Rick Ross’ God Forgives, I Don’t is another epic, empty Rick Ross album. He’s repeating the success of Deeper Than Rap and Teflon Don — both entertaining, well-crafted listens that did all the things that they needed to do, but nothing more. Now, Ross is rap’s biggest star, so he coasts a little more than usual, with the aid of the most expensive-sounding beats this side of Kanye West, because, well, who else is going to get them these days? Unlike, say, that strange Roc-A-Fella era when an amoral eccentric like Cam’ron was privy to a sample clearance and beatmaker budget of the highest caliber and took full advantage, Ross is someone hiding inside the beats, letting them do all the work.
Moreso than on his warmed-over album, the video for God Forgives‘ street single “Hold Me Back” best sums up Ross’ feckless take on street rap. It was shot in New Orleans’ Calliope Projects, a fact I know not because of the video, which makes no specific reference to its locale, but because of a surprisingly well-wrought “behind the scenes” video more than twice as long as the video, released a few weeks ago. In the music video, Ross and director, Taj, turn a loaded and specific locale into a generic “hood”; Ross, growling out a fantasy about how kilo-selling has made him millions, sits at the center of this dislocated scene. Contrast the video with the behind-the-scenes footage, which in just the first few minutes finds room for a significantly more varied and complex group of images: A close-up of a “R.I.P Trayvon Martin” t-shirt; a young rapper giddily boasting that he once opened up for Meek Mill; a group of children jumping around to Lex Luger like they’re the kids from Peanuts.
And that’s the point of the “hood” video. It documents a place often unseen by the mainstream and affords it some humanity. It’s a reminder that these people — those people to far too many Americans — do not live one-note lives of suffering. Shots of scary, scarred-up young and old men, the frame packed with shirtless dudes mean-mugging, without context or counterpoint, turns these real people into symbols of “realness.” More “poetic” than poetic, the image of a little girl spinning around alone in overgrown grass, is condescending. Ross talking on a pre-smart phone cell, the chosen mode of communication for the d-boy, is gross. Swizz Beatz throwing out shoes (with stylish blood stains on the toe) to residents is even worse. Here is a Miami rapper setting a video in a New Orleans neighborhood, smearing their “authenticity” all over him, carelessly invoking political pop-art music videos like Juvenile’s “Ha” (shot in the Magnolia projects), and turning the residents of his host city into an anonymous supporting cast for a superhero drug tale. Go back to fantasyland, Bawse.