Def Jam’s marketing campaign for Young Jeezy’s Thug Motivation 101 was a massive success. The shirts with glittery, thugged-out snowmen were immensely popular and bootlegged extensively. Even a year later, his frosty avatar is hard to avoid, with hundreds of ads for Jeezy tha Snowman walking around urban America. This summer, Def Jam has gone a step further. Search Google Images for Rick Ross and notice the uniformity of the results. Google finds a few publicity photos, some private MySpace flicks and a handful of screen captures from his “Hustlin” video. In all of them, the limo-tint stunner shades and self-proclaimed Bin Laden beard on Ross’s big fat head make him instantly recognizable. The look is more than a trademark, it’s a logo. He is his own snowman.
Def Jam could never promote Jeezy this way, and not only because he’s an average-looking dude. Jeezy’s personality is one of his strong suits. Motivation is a gripping, emotional album, contrasting the high life of his success with the hard work and pain he endured to get to where he is today. But Rick Ross is simple. Rap has seen very few missions statements as succinct as the opening lines of the trunk-destroying lead single “Hustlin”:
Who the fuck you think you fuckin with? I’m the fuckin boss
745 white-on-white, that’s fuckin Ross
The first scene of the video for “Hustlin” follows Ross as he cruises the bleached terrain of the Miami slums in his trademark white-on-white BMW, collecting his dues from all the neighborhood earners. As he spits the first line out the window, everything you need to know about Rick Ross comes together: the beard, the shades, the car, the boss. And that’s pretty much it, although his disdain for Jose Canseco (mentioned in the second verse) is worth noting, Port of Miami stars Rick Ross as James Bond: charismatic, iconic and entirely two-dimensional.
Port of Miami is popcorn rap, easily digested summer goodies that don’t require much thought. Like Bond, Ross never sweats, filling the album with smooth bon mots seperated with ample pauses for effect. He does call and response with his overdubs, a legion of Ross’s there to echo his greatness. He seems more interested in reaping the spoils of being The Boss than in doing any enforcing. Though “Hustlin” was a perfect single to introduce Rick Ross as an idea, Port is more about tracks like the self-congratulatory “Blow” and “Boss”. On “Blow”, Ross proclaims, “I get head, bust nuts and eat steak” over the most cheezed-out synths imaginable. Even the sex jams “Hit U From the Back” and “Get Away” are great (sample lyric: “you the one I’m havin dinner with / and it’s candlelit / can you handle it?”).
Port shines brighter in the penthouse than in the streets. “Hustlin” and its remix featuring Young Jeezy and Jay-Z are are still megaton bombs, but the identical “Where My Money (I Need That)” is not as good. Elsewhere, Ross’s nonchalance sounds out of place beside Akon’s tragic crooning (“Cross That Line”) or Lil Wayne’s intricately enunciated lyricism (“I’m a G”). The best trips to the trenches are the cop-show-theme-driven “I’m Bad” and the irresistible thug’n’b of “Street Life,” over-the-top jams that mesh much better with the rest of the album.
The track “White House” also sounds out of place. Built on a somber beat by DJ Toomp (of TI’s “What You Know” fame), the melancholy track is Ross’s most genuinely emotional moment. (He gets kind of deep on “Pots’n'Pans” as well, but he also says “the world fucked up/that’s why I stay fucked up/don’t get fucked up/fuck with me, ya fucked up.”) By not fitting in with Rick Ross’s catchy and disposible adventures on Port of Miami, “White House” shows Ross’s potential depth; he can emote, but not effectively on an album this shallow. There’s clearly more to dude than the beard, shades and white-on-white car, but it will take an album where the real kingpin talk outweighs the rhymes for the ladies to reveal the mind behind the logo. But for what it is, Port of Miami will do.