While the Albert Anastasia EP mixtape caught me by surprise and ended up being my favorite Ross release to date, Ashes to Ashes feels like a strong artistic regression for one of 2010’s bigger success stories. Ross has nearly nothing to say here, and his creative juices seem to extend no further than attempts to revive “MC Hammer” and “B.M.F.”. But we already have those two songs, and their monolithic qualities don’t bode well for any tracks that even flirt with sounding similar. Still, Ross tries over and over during the mixtape’s opening set, name-dropping like Jayceon Taylor 2.0 and constantly using his more aggressive shout-flow. Nearly every line here feels like non sequitur, the results of smoked-out studio sessions and half-baked fantasies. What was initially charming has quickly become some kind of crutch for Ross. It just feels creatively vacant in ways his music hasn’t since the surprise of Deeper Than Rap.
Ross’s ear for beats remains strong, and you can usually imagine these beats extracting magic from someone. T.I. gets to revisit his roots in a way he hasn’t done since Urban Legend, and it kind of feels weird, but it also shows Ross how the Lex Luger beat should have been worked. Ludacris also drops a highlight verse that feels acutely aware of how tainted his legacy’s become over the past 12 months. It’s also neat to hear his new signees—Philly favorite Meek Mills and Wale—on some bigger production. But as for Ross himself, it takes quite a long time for him to find a groove. His booming, start-stop delivery for the first few songs feels very uncomfortable, and I’m not exactly sure why he feels every trap beat he purchases deserves that treatment. Mills and Wale seem to push him on their two posse cuts, but they also clearly outshine him. However, Ross seems to reconnect with talent as the tape goes on, sounding particularly fresh on the R&B joints “Even Deeper” and “She Crazy”.
Obviously, it’s a bit silly to complain about free music, and while Ross feels like a bit player in his own game once again, it mostly works to this tape’s advantage because of his weaknesses on the mic. So Ashes to Ashes succeeds in its main goals of keeping Ross in the public eye and verifying his ear for production. But it’s not going to win any new fans the way Albert Anastasia or Teflon Don did, and unless the production is way your thing, it’s going to be hard to find reasons to come back for multiple spins of the longplay. Ashes to Ashes has a nice sound to it, but aside from the monstrous Bugatti Boyz (Diddy & Rick Ross) track that closes things out, it’s hard to point fingers at anything truly memorable. If you downloaded the mixtape the day it was released, though, it’s worth revisiting in this updated edition, because “Made Men” featuring Drake and “Pandemonium” were added to the tracklist earlier this month, and they definitely add some vitality to the proceedings.