Rick Ross keeps a good thing going strong on LP number six
Rick Ross • Mastermind • Def Jam • US Release Date: March 3, 2014
Six albums in, the best way to describe Rick Ross is that he ‘is what he is’. Ross’ high watermark artistically was his fourth LP, 2010 masterpiece Teflon Don. Up until Teflon Don, it seemed that Ross was just trying to find his artistic identity – his niche if you will. After finally finding himself, Ross spent fifth LP God Forgives, I Don’t ‘flexing’, something he carries over into Mastermind.
Mastermind ultimately is another sound, enjoyable Rick Ross album, even if it lacks some of the excellent, luxurious rap of Teflon Don or even the exceptionalness of the best moments of God Forgives. Quibbles and nitpicks aside, Mastermind is another welcome addition to Rozay’s discography.
“Intro (Rick Ross/Mastermind)” opens familiarly with the “Maybach Music” intro – surprise, surprise. The intro as a whole references being a ‘mastermind’, hence setting the tone for the album. Sure, a brief interlude doesn’t equate Mastermind with epitomizing or embodying its title, but it does foreshadow Ross’ point… sort of. Apparently, Rick Ross’ idea of being a ‘mastermind’ is not synonymous with being an intellectual.
This is confirmed on first full-length joint, “Rich Is Gangsta”. As to what that even means ultimately, who knows. Regardless, on the hook-less number, Rick Ross is “all about the Benjamins.” “I just upped my stock, f*ck them cops,” he brags on the first verse. “If you love hip-hop, bust them shots.” Later, he even manages to brag about his success as a rapper: “Cocaine worth much more than gold, n***a / so what’s your goals n***a? / All my sh*t when gold, n***a.” Sure, Ross is overconfident with his bravado, but he does tell the truth… all his sh*t did go gold.
While “Rich Is Gangsta” sported exceptional, lush production work, sophomore cut “Drug Dealers Dream” features the MC more on ‘autopilot.’ He continues to count his stacks, evidenced by the intro (“Your checking account available balance is $92, 153,183.28”). Even though Rick is rich, the means is questionable by all means, yet Ross rides it for all its worth: “Murder, a motherf*ckin’ murder / no you didn’t see it but I know you b*tches heard it / blood on the corner, damn I miss my dawg / I’m just thinkin’ ‘bout his daughter, in another life he ballin.” One relates to the sympathy that Ross has for his fallen comrade, which could be any person stripped of their life, yet on the other hand, the game of drug dealing, violence, and “I get shooters on clearance…” is just ugly.
Unsurprisingly, interlude “Shots Fired” proceeds, with Rick Ross being alluded to (“We’re being told by people here on the scenes, specifically the manager that a famous rapper was riding in that car when someone opened fire shooting at the car…” Dark stuff – quality though.
“Nobody” didn’t appeal to me personally the first time I heard it, but it grows on you. French Montana continues to appear on every one’s track and here is no different as he delivers the hook: “Mama’s tryna save me / but she don’t know I’m tryna save her / man, them n***as tried to play me / man, ‘til I get this paper / you’re nobody ‘til somebody kills you.”
Essentially, the theme of doing wrong and dangerous things to achieve riches continues on this track. The tone is aggressive, not merely because of Diddy’s pointed interludes, but also thanks to Ross’ unapologetic rhymes, including “The mortician, the morgue fillin’ with more snitches / we kill ‘em and taking their b*tches, R.I.P.” Ultimately, “Nobody” eventually reveals it’s magic if it isn’t apparent the first listen. Don’t let the Notorious B.I.G. sample (“You’re Nobody (‘Til Somebody Kills You)”) dissuade you.
“The Devil Is A Lie” benefits from sampling, maybe more so than “Nobody” did (“Don’t Let Your Love Fade Away”). Don’t call “The Devil Is a Lie” a song of praise… there plenty of blasphemy. “Big guns and big whips / rich n***a talkin’ big sh*t,” raps Ross on the hook, “…Bow your head cuz it’s time to pay tithes / opposition want me dead or alive / motherf**ker but the devil is a lie / the devil is a lie, b*tch I’m the truth…”
If that’s not enough, Jay-Z’s religious beliefs are, well, unique: “Is it true or it’s fiction / Is Hov atheist? I never f*ck with True Religion / am I down with the devil cuz my roof came up missin’ / is that Lucifer juice in that two cup he sippin’…” Well, regardless of where either MC stands spiritually, both acknowledge, “the devil is a lie.” It is up for debate whether that makes Rick Ross “the truth” though…
“Mafia Music III” keeps the momentum top-notch. Sporting unexpected reggae production, “Mafia Music III” seems to really fuel Rick Ross into some inspired rhymes. Not only that, Ross references Kenneth Williams (gang member), Bill Belichick, and Farrakhan – go figure. Mavado’s hook contributes to the overall success of the track as well, solidifying the tropical vibe.
Keeping it G, “War Ready” brings in Jeezy for the assist, who seems to have dropped the ‘Young’ as a of late. Obsessed with ‘shooters’, Rick Ross continues to reference them for the millionth time as of late: “War ready / you got shooters, I’ve got shooters / we’ve got money / let’s do what them other n***as can’t do…” Mike Will Made It gives Ross and Jeezy magnificent, relaxed, yet malicious production work to do work over, which both do. Surprisingly, it is Jeezy who references the ‘Box Chevy’ (“Box Chevy hit the block, run the whole 50 shots / you just poppin’ ‘til you know you can’t pop ‘em no more…”) “War Ready” keeps things 100 and consistent.
French Montana makes his second appearance of Mastermind on “What A Shame”, a brief cut produced by Reefa and Stats. The production is excellent though the track itself could stand more development and ‘meat’ you might say. Unsurprisingly, Ross once more references those shooters, and they aren’t shooting jump shots.
On “Supreme”, Rick switches from ‘magazines’ to “Clean Maybach, but it’s filthy as sh*t / they partitioning for the women, how busy we get…” So, you guessed it, with Keith Sweat lending his soulful new-jack pipes and Scott Storch infusing some soulful, swagger-laden production, “Supreme” is about the ‘fun’ things in life… I’ll leave it at that.
“BLK & WHT” does have a play on race, but it’s not merely what you may think it is before listening. Here, Ross talks about ‘slanging’: “Young n***a black, but he selling white…N***a crib so big, it’s a damn shame / n***a sellin’ white for a gold chain.” If nothing else, “BLK & WHT” has a hypnotizing quality about it.
After the silly “Dope B**ch Skit”, The Weeknd drops a joint featuring Rick Ross… or at least that is how “In Vein” comes over. Sure it’s lush, and in the emo-alt R&B style that The Weeknd has come to be associated, but it doesn’t really show off Rick Ross himself.
That said, standout “Sanctified” is more of a team-effort from Betty Wright, Big Sean, Kanye West, and Ross, but the overall product is satisfactory. Let’s face it – where would this track have been without Betty Wright’s soulful, un-credited vocals? No disrespect to Mr. West, but few of us need another “Yeezus” as he refers to during his verse – another My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, perhaps. Ross’ best line on his verse: “Soldiers all in gators, new Mercedes for cadets / Balmain uniform, you know Donda designed the vest…” Like “The Devil Is A Lie” though, I wouldn’t invest too much spiritually into this track, particularly with Big Sean’s hook (“All I wanted is 100 million dollars and a bad b*tch…”) At least he admits his sins.
“Walkin’ On Air” has a difficult act to follow after the ‘sanctification’, but it’s definitely not a shabby penultimate track. Again, the blasphemy can’t be good for Ross’ spiritual being: “Baptized by the dope boys, ordained by the assholes / my salvation is the cash flow / whoa, oh I’m walking on air.” Even aside from misinformed spiritual allusions, lines like “She let me f*ck early so she trustworthy…” certainly has no relation to the church. Meek Mill confirms this song is, um, sinful (“Make a call, call Papi for a brick / and papi call José, cause José got fish…”).
“Thug Cry”, featuring Lil Wayne and produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League closes Mastermind soundly. Don’t call the multi-sampling work a classic, but it definitely closes an overt album a gentler than it was throughout its course.
All in all, Mastermind turns out to be another well-rounded, enjoyable album from Rick Ross. There is more than enough wealth to please more casual and hardcore Ross fans alike. It won’t supersede the top two albums of Ross’ collection, but it definitely can hang. Not sure why the banging “Box Chevy” was omitted, but it is what it is. Not perfect, but well played, well played.
Favorites:“Drug Dealers Dream,”“The Devil Is A Lie,”“Mafia Music III,”“War Ready,”“Sanctified”