Rick Ross is a survivor of the times. When beef came his way during his sudden rise to fame, he didn’t cower but went to war against those that stood against him. When attempts on his life were made, he rose from the bullets unscathed like a Carol City Luke Cage. Dead bodies outside his home, kidnapping accusations—trouble always seemed to be right around the corner. Now on his ninth studio album, the world still cares to hear his boasts and grunts, a difficult feat to accomplish in an industry where the biggest fires only last a moment and careers can be extinguished in minutes.
He’s been called everything from a fraud to an officer, and there’s still a huge question mark about the life he claimed to live before success in hip-hop, but when he raps with the conviction of a thousand men in the trenches it's hard not to believe his every word. The best Rick Ross is when his golden ear for beats finds a gem for his charismatic flow to float over; I prefer when the music is soulful, but the trap bangers are also hard to deny.
While researching for a recent article, I found time to bounce around his immense catalog, and was surprised by how many records left me satisfied―gems are scattered throughout his entire career. He may not be the best lyricist or an artist crafting classics, but Ross will always give you a reason to pay attention. He’s done it for eight albums, four compilations and countless mixtapes, the fact he has anything left to say is astounding.
Admittedly, I didn’t spend much time with Black Market, the 2015 album from MMG’s head honcho. The music was good, highlights like “Smile Mama, Smile” and “Crocodile Python” stayed in rotation, but overall the album didn’t break any new ground. Admittedly, I wasn’t very excited about Rather You Than Me until I heard the single “I Think She Like Me." With soul sample production, a Ty Dolla hook, and a braggadocious Rozay who can gloat about partying in Cannes with Leonardo DiCaprio, everything great about Rick Ross can be found in these four minutes. Just when you start to wonder if he still has it, Ross will give you a reason to stay, a reason to listen.
There's a feeling that Ross gives listeners; he has songs that that will take you deep into the trap’s trenches or make you feel like you're about to as win the lottery. I’m coming into this listen with no expectations, but after eight albums, I know never to count a boss out.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. "Apple of My Eye" (ft. Raphael Saadiq)
Ross is blessing us from the beginning. Soulful hums and jazzy horns, this is going to be an intro to play back, I can feel it. Anytime Ross mentions crying the song is an instant classic. “I told Meek I wouldn’t trust Nicki,” WHAT THE HELL. Did he just casually mention she was the reason for the beef between Drake? “Just had a seizure at the Super Bowl,” what kind of strange boast is this!? I don’t know if I should be worried or salute. WOOOO. This is smoother than Johnny Tsunami on a snowboard. Raphael Saadiq sounds heavenly, but he doesn’t miss. Loving how the hi-hats are hitting. Reflective Ross is the best Ross next to War Ross. “I want fried chicken at my funeral.” From Donald Trump to having weed at the White House, this might be the best Ross intro ever. I know that’s a hot take, but he’s really delivering some memorable moments. This is how you start an album. I could feel that high note piercing through the clouds. The funky bass is also a nice element. Production is top-notch, it feels like the dawn you see before scoring a triple double.
2. "Santorini Greece"
Okay, Ross is starting strong. ANOTHER HORN. What beauty. How can he say fuck the world over such a beautiful sample? Ross sounds like he’s about to bring the world to its knees while the beat is trying to take us all to Heaven—what a strange yet riveting juxtaposition. ROSS SOUNDS THE BEST WHEN THE SAMPLE IS SOULFUL! Who gave this piece of beauty to the boss? [Editor's Note: It's Bink!] So jazzy, so soulful! Rick Ross just mentioned diabetes in his bloodline, such an interesting fact to casually throw in right before boasting about blowing money at Art Basel. Did he just throw a shot at Jesse Jackson? Is no one safe from Ross? Is it strange that Ross sounds like he’s reached a certain level of clarity? This is heat. I would not mind a jazz-driven rap album of Rick Ross venting about his life and times. Ross bragging about Martha Stewart decorating his home with Snoop supplying smoke is my favorite humble brag thus far. Clap for these horns, so elegant. Okay, this is a strong two for two right now. Tyler was right, Ross is amazing when he leaves the trap.
3. "Idols Become Rivals" (ft. Chris Rock)
Chris Rock! He sounds drunk, like real drunk, the kind of drunk you feel embarrassed about when you see it the next morning on Instagram. Oh shit, I believe this is the same sample of Jay’s “Where Have You Been” that’s on The Dynasty album. These keys are ominous and woooo the drums just dropped. Rick mentioned growing up on Cash Money, reminiscing flow. Trick Daddy/”Thug Holiday” mention. Okay, Ross is floating over the darkest keys. Oh shit, meeting Birdman and seeing that his watch was a fake broke Ross' heart. Further proof, it's best not to meet your idols. Again, clarity Ross is sounding razor sharp. Just name-dropped Birdman, oh this is a damn diss. “Pray that Mannie Fresh will see the light.” SCORCHING. EVERY BAR IS HOTTER THAN THE LAST. THIS ISN’T A DRIVE-BY THIS IS STAND OUTSIDE HIS HOUSE AND EMPTY EVERY CLIP. “Last request, can all producers please get paid.” I just fell out my chair. He is lecturing Birdman, the truth is hotter than Lil Wayne's old block. What did Birdman do to Khaled? Behind the scenes, some dirt went down. Forget Nicki and Remy, Birdman and Ross is a far more interesting battle. Even though the last thing I want in 2017 is a Birdman song/diss/birdcall.
4. "Trap Trap Trap" (ft. Young Thug & Wale)
WOOOOO. I need a rewind. Ross just dropped a bomb on Birdman and starts the next song with his ankle monitor beeping, legend. I’m almost sure that it was a strategic choice to follow up his Birdman assault with a trap banger featuring Young Thug. The Rosé brings out the petty. This is a thumper, I feel the ground shaking beneath my feet. "Brown bag legend,” this is another one for the brown bag article. I swear, along with his weight loss, Ross' flows have gotten tighter. “In the jungle I’m Nas, at the label I’m Russ, in the trap I’m Rick Ross.” This is wake up in a new Bugatti music. The beat has some serious kick, I felt my chest cavity cave in when the beat dropped. Ten years ago Ace Hood would be on here over Thugger. Young Thug’s voice sounds deeper than usual, I think I prefer this tone than when he raps in a higher pitch. This flow is nasty, seriously he’s skiing; slaughtering the pocket. Slime Season music. Love the stutter/skip. Thug has so much crossover potential but if he did an album of goon-ish trap music, I wouldn’t be mad. Is this the first time Ross and Thug have connected? An interesting combo. Wale's not the trap rapper, so glad he’s not pretending to have the kilos. I still feel like people hold the MMG signing against him, assuming he’s not still giving bars over the bangers. Everyone is showing the hell up for Ross. “I’m nothing like those trap guys but I do bag dimes,” okay Wale. I wouldn't be mad at this one if it started earning heavy spins in the warmer months to come.
5. "Dead Presidents" (ft. Future, Jeezy & Yo Gotti)
I feel like every Ross album has a song called “Dead Presidents.” Also every trap rapper has to have a song called “Dead Presidents.” Ross saying nothing's changed in the 10 years since Port Of Miami. Ha, he blamed America for him growing more violent throughout the years. This beat is aggressive, like woke up with your car sitting on cement abrasive. Imagine if the “B.M.F.” instrumental woke up on the wrong side of the bed, that’s how mad “Dead Presidents” sounds. Ross is bragging about knowing the judge—wait did he just say pissing on women with an R. Kelly ad lib? Not cool Boss, not cool. I would punch Floyd Mayweather in the face to this. Crazy this features Yo Gotti and Future and someone decided Gotti would be more fitting on the hook. Future is in FUTURE mode, no melodies for the HNDRXX fans. I like Future but this doesn’t fit him quite as well as it does Ross. Wait, did he just brag about fucking other guys wives? Scottie Pippen is going to lose his mind one of these days. A man can only take disrespect for so long. There was a darker time when Jeezy and Ross were adversaries, I’m so glad we are here to witness them together. Admittedly, it’s been awhile since a Jeezy verse truly captivated me. This one didn’t quite do it. But what a beat by Beat Billionaire.
6. "She on My Dick" (ft. Gucci Mane)
The bangers are coming back to back. Ross counting money. Loving the heavy horn on this one. The money counter sound over trap beats will never get old. “Richest nigga in the city so she on my dick” makes perfect sense to me, but having gold diggers must get old, no? GUCCI! He sounds stuffy, is this an ‘07 Gucci verse? Ha, not bad, not bad. I’m almost certain that since becoming a free man, every Gucci verse has had at least one basketball reference. I wish he would talk about Game Of Thrones. This one is a bit too lengthy for my taste. Especially after a string of trap bangers. Rick Ross is confidence goals, he will say the simplest lines as if Edgar Allen Poe wrote it. I can’t help but admire.
7. "I Think She Like Me" (ft. Ty Dolla $ign)
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In typical Rick Ross fashion, “She On My Dick” is followed by “I Think She Like Me,” word to Dem Franchize Boyz. Yes, finally back to something with some soul. Considering this single is cut from the Rich Forever lineage is rather perfect, Ross is completely floating. There’s something special about sample-driven production that gives him the room to flex the flow. Ty Dolla should be the hook man, strange the only people who truly utilize him are Lupe, Wiz and Ross. The fact Ross is floating through the city is comparable to a magic carpet is funny to imagine, I’m all the way here for Rozay to play Aladdin in the new reboot. Diddy, Jay and Ross are the top three entrepreneurs in hip-hop, but the way Slim Thug is buying back the block he should be mentioned when discussing rap entrepreneurs. Nothing funnier than Ross’ Beetlejuice line. How can a song this smooth not be a keeper? By far one of my favorite Ross songs that I’ve heard in years.
8. "Powers That Be" (ft. Nas)
Chris Rock is back and he’s still drunk. Calling Ross the best emcee, the Lord is his witness. How can he say this on a song featuring Nas? The OJ shade got a chuckle out of me. A cool beat, a thumper, but doesn’t have the weight as the previous bangers. Ross sounds so alive, like he got a great night's rest before entering the booth. For 50 or more, Rozay will go back to selling dope, such great risk for such a tiny reward. I’m going to rewind this just to hear Ross say opulence over and over, he is truly a lavish fellow. Fred Hampton mention, a lot of mentions of being black and racism. Nas' skin doesn’t have a trace of age and his voice still sounds young and full of vigor. Everytime I hear Nas rap I want a new album, he truly needs to bless us. Is Nas and Ross a better duo than Nas and Jay? A crazy thought, but not insane. A woman singing, not bad. Sort of long, but I’m going to come back.
9. "Game Ain't Based on Sympathy"
Another horn full of life and eloquence. Ross reminiscing on government cheese, this is an instant classic. I like when rappers can take time to reflect that their kids have a chance to see a better life growing up than they did. Ross got him some beats on this one. I feel like this is the music that plays before James Bond finds a woman of interest, music for sitting in a casino drinking expensive wine with a bulletproof vest under the tailored suit. WOOOO YOU SAID SHE HAD TO DO WHAT ROSS? He’s a wild boy, man. But over a beat with the grace of the entire cast of Black Swan you can pretty much say anything outlandish. There’s a maturity to Ross that I’m enjoying, I’m pretty sure it was apparent on Black Market, but he seems to be far more grown up. I’m keeping this one.
Wait, how many rappers are Scientologists? Will Smith? Sheesh, this one started immediately. Getting Just Blaze vibes from the production, but with less powerful drums. Woo, Ross is flowing through this beat with the smoothness of floss sliding between teeth. This is the shortest song on the album, and I already wish it was longer. I don’t know what this sample is, but it’s rather interesting. Did he just call out an attorney? “There’s lead in the water put a prayer in the sky.” Yeah, Ross just gave me another keeper. [Editor's Note: Yoh was getting "Just Blaze vibes" on "Scientology" because it was produced by Bink!, whose drum programming has been copied by Just Blaze in the past.]
11. "Lamborghini Doors" (ft. Meek Mill & Anthony Hamilton)
There's a lot of reminiscing on this album. Ross is talking about visiting Meek when he was locked up. Interesting story to hear how inmates were going crazy just by his presence. He speaks of Meek like visiting a brother, their relationship feels deeper than rap. The way Meek’s vocals come in is so clean. I expected from the title for this to be another banger, but nope, Ross is keeping the graceful jams going. The three-peat is most appreciated. My appreciation for Meek has grown as he stopped yelling into the mic. This verse is fire, giving me a similar feeling as Wale’s “Heavens Afternoon.” A soothing, beautiful voice. "Lamborghini doors" is being sung with such lavishness. Don’t know if I needed this second Ross verse, but it’s enjoyable. Wait, Meek is back. Tag team MMG combo.
12. "Triple Platinum" (ft. Scrilla)
“When I get to heaven I’ll see my grandmother,” off this intro alone I know something special is coming. A slow burner, such a sophisticated instrumental. This is the kind of beat that you have to stunt upon. He mentioned calling Drake to calm the beef, interesting. Crazy how all of Young Money has such an immense respect for Ross, he truly moves like a mob boss who has ties in various camps. This beat is so transparent, soft enough to be a whisper. “More money than those niggas that went triple Platinum,” a bar. Also ridiculous in 2017, how triple Platinum is a pipe dream for rappers. Okay, Scrilla. Solid verse thus far, a Prince/Purple Rain bar is smooth. Ross really just let him spill his guts, I respect it. I like this a lot, not heels over head about it, but this is the kind of Ross I’ll enjoy on a Sunday afternoon. “Someone tried to kill me but I’m still optimistic.” Ha, instead of talking to a detective Ross bought a rocket launcher, the actions of a fearless man.
13. "Maybach Music V" (ft. DeJ Loaf)
The Maybach Music drops are some of my favorite in hip-hop, but I’m not looking forward to the first Maybach Music not produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League. Instantly, you can tell the production doesn’t have the same lushness. It’s like going to your favorite restaurant, ordering your favorite meal, and finding out the recipe was changed. It’s not the same. DeJ Loaf doesn’t sound bad, I've never been a big fan, but this is a great look for her. She has a good rap voice, hopefully this opens up the doors to get the album out. I can’t get over how this beat sounds more like Nissan Music and not Maybach Music. I need a J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League remix. Wow, two minutes in and DeJ Loaf was still going. Wait, here’s Ross. Ha, Ross saying "magnum opus" just topped him saying opulence. Since DeJ started the song, it made me take notice of how Ross has a presence that simply takes over a song. It’s that charisma. It’s a good song, but I would like it more if the title was anything but "Maybach Music V."
14. "Summer Seventeen" (ft. Yo Gotti)
“You scared to die nigga,” DUH. Ross is ending on a trap note. I’m not even mad, this thumper is knocking like a police raid. “Calling the police is the only thing free,” ha, right you are Ricky, right you are. “I want my niggas rich by summer seventeen” is going to be an Instagram caption until September. Yo Gotti just made an appearance, I can’t hear his voice without thinking about Young Dolph. That’s the power of beef, but he delivered. Ross came back around and is killing it, the “mama” ad lib is the best on the album. Yeah, this is bananas. Depending on the next few weeks, this could very well be a summer anthem.
I’m rather surprised that on a 14-song album, only four songs can be considered trap songs. My preference is when Ross is on the smoother, soulful production, and most of the album brings this sound to life. I didn’t expect it, but I’m pleasantly impressed by this approach.
Ross' voice and the production compliment each other like well-seasoned french fries―there’s nothing better. Enlisting producers who invoke this kind of sonic palette goes well with the maturity of Ross’ raps, this is the perfect route for an artist growing older. Leave the trap to the young boys.
Rather You Than Me embodies Ross taking off the jersey and switching to a suit; instead of making another street album, he made the album about the life that comes after surviving the trenches, not trying to prove he’s still there.
There’s also no tongue-biting, every lyric is a bar that Ross meant with all his heart. The Birdman diss brought truth to light. It wasn’t an attack on the person, but putting a flashlight to his shady movements. From reminiscing on government cheese to remembering the day he visited Meek in prison, Ross exhibits the characteristics of a successful man who is taking the time to look back on a life that wasn’t easy.
Rather You Than Me is less about showing off and stuntin' and more about realizing how far he has come and admiring all that’s been acquired. Ross talks about wanting to protect Wayne, trying to settle the beef between Drake and Meek, and wanting his friends to be rich by summer seventeen―as if being aware of his blessings has made him want better for all those around him.
This isn’t a new Ross, he’s still in the same lane, but with a refreshing transparency and a production style to match his growth.
Nine albums in and Rick Ross hasn’t lost it yet. His ear is still golden, charisma soaks every verse, and the conviction has yet to waver.