Since his debut album in 2006, Rick Ross has painted himself as the Jordan Belfort of the rap game, with a perceived life of luxury and criminal affluence. Like The Wolf though, he’s had his share of troubles, leading Ross to pour his resultant aggression and passion into his sixth album; themes he’s sure the audience will recognise as he attempts to reach the mantle of Mastermind.
Rick Ross aka William Roberts sourced his stage name from a former drug kingpin, and developed a profession on writing songs from the perspective of one living the drug and thug lifestyle. When it was revealed that he worked as a correctional officer in the early 90s he copped plenty of stick, including the original “Freeway” Rick Ross attempting to sue him for using his name in such treachery. On top of this, Reebok allegedly dropped him from a lucrative spokesman deal after a line in a feature verse appeared to condone date rape. He’s also been entangled in a customary rap stoush with 50 Cent, but things got their realest when he and his girlfriend were targeted by an attempted drive-by shooting in his home state of Florida last year. In a career that has been defined by Ross trying to prove himself as the real deal grandiose gangster, Mastermind would be his chance to either reaffirm his rep on the streets, or reinvent himself.
It commences with an intro skit that ends with the words “there is a price tag to everything, even your own success”, and the direction of the album seems clear. It drops straight into Rich is Gangsta, driven by the kind of shiny beats that Ross has made his own; crisp hip-hop snares and splashy cymbals before his clean flow rumbles over. It doesn’t take long for him to reference his old foe Fiddy, as well as the gangster films that have shaped his thug caricature. If the message isn’t clear enough, it is followed by Drug Dealers Dream, which is prefaced by another skit that announces his bank account sitting at over 90 million dollars before leading into another glitzy beat. Track four Shots Fired plays out an emergency call and news reports of his own drive-by attempt, fittingly leading into Nobody which samples The Notorious B.I.G. in the chorus that notes “you’re nobody til somebody kills you”. It features the first of many guest appearances – French Montana and Diddy – before it’s Jay Z’s turn.
The Devil is a Lie presents another glossy beat with glaring horns, with Jay Z’s voice teasing in and out until his verse explodes, proving to be the true mastermind as Ross instantly takes a back seat to the slick verse. Mafia Music III mixes it up with a reggae vibe, reinforced by a pair of Jamaican guest vocalists. The style and references return to the Rick Ross status quo until In Vein, where The Weeknd carries the slowjam before The Bawse shines through the bleak tones. It leads into standout track Sanctified, with a powerfully soulful Betty Wright sample and gospel organ driving the intro before Kanye West delivers a huge verse that again puts Ross out of the limelight, with Yeezus bringing more vocal diversity, and Ross only able to summon a misguided self-reference as the “new David Koresh”. The big-leaguing continues, with Lil Wayne also getting in on the act, until Paradise Lost seems to contradict it all somewhat, with Ross lamenting the decline of Florida through the drug dealing and murderous culture that he associates himself with.
It may feel like Rick Ross has missed his chance at reinvention from his gangster character, but at six albums deep there’s credit to him remaining loyal to his fans and in avoiding the ‘unexpected’ path that has worked for his peers, extending his venture into soul, hip-hop and glam. Mastermind could certainly benefit from more tales of William Roberts the man rather than dubious stories of the opulent Rick Ross lifestyle, but he is as encouraging as ever for his audience to get it for themself, which has to be respected provided the message received is that ‘success is gangster’.