Album number six from Rick Ross doesn't stray too far from the sound of his previous work, but a high level of polish just might make this his best album yet.
“First of all, it is the principal through which you may borrow and use the education, the experience, the influence and perhaps the capital of other people in carrying out your own plans in life. It is the principle through which you can accomplish in one year more than you could accomplish without it in the lifetime if you depend entirely upon your own efforts for success."
Napoleon Hill’s “Master Mind Principle” serves as more than just an inspiration for the title of the latest album from Rick Ross. Lesson number one in The Law of Success can be applied to the success Ross has had in his career thus far. It all starts with the name. As you likely know by now, William Leonard Roberts II borrows his stage name from the renowned drug trafficker "Freeway" Rick Ross, and with it, his kingpin persona. This character is elevated by a number of producers, guests, and connections. Ross even borrows the flow of other successful rappers from time to time (though not nearly to the extent of The Game), as seen on “Nobody” where he does his best Biggie impression. Rick Ross the artist is the culmination of all these variables coming together as one to make the best possible product, and fully committing to this idea is ultimately what helps lift Mastermind to the top of his discography.
Looking like a promo poster for Miami Vice, the cover art for Mastermind does a fantastic job of capturing the mood of the album. Ross plays up the cocaine kingpin lifestyle from "Rich Is Gangsta" all the way through “Thug Cry”. Hard white, Maybachs, Belaire Rosé, thousand dollar stacks, and palm trees set the backdrop for Mastermind, as Ross paints the scene with lines like “Versace slippers, 20 chains, bitch I'm Dana Dane / Put a patch over your eye, fuck with my petty change." There are a couple of skits that play into this theme as well, providing some annoyingly unforgettable quotes. “Dope Bitch” in particular -- ugh. The album’s subject matter can grow tiresome after a while as Ross never attempts to take it anywhere deeper, but he’s content with making mafioso rap and it’s a demographic that will always supply customers.
Mastermind deserves credit in that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Ross’s only aim is to make music that is fun to listen to, and for the most part, he succeeds at that. He isn’t afraid to show a sense of humor, at one point saying “Nigga vision the clearest, I get shooters on clearance / Barely fit in a Lambo but did it for the appearance." Ross will never be known as one of the best lyricists, but he always manages to come up with some great one-liners that are made even more memorable thanks to his commanding delivery. The beat selection on Mastermind is top notch, with cinematic beats that build up the rich drug dealer image. There were a lot of different producers involved, from big names to lesser knowns, but the beat selection and sequencing are good enough that it still maintains a cohesive sound.
The “Master Mind Principle” is in full effect when it comes to guest appearances on Mastermind. Rick Ross is the commander-in-chief for this show, but he isn't afraid to step aside and let a guest steal the spotlight every once in a while. This is never more evident than on “In Vein”, which ends up being one of the best songs on the whole album, but it totally sounds like a Weeknd song with a Rick Ross verse thrown on it. And there’s nothing wrong with that because at the end of the day it leads to Ross having a better album. Big Sean, Young Jeezy, and Jay-Z all supply great guest verses, and again, Ross isn’t afraid of being outshined on his own track if it amounts to a better song. If I have one complaint about guest appearances it’s that French Montana is given hook duty on two separate occasions and fails both times. Tracy T’s rambunctious hook on “War Ready” also detracts from what was otherwise a good song.
Six albums deep and not a lot has changed. What you see is what you get with Rick Ross. The good news is that he continues to learn and refine the style that he is known for. There aren’t many rappers clogging the lane for Rick Ross with mafioso gangsta rap that is accessible to the mainstream audience. Mastermind may be lacking in substance, but it accomplishes what it set out to. It’s a well-produced and carefully assembled album with solid rapping and satisfying guest appearances. The pieces tie together, and at the end of the day, there’s no denying that Mastermind is a fun album.