Winter has finally arrived in Atlanta, the bi-polar weather has been fluctuating for weeks, fighting against nature, but nature's slowly accepting that it's time to break out the jackets and hoodies. It feels a bit strange that on a day where the temperature is expected to be a in the 50’s that Rick Ross releases his 8th studio album, Black Market. I’m used to the AC being the only cold air blowing while playing the latest from Ricky Rozay. Thinking back, my fondest memories of Ross all exist during the scorching summer months when speakers boomed his hottest anthems, the luxury lifestyle rap that he is famous for sounds best during a season that inspires fun and extravagance.
While it might be winter, Ross has been heating up since the release of his Black Dollar mixtape back in September. There was a wave of praise that was almost impossible to overlook, after two fairly dry albums, the biggest boss was returning back to form. The small flame that Ross sparked had no chance to die out, he continued to push out new music, feeding the fire, a fire that glowed brightly that I continued to overlook.
There was just too much happening, Ross was just another raindrop in this year’s downpour of endless music. I’ve definitely spent more time at the Wingstop than I have with his music recently. The wing market isn’t so saturated, his only competition is Hooters and American Deli, much different than rap this year. It wasn't long ago when the consensus was Ross lost his flair, that he grew cold. Recently, that has changed. The recent wave of praise was unexpected, the people were beginning to cheer again. I'll admit, it was vague but I was interested in seeing what caused this change.
I never cared for who Ross beefed with, dated, or befriended, none of what happens in reality has ever mattered. The music and the persona has always been so much more enchanting, even if it’s partially based in a land of fiction. Ross is like a big budget blockbuster movie that draws in an audience with high profile actors, expensive toys, and big explosions. You don’t go in expecting a meticulous plot, unexpected twist, and an ending that’s far from happy. I’m expecting to be captivated by the gaudy lifestyle of rap's most charismatic mafia man, lost in the enormous production, walking away feeling like a bigger boss than Dame Dash during his years with Roc-A-Fella. That’s what I’m hoping for, anything less is utter disappointment.
As per 1 Listen rules...I'm not allowed to pause or rewind the album, this is purely my stream-of-consciousness, gut reaction to the album as it plays in its entirety. I'll revisit the album in a few months when I can really measure its impact. *Insert grunt*
"Free Enterprise" (ft. John Legend) [prod. Streetrunners]
Rick Ross giving glory to God to start, the sentiment is mad over some gorgeous keys. This beat sounds like walking down a golden road in a cul-de-sac where in every house lives a millionaire. Ross has an excellent rap voice, despite it's heavy weight, he's able to tip toe over beats. An introspective Ross is always a winner. This is a pretty good intro, Ross sounds alive, passionate, he said the first verse was his inner André 3000. I chuckled. John Legend has a voice that takes you to church, literally lifts you up and sends you to the nearest service. Angelic. I'm changing his name to John Angel. More John Legend on rap intros in 2016 please. Whoa he’s hitting these high notes. Amazing.
"Smile Mama, Smile" (ft. CeeLo Green) [prod. Jake One]
Jake One and Ross, I’m ready for these drums to punch me like Michael B. Jordan in Creed. Ross is talking about his mother, this is a first. “She told me no more Promethazine that would make her proud.” Deep, I wonder if this has to do with his seizures. Ross is talking about his father, who knew he had a father? I thought he was born by the force like Anakin. A mafia Jedi. He doesn’t parade his parents on records like Drake. CeeLo Green, clap for him. The Goodie Mobb alum is catching bodies, bodies, I think my body is levitating, he is singing from the soul of the Holy Ghost. Ross with the "Dear Mama" reference. This is very pure. The stunting is being kept to a minimum, there is no persona, this is *insert Rick Ross government name*. Very unexpected. "Smile Mama, Smile" is a keeper.
"One of Us" (ft. Nas) [prod. Calvo da Gr8]
These keys are cold. WOOOO Calvo might be great, this beat is banging and Nas as a rapper is aging like his skin, flawlessly. He never sounds dated, incredible that he’s destroying a Rick Ross record in 2015. What A TIME! Loving Ross on this, his flow is on water skies. Second verse is good, solid, can I hear Nas again?
"Silk Road" [prod. Ben Billion]
Thunderstorm intro, I’ve heard a lot of these this year. Shouts to Biggie Sean. It feels like walking through a dark cave with his voice echoing over the walls. There’s definitely a deeper layer of depth to Ross thus far. Is this maturing? Can you continue to mature after a certain age? If Nas can have a second childhood I guess you can have a second growth spurt. I wonder who the woman singing is during the hook? Ross is muttering, “I did it all for you,” I wonder who this might be. It’s an interesting song. His voice is fading out nicely, the attention to detail is definitely a level up from his prior releases. Man Ross is stepping it up.
Color Money [prod. D. Rich]
Not in love with this beat, it’s a bit more generic than the previous more intricate beats. This is the Ross that you expect, boasting and bragging. The beat does have some bounce to it, “make her sign a prenup just to get my dick sucked.” Ha, the Birdman jab is crazy when you think about their past relationship. He closed that verse with a bit of umph in his voice. The hooks haven’t been very catchy, Ross really is focused on getting these bars off. This one is cool, but I think without the Drake/Birdman diss it wouldn’t have made headlines.
Dope Dick [prod. Jake One]
I really wish we could abolish rappers referencing their dick as an addictive drug. It's overdone but... JAKE ONE IS MAKING UP FOR THE TERRIBLE TITLE WITH A BEAT THAT IS HOTTER THAN A PENGUIN TAP DANCING IN MIAMI. Ross just shoutouted the girl that put him on to Netflix. He’s definitely advocating Netflix and chilling. “No shots but I write all my raps”, no mercy. This song is really solid, his second verse delivery is nasty. If we could remove every time he says dope dick this would be up there with "Silk Road" and "Smile Mama, Smile." Was that a 50 diss? Resist rewinding, it's against the rules. Ross likes to Netflix and chill with the lemon pepper wings, Netflix and Wingstop should collab for the Rozay special in 2016. This is enjoyable.
"Crocodile Python" [prod. Jahlil Beats, Antman Wonder]
This is a song title I’d expect from Riff Raff. Jahlil and Antman has it is sounding extremely lush. I’m captivated, you hang on to every word. You never know what Ross is going to say. Again, there’s really no hook, no moments where the beat can breath. The hook sounds like part of the verse. Kind of surprised Jahlil went with something less powerful, it lacks the thunder of the hits he gave Boogie and Bobby. This is the kind of sound you drive around and play when you are lost in thought because your enemies are trying to catch you slipping. Definitely didn’t feel like a four minute record. I'd play it again.
"Ghostwriter" [prod. D. Rich]
Ha, Ross once again acknowledging that he is the wordsmith behind his every rap. Ross is claiming the last ten years he’s been the pen for others. Wow, he just mentioned Slip n Slide. Eh, he’s losing me with this one. Another rapper telling us how lonely the top is. *Eye rolled emoji*. Ross reflecting on fellow entertainers that have tax problems, he even mentioned DMX, sheesh. It must be a very real fear. The part where be bleeps out names, I'm intrigued. Who is he meeting with that he can’t say their name? That’s not boss like. Ross also has me wondering how much money Quentin Miller makes. Ghostwriter publishing must be nice, I'm in the wrong profession. I’m on the fence about returning to this one. Eight songs in and it’s been a good ride so far. Only one and a half yawns is a good thing.
"Black Opium" (ft. DJ Premier) [prod. Black Metaphor, Inkredibeatz]
Starting with a clip from a live show. He has the crowd grunting, that’s pretty insane. Premo scratches and Black Metaphor's very strong production with very good first verse. I'm digging it. This is the blockbuster record, cinematic. Can I take a second to take in that fact Premo is scratching Ross grunts! This is definitely a moment in his career that will be remembered.
"Can't Say No" (ft. Mariah Carey) [prod. J.R. Rotem]
Nas, Premo, Mariah Carey, WHAT YEAR IS THIS!? I've never been a fan of a Ross record that caters to women but this is smooth. J.R. Rotem is a name I haven’t seen in years but he did his thing with this sample of Mariah's "Can't Let You Go." It's crazy that they got her to re-sing the hook, it's almost like a modern remix of a classic. This second verse, very honest, falling in love isn’t very Boss like but this might be an acceptance. Mariah doesn’t sound bad, this might make it’s rounds on the radio. Especially since nostalgia sells. Mariah has brought more than a few rappers success. Everyone but Nick Cannon.
"Peace Sign" [prod. DJ Mustard]
The Maybach Music girl has always had a special place in my heart. Bless her. DJ Mustard on the beat and this record is the polar opposite of “Can’t Say No More.” From sensitive romantic to lewd lover. Every DJ Mustard beat should come with a YG verse and a Ty$ hook. Not sure who is singing the hook but it isn’t $ sign. A faster tempo remix would make this a possible club banger. It’s catchy, it’s just too slow. Rick Ross and Batman treat their women the same way, I’m convinced. Don’t ask why. Legs wide open like a peace sign, I’m praying this saying doesn’t become a thing.
"Very Best" (ft. Mary J. Blige)
Mariah and Mary on the same album, incredible. Production feels a bit messy, I love the blaring horn but it seems to be clashing with the instrumental. Man, this is the most experimental sound, full of color, everything else has sounded rather black, darker, nothing too light. Ross is skipping across the sound like a stone skipping across a lake. The hook isn’t winning me over but the verses are really keeping my attention held. It’s growing on me. It’s such an unexpected twist, I had you all wrong Ricky.
"Sorry" (ft. Chris Brown) [prod. Scott Storch]
Ross has been riding with Scott for a long time, it’s dope to see that they are still working. Chris Brown, I’m not the biggest fan, I’d barely call myself a fan, but he doesn’t sound half bad. Interesting that he of all people is singing the word sorry. Another record about a woman, not a love song, this is smooth, but I’m also slowly drifting. This might have worked better as a Chris record. Ross just doesn’t sell the single. One of the few times on the album where he just doesn’t move me. I hate the Auto-Tune on Chris when he has to hit the high note. Wonder what Frank Ocean is doing.
"D.O.P.E." (ft. Future) [prod. DP Beats]
Next to Nas, Future is the first rapper to appear, do we even consider Future a rapper? He definitely fits with all the soulful R&B singers that have appeared thus far. Can Future do wrong? He’s already stealing the show and the song just started. This is the banger! Oh man, Ross waited until the very end to bring the summer back. Ross makes you want to live the lavish lifestyle of a drug dealer without touching a single pot. Future's mumble flow is always in the pocket, he doesn’t miss his mark. It’s insane to think that Ross' album lacked this level of explosion. It feels like Ross hasn’t used that repeat the word flow all album, who is this man and what has he done with the Teflon Don!? This was great. I’m going to buy a yacht now.
It wasn’t until I was Harlem shaking to D.O.P.E. did I realize that Ross didn’t make the album I expected, the usual tactics are scarce, there’s no MMG rappers, no repetitive flows, no obnoxiously catchy hooks, the only word that comes to mind is mature. This is the most mature Rick Ross album that I’ve probably ever heard. The highlights show an artist that is approaching rap more thoughtfully, it’s apparent he wasn’t simply trying to make an album of hits but a body a work that represents growth.
He hasn’t changed much, it’s still the same Rozay, but it doesn’t follow a predictable formula. There’s less persona and more man, something that I’ve joked about, how Rick Ross is always in character. Before, the character was always at the forefront but as he’s getting older, experiencing life, it seems that man is seeping into the music. It’s a nice change.
I expected to do this review and dread having to revisit it. Now, I’m actually looking forward to really seeing how much of the mask was pulled back. It’s still pretty cold outside but don’t let that stop you from dropping the top and feeling like a boss.
That’s what Rick Ross would do.
[By Yoh, aka Ford Focus Yoh, aka @Yoh31]