It’s been pretty amazing to see Rick Ross grow from stereotype to monolith over the past three years. Rap is generally a genre with little favor for rappers nearly a decade removed from their debut albums, which makes Ross’ constant growth as an artist and icon respectable regardless of your thoughts on his lyrical content. Granted, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, the Inkredibles and Lex Luger have as much to do with his ascent as Ross himself, so lyrical content hasn’t always been the allure here. But Ross can be a supreme absurdist, even if he’s saying things that just feel 100% wrong—like when he bragged about buying a watch instead of helping Haiti victims on Deeper Than Rap, or here on “Maybach Music IV” where he claims his opponents are getting abused like boys in Penn State bathrooms. Completely unacceptable on paper, but given filter through Ross’ gruff grunts and lip spittle they’re somehow shrugged off as a big goof trying to be funny.
Moments like that are also more easily explained within the context of the entire Ross listening experience. He’s had several moments of coherency in the past couple of years but God Forgives, I Don’t is Rick Ross in the midst of pure syntax error stream of consciousness Nas aspirationism. His verses come and go without leaving much of an imprint at all. Until Andre 3000 appears on the epic (and mostly average) “Sixteen” this album is mostly about the grand yacht-oriented production and thinking to yourself, “Ross has a great voice for rap… what is he talking about?” If he were a more skilled MC the approach could go somewhere, but he’s just not and the majority of his performance here becomes a series of self-actualization slogans, brand name dropping and reminding us that he can attend Miami Heat games. In fact, his obsession with the Heat might be the most amusing aspect about this thing: I count at least five mentions of him either being courtside or the potential of being courtside reason enough for a woman to date him. At one point, he even brags to a female that LeBron James lives down the street, as though Ross’ sexuality is drawn from the ether of LeBron’s estate. Which, again, is funny in Ross’ goofily unintentional way.
It’s definitely a disappointment that Ross seems to be coasting through most of this hour-long production since a coasting Ross is generally not a Ross you’d want to be around (as the Rich Forever mixtape reminded us this past winter, and Self Made, Vol. 2 this summer). But thanks to his voice and the production God Forgives, I Don’t remains an aurally pleasing experience even if it doesn’t bring anything timeless to the table. Particularly notable is J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s “Maybach Music IV” / “Sixteen” duo, a pair of tracks that flow together seamlessly from “MMIV”‘s lush, orchestral values to “Sixteen’s” glossier take on Organized Noize vibe funk. It’s essentially a 14-minute suite during the early portion of the album highlighted by a two-minute instrumental and Ne-Yo histrionics and Andre 3000’s five-minute-long verse. In other words, the half of the suite that has nothing to do with Ross at all. Even without guests outclassing the star, it would have been impressive to see the rest of the album as cared for as that little stretch.
Unfortunately, God Forgives, I Don’t eschews the carefully crafted track sequencing and brevity of Ross’ two previous career redefiners in favor of typical major release mistakes. All the grandiose songs are clumped together in the album’s first half, while “Hold Me Back”, “911” (an ode to Porsche, not emergency workers) and lead single “So Sophisticated” represent the trap sound that propelled Rich Forever into redundancy and a trio of songs featuring Omarion, Usher and Drake obviously cater to Ross’ female contingent (which I’m suspicious of Ross having a broad enough appeal to necessitate a song with the chorus “Fuckin’ you fuckin’ you fuckin’ you” cooed by Usher Raymond, you know?). It makes for an album without much character, just a bunch of clearly demarcated demographics thrown on a disc and told to play nice. Ross is definitely a rapper that needs to climb atop a variety of musical apparatuses while he pounds his chest, but it’s not that much more engaging if you sap all the adventure out of the experience and lay everything out like a buffet.
The deluxe edition lets two highlights from Rich Forever, “Triple Beam Dreams” (featuring Nas) and “Rich Forever”, tag along. Surprisingly, unlike other major label albums that toss in free mixtape tracks as some sort of ironic incentive to spend more of your money on an album than usual, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and DVLP seem to have gone back to their tracks and upgraded them significantly. “Triple Beam Dreams” is treated especially well, with a Hans Zimmer-like string section adding substantial tension to the arrangement. Two tracks Ross fans have probably already owned for months in advance still isn’t much of a “deluxe” package, but considering these two tracks are better than nearly everything that comes before them on the disc, it’s worth considering if you want to hear them remixed and remastered or skipped them the first go around.
// Notes from the Road
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