like Ross has ceded a lot of ground to other people. Whether it's Kanye or Abel or Meek, these often feel like tracks where he's just stopping in on. While I ultimately think those are among the best (barring "In Vein"), for the first album that does delve further into his "actual" character, it can kind of weaken that theme/narration. Not to mention it's definitely overstuffed - "War Ready," "In Vein," and a couple others definitely could and should have been cut.