There are few more polarising figures in the world of hip hop than Rick Ross. Some see him as a fraudulent, pathological liar occupying a false position at the head of the hip hop table while others admire his quality output, unafraid to praise the self proclaimed ‘Bawse’ of the rap world. Whichever opinion the listener possesses, it is clear that God Forgives, I Don’t is one of the most anticipated rap releases of the year. Delayed from the intended December release date, Ross has kept his fans waiting. Instead, his Maybach Music Group label has released several well received projects, both solo and compilation based. Now it is finally time for the label head to step out on his own, ready to further capitalise on an already successful year.
Opener ‘Pirates’ finds Rick Ross in subdued, relaxed mode. The topics are the same; drugs, money and women, but the execution is different to previous releases. Rather than the bombastic production favoured in the MMG umbrella releases, Ross chooses to soothe the listener as he waxes lyrical about his luxurious lifestyle. The technique places the Miami native firmly in the tradition of the Mafioso sub genre of rap, a rebuttal to the familiar criticism that Ross profits from the fantasy life imagined in his rhymes. Rozay is showing the listener that he is fully aware he is not what he says he is, rather he is a performer and entertainer first and foremost.
This theme is explored further in the conciliatory ‘Ashamed’, Cool and Dre providing a soulful backdrop for the MC to explain why he took to selling drugs:
“I needed some change, Momma needed a raise/ She stayed in a rage, hated minimum wage/ I’m feeling the same, all these criminals paid/ Wearing Bally’s and gold, I’m selling dope shameless to say.”
A critical listener may point out that a rapper that has based an entire career on glorifying drug dealing is coming in a little late apologising on his fifth album, but it is clear from the outset that God Forgives, I Don’t is the account of Rick Ross the MC and entertainer, not William Roberts the man. The latest entry in the ‘Maybach Music’ series of track included on every studio album since Trilla is similarly a triumph, stripping the guest spots and leaving a soulful Neyo hook to lull the listener over signature J.U.S.T.I.C.E League instrumental.
Less successful, however, is the bloated, star studded ’3 Kings’. Featuring a Dr Dre verse but not his production proves to be a mistake as the legendary beat maker struggles through his Jay Z ghost written rhymes. Hova himself makes an appearance, sleep walking through his bars and going back on his promise to no longer use the word ‘bitch’ in his songs. The album picks up on the Andre 3000 featured ‘Sixteen’. Lamenting the fact 16 bars is sometimes not enough to express an idea adequately, Ross designates a full 8 minutes to explore his notion. 3000 continues his recent trend of scene stealing guest appearances with a simply astonishing virtuoso demonstration of free association rhyming.
If there is one thing about Rick Ross that is impossible to deny, it is his consistency. The Floridian reverts to type in the middle section of his album, returning to the thumping, trunk rattling beats that characterise the Dirty South. ‘Hold Me Back’ is catchy, if a little repetitive, while ’911′ is too lengthy for its threadbare subject matter. ‘So Sophisticated’, however, places Ross firmly in his comfort zone. Enlisting MMG stalwart Meek Mill, the track is a perfect example of why the group currently occupies such a lofty position in mainstream rap.
The LP soon moves into R&B territory, with mixed results. ‘Ice Cold’ is lifted above the ordinary by an impassioned hook from a rejuvenated Omarion, but the Usher assisted ‘Touch ‘N You’ is a disaster from start to finish. Uninspired production fails to mask a lamentable chorus, in which the legendary R&B crooner is reduced to whispering “fucking you, fucking you” over and over. Firmly between the two in terms of quality is the curious ‘Diced Pineapples’. Wale treats the listener to a spot of spoken word poetry about oral sex before the song begins proper. The track makes utilises the often neglected singing voice of Drake to good effect, but it is hard to find a use for the song outside of the bedroom.
By delving deeper into the mafioso sub genre, Rick Ross has produced arguably the most solid album of his career. Tentative experimentation generally comes off well, without forgetting the foundations that have made him one of the most consistent and popular rappers in the game. Despite the negative opinions that typically colour discussions of his work, the music itself continues to defy his critics.