With a Rick Ross album, you already know the subject matter: car, clothes, jewelry, and of course, Belaire Rose. It’s like a new party at a mansion you’ve been to before – the decor is lavish, yet familiar, and the guests are the real attraction.
The album starts with the line “I just upped my stock…” Ross is a business man, first and foremost. He then goes into strong classical hip hop imagery, all over an epic 1970’s soul-inspired beat. As an opener, “Rich is Gangsta” works well to set the tone of luxury living and a boss’s angst.
The next track “Drug Dealers Dream” literally starts with a dream scenario – a checking account balance over 19 million. The beat uses piano to accentuate the emotional pull of the song – “Is this a drug dealers dream? Cause all I ever see is niggas dyin’ from disease”. The dream becomes a nightmare with blood on the counter… this album is already set to be darker than Ross’s previous efforts.
The bleak tone continues as the album samples news coverage of the well known car shooting Ross was involved in Jan 2013. Then, the beat drops to the most controversial song on the album “Nobody”, which uses the Biggie verse from “You’re Nobody (til Somebody Kills You)”. The comparisons are strong – two large, targeted men, rapping about infamy. French Montana works hook duty, making the song as catchy as it is powerful. Whether you love it or hate it, this song will speak to you.
A few more standouts include “Devil is a Lie” – the first single featuring Jay Z – and “War Ready” – featuring Jeezy. Both are hard, radio-ready beats with features who absolutely murder Ross lyrically. These are the guests we showed up to see. Jay Z drops some of the best lines of the album, referencing his issues with Barney’s and Illuminati rumors with the ease only Hova can
On “War Ready,” hearing Jeezy over the incredibly slick production is a treat, and the Migos-inspired hook is right on trend. Overall this is the song to ride to, and the gunshots in the background to punctuate every line seems to drive the purpose of this song home.
Another standout is the Weeknd song “In Vein”. I say this is a Weeknd song purposely, because it feels more like a Ross feature than a track on his own album. But no matter whose song it really is, I’m here for it. The Weeknd’s smooth and high falestto mixed with drug induced pain is perfect over the minimal beat, dropping like teardrops over deep 808’s. Ross’s verse actually related to the rest of the song (!!) but his deep voice still seems a little off over the delicate beat. Honestly, I’m waiting for a remix of this song without Ross, so I can put it on repeat for certain late-night situations.
“Sanctified” has one of the more interesting beats I’ve heard in a while – almost like 808 and Heartbreaks with more of an edge. The strings add an epic element Ross demands, and a strong soul sample make this production all classic Kanye.
“Thug Cry” starts with an emotional and painfully lilting sample, and then digs into a beat to vibe to. The big news is that Wayne actually delivers a strong verse that not only makes sense, but has interesting lines. This is the perfect way to end things.
There is filler on the album no doubt – I don’t need a reggae infused Ross – but like any good host Ross brings the best out in all his guests. Whether it’s Jay Z, Kanye, Abel, Biggie and Wayne, Ross lets each one shine all while complimenting their own style perfectly. Mastermind has hits, and songs with staying power, not so much because of Ross, but because of what he stands back and let’s others do. That’s how real bosses move, anyway.