Black Market sounds like a simulacrum of Ross's critical peak, Rich Forever.
In writing about Rick Ross’ new album Black Market, Stereogum’s Tom Breihan described him as a “legacy artist”, a “middle-aged rapper”. And what’s indicative of a creative entering middle age? Revisiting the triumphs of their youth, of course. For Rick Ross, his early career suggested that he could go on making maximalist fantasy-rap for albums upon albums, dependent on extravagant beats and the imagination that comes with tapping into a supply of cartoonish wealth. But then 2012’s masterful mixtape Rich Forever happened, and Ross doubled-down on his world-building, spending 19 tracks and one skit creating one of the most complete ecosystems rap had seen this decade. He’s been chasing that same success ever since.
The Rich Forever comparisons are only heightened on Black Market, which listens like a simulacrum of his critical peak. The mixtape’s title track, Ross’ best song ever, utilizes John Legend’s crooning over opulent strings before exploding in an adrenaline rush as Ross waxes poetic on eternal wealth. Everything that made him appealing as an artist was wrapped up into this song and came out perfectly. The follow-up track on the mixtape, “Triple Beam Dreams”, featured a characteristically show-stopping verse from Nas, and this strategy was once again employed on Black Market. Unfortunately, the opening track featuring John Legend saw the singer sounding far flatter than he did on “Rich Forever”, and Nas’ dexterous rapping couldn’t save “One of Us” from landing poorly conceptually. Strangely, then, the best moments on Black Market come when he’s looking even farther back, surveying the success he’s had during his time in hip-hop.
With the Drake/Meek Mill beef capturing attention far outside of hip-hop (see: the cringe-worthy brand adoption of lines from Drake’s “Back 2 Back”) “Ghostwriter” is a very good song about one of the genre’s most talked-about topics. Without saying names, Ross levies humor (“Fat boy behind a lot of your favorite flows, man”), technical superiority (“Politicians propositioning bottom bitches washing dishes”), and understandable navel-gazing (“It gets so lonely at the top”) to make one of the album’s few engaging highlights.
Elsewhere, it’s just another Rick Ross album, only with some timely flourishes, like a Snapchat reference on the Mariah Carey-assisted “Can’t Say No”. Casual misogyny mixes with boasts over beats intended to elicit questions about how much the album costs – Breihan wrote of this being old man rap, but who other than Silicon Valley entrepreneurs come into their greatest wealth at times other than middle-age or later? In true LCD Soundsystem fashion, the older Ross is hurting for his friends on Black Market. Without the sparks of energy provided by affiliates Meek Mill or Gunplay, a whole album of virtually only Ross rapping is no longer as interesting as it used to be. Even taking a song title from Gunplay, “D.O.P.E.” doesn’t amount to the intensity the original has.
Strangely, the album’s most glaring flaw is what used to be Ross’s greatest strength: sticking to concept. Titling the album Black Market suggested another opus about his drug dealing persona, but little of this mythos makes its way to the album. Instead, it’s populated with misguided love songs (“Sorry”, “Can’t Say No”) and paranoid musings (“Crocodile Python”) that on previous Ross albums would’ve instead been replaced by devoted brag fests. It’s a shame that the intentness felt on 2015’s Black Dollar mixtape doesn’t make its way onto Black Market. Rick Ross is in legacy mode, and to find reasons to celebrate musically, he’s going to have to keep looking back.