Rick Ross, 'Rich Forever' (Maybach Music)

5
Rich Forever
Critical Mass
Release Date: January 6, 2012
Label: Maybach Music

by SPIN Staff

As Gang Starr's Guru once posited, "it's mostly the voice"that determines your success. Even the most redundant rapper can prevail if he or she is blessed with the right God-given vocal chords. And Rick Ross is exactly that: the most redundant rapper. In his six-year career, Ross really has produced only two songs: the one where he raps aggressively about how successful he is over equally aggressive production, and the one where he raps aggressively about how hard it was to become successful over mournful, lush, and/or epic production. In either case, the sheer timbre of his voice -- an oddly booming, asphyxiated wheeze that frequently climaxes in his trademark Ungh! -- turns this monotony into something compelling. And Rich Forever, the mixtape teaser for his forthcoming God Forgives, I Don't, is quite successful at doing nothing new at all.

The Miami rapper's rise from correctional officer to would-be one-hit wonder (mocked for rhyming "atlantic"with "Atlantic"on 2006's"Hustlin'") to the most prominent pretend drug dealer of his era is still somewhat inexplicable; but at least some of it can be attributed to his near-perfect 2010 street hit "B.M.F. (Blowin'Money Fast)."Ross doesn't flow, per se, on the hulking Lex Luger production -- he just wheezes allusions to prominent real-world gang figures, leaving cavernous ellipses between every fourth or fifth word as though he's running out of air. "B.M.F."has become something of a genre-defining record, not only predicting the recent output of Ross and his Warner Bros. imprint Maybach Music Group, but virtually every gangsta rap song produced in the past 18 months.

So, it comes as no surprise that much of Rich Forever follows the same formula. Ross brings the stop-and-stop-again cadences; Luger only contributes one track, but unapologetic imitators like Lil Lody and Beat Billionaire more than compensate with the one-note riot music. By all reasonable logic, everyone on earth should be sick of this sound by now, but Ross is still getting mileage out of it. The impact has dulled some -- it's hard to imagine even the best of these tracks ever resonating like "B.M.F." did -- but they inevitably will resonate, particularly among listeners who enjoy getting in fistfights on yachts purchased with drug money.

The most frequent critique lobbed against this lane of production is that it all sounds the same, and it undeniably does, but no more so than stuttered Timbaland hiccups did in '99 or James Brown loops did in '87. This is how rap operates: Every few years it pours itself into a singular aesthetic and then hammers away at it until there's nothing left. Besides, there's always the other Rick Ross song, and a few of those round out Rich Forever's indulgent 90-minute runtime.

The themes remain the same, too, with Ross still wallowing in the sort of insufferable lavishness that only could've been bred in Miami. This ethos is best summed up on the arbitrary "London Skit,"a minute-long interlude in which a Robin Leach-type, snooty British character brags about the cost of his socks: "A hundred dollars a sock, two ankles, you do the math." Elsewhere, Ross raps in strained and disconnected metaphors, blurring cars, religion, dope, and women. There's a brutish charm to his writing, though. His excesses are frequently hilarious, and he occasionally lands on a genuinely artful image: "Diamonds on my neck / Call it the ghetto's guillotine." (Pronounced "gill-o-teen," naturally.)

His extravagance extends to his Rolodex, too, making for a particularly guest-heavy affair. But the cool side effect of Ross'profile as the last street-rap institution is that it forces collaborators to step up their game. Diddy hasn't talked shit this convincingly since Biggie was still breathing, and the notoriously inconsistent Nas is finally blessed with production that does his flow justice. Even Drake sounds as close to great as Drake can sound on "Stay Schemin',"as he laments Kobe Bryant's divorce settlement. But the true highlight of his verse comes when Ross hops in and echoes the kicker: "Bitch, you wasn't with me shooting in the gym!"It's nice to hear Ross'rasp put to a slightly different use on this occasion -- not as a blunt object of arrogance, but as a tool of pained accentuation.

And that's what's most frustrating about the man's creative trajectory. There is so much more that he could be doing with that voice of his, but he remains a prisoner of his own design. Rich Forever is a very good tape by a man who insists on forever remaking the same damn tape.

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