In the age of microwavable big budget hip-hop albums, disc-bulging products that have every hope of being chopped apart by an iPod owner’s Genius playlists or Spotify subscriber’s radio preferences, I have to thank Rick Ross for opening this album with a two minute say nothing skit about loading bags of coke into his trunk. I have to thank him because he’s already released one album this year, the first winter’s Mastermind, and by opening this album with such a focused slice of bland conversation he’s signaling that this album will not be following the formula as that album did. No, Hood Billionaire is in fact the exact opposite of Ross’ last two efforts, an album so focused that of its 16 tracks only two or three cuts could be heard as anything other than drug rap.
The rest of this hour and a half snooze is the same thing over and over again: bass intended to pop the cheap bumper off your hooptie; references to courtside life at Miami Heat games; name dropping recently paroled and incarcerated drug pushers in an attempt to siphon their credibility as his own; and various gradations of female interaction that tend to settle on the polar ends of Cam’ron’s old “Touch It or Not?” scale. Ross adds several allusions to Memphis to this formula for reasons that are never made entirely clear — perhaps an eye closer to the Media Takeout gossip mill is required — but his persona here remains solidified, the same Rick Ross you heard earlier this year on a fairly satisfactory, much more diverse CD (I suppose it was likely an AAC or .RAR file folder, but I digress).
Ross is no stranger to dropping a pair of projects in a given year — he did it four out of five years from 2009 to 2012 — but the unspoken promise was one of these projects would always be free. It’s unclear why this album, decidedly street-leaning and mean in purpose, was added to Def Jam’s retail catalog for 2014. Hood Billionaire is just shockingly stoic and feels in so many ways like a B-side collection relic of the alternative rock ’90s, the kind of release an Oasis or Smiths would give to their salivating fan bases. But Ross has just never been that kind of artist, and while he’s undoubtedly grown by leaps and bounds as an artist he just doesn’t have enough to say to justify three hours of music on Target shelves in a calendar year.
Especially because of this album’s very stoic adherence to drug pusher raps, it feels prudent to get to the highlights you should sample on iTunes and ignore what I find terrible (though in the album’s defense, Ross continues to avoid massive mistakes like “Face” from Deeper Than Rap in this second act of his) since “terrible” on a release like this largely boils down to which beats you prefer Ross over. “Trap Luv” is the first time this album really wakes up, one of those big soulful joints Ross usually saves for the roach clip tracks but uses here as a liftoff point for the heart of the album. Yo Gotti appears here, and Project Pat after on the six-minute “Elvis Presley Blvd.”, and the Memphis attitude of this area gives Ross both a much needed break and an interesting pair of new sparring partners.
“Movin’ Bass”, perhaps most famous for controversy surrounding whether up-and-coming female rapper Tink was supposed to be included or not, follows and while it’s not the best Jay and Ross collaboration an energetic Timbaland bomp makes it one of the most unique entries in Ross’ mostly predictable catalog. It’s just a shame the song takes nearly a full minute to get started while a phone call from jail threatens to sap all its energy before it even has a chance. Timbaland’s other contribution, “If They Knew”, is fun enough to mention if only so I can remark on Tim’s continued renaissance a little more, and hearing Lil’ Boosie on a high profile release trading crack raps with Ross is probably more entertaining than it has a right to be; Boosie’s hunger inarguably helps Ross elevate his game as they trade “Nickel Rock” jokes and threats. Snoop Dogg’s appearance on “Quintessential” is likely pretty polarizing, but Toomp’s Californicated beat takes me back to some of Freddie Gibbs’ more experimental mixtape cuts and makes me wonder what he might have sounded like atop the Toomp banger instead.
Underground rap fans will be pleased to hear Big K.R.I.T. help Ricky Rozay close his 2014 with “Brimstone”, one of the aforementioned not-so-drug-related cuts, but it’s a bigger change of pace than an album highlight. The rest of the album is just more Rick Ross music, making Hood Billionaire the sort of album I struggle grading out the most. On the one hand, if you’re reading this from the perspective of a huge fan of his music, this is a fine companion to the other album he released this year. If you love his drug raps, this is almost purely distilled into that thought line. But from any other perspective Hood Billionaire is completely uninteresting. It’s sonically interesting at times on headphones (Lex Luger and Deedotwill attempt to turn the Maybach Music girl’s voice into the backbone of a beat for half of “Hood Billionaire” for one example) and undoubtedly sounds fine on warm open roads, but these are things you could say about any Rick Ross release. Without any truly standout tracks, it’s easy to call Hood Billionaire unnecessary.