Rick Ross – Mastermind

by Mike Doub (Journalism/Psychology), published March 12th 2014

Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!

rick-ross-mastermind-1393974000MC Hammer. Larry Hoover. Even Rick Ross is just another name that Miami rapper William Leonard Roberts uses to affirm his supposedly gangster status. The motive behind his use of these aliases isn’t hard to piece together, because it’s the one motive that ties every Rick Ross album – hell, every Rick Ross song – together: rapper Rick Ross is a boss and a rich one at that. It’s a persona that yielded some thrilling returns on 2010’s lean and mean Teflon Don and 2012’s should-have-been-an-album mixtape Rich Forever. By the time God Forgives, I Don’t arrived in that same year though, Ross’ character was beginning to suffer from the perils of boss-dom. A lack of variety in that album’s beats and lyrics bombed it so hard that even a slew of notable guest features – André 3000, Dr. Dre and Usher amongst others – could only stand out in the ashes.

It doesn’t go down much differently on Mastermind. In the years between his new album and God Forgives, Ross’ public indignities reached an all-time high with date-rape sponsor-dropping lyrics on “U.O.E.N.O.,” seizures resulting from sleep deprivation, and an actual assassination attempt from real-life hustlers. But you’ll only hear about that last one on Mastermind, since it’s the only anecdote that reinforces the fact that Ross is a boss. You’ll also hear a female voice read off the ridiculous, quite possibly real 8-figure sum in Rick Ross’ bank account on “Drug Dealer Dreams” because it reinforces the fact that Ross is a rich boss.

What more can I even say about him? Ross’ unchecked ego kept him from delivering a satisfactory apology to those distasteful “U.O.E.N.O.” lyrics, and on Mastermind it also prevents him from artistic growth. At his best moments on Teflon Don Ross embodied a lifestyle that any sane person would kill and sell drugs to live. He was the guy who ate lobster bisque on the regular and smoked enough cannabis to render a man that doesn’t wear size-XXL comatose. Now lobster bisque becomes merely seafood, and throughout Mastermind these more intricate details of Ross’ guise are airbrushed in favor of banal lines about his faux gangster credentials and threats to the haters (come at me, Rick).

Worst of all is Ross’ humorless affect. At this point everyone who listens to Rick Ross knows about his past as a corrections officer and that the boasts are just for show. So why not at least have some fun with it? Mastermind’s dour hour-plus run-time is lightened considerably by tracks like “The Devil Is a Lie” and “Sanctified,” where excellent features from the two Watch the Throne rappers rouse Ross from his self-seriousness. In fact, good features are perhaps the only thing Mastermind delivers in spades:  ‘Lil Wayne drops his best verse in years on closer “Thug Cry,” and the Weeknd’s hook on “In Vein” (ha, puns) captures the sort of pained sensuality that’s become that singer’s calling card. These moments are too far and between, however, on an album with too narrow a scope to stay interesting.

With each delivery of “more of the same,” Mastermind’s central figure edges closer to becoming the Lil B of mainstream rap: someone who listeners can count on for an immaculate beat selection and lyrics that now border on self-parody. But at least Lil B still entertains. Ross isn’t untalented; on the Biggie-aping “Nobody” he’s a commanding presence even while plundering the riches and rhymes of another very overweight gangster rapper. He’s in desperate need of a new playbook though, and Mastermind struggles to maintain a brand that stopped being entertaining at least an album ago.

Key Tracks: “The Devil is a Lie (feat. Jay Z),” “Sanctified (feat. Big Sean & Kanye West)”

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