Review of Rick Ross' #1 rap album "Mastermind"

#1 Review in America: Rick Ross’ “Mastermind”

March 20, 2014 / by / 29 Comments

Each week we make Stephen listen to the #1 album in America. This week, Stephen listens to Rick Ross’ Mastermind.

America needs to make up its mind. Not about Rick Ross — people are already pretty entrenched in their opinions viz-a-viz Rozay. Rather, America needs to make up its mind about music in 2014. Yesterday movie musical Frozen returned to its position as the number one selling album in the nation, slashing through the brief respite for the past two weeks brought about by the far more intriguing LPs of Schoolboy Q and Rick Ross. The dissonance between these two genre representatives — two of the biggest MCs in the contemporary rap game on the one hand and the biggest album played by theatre majors in Korean karaoke bars on the other — is rending this great country apart. Where’s Luke Bryan when we need him to cure our torn hearts and minds with his special alchemy of Bud Light Lime and cargo shorts?

These are trying times, America. So let’s pour ourself a tall glass of chilled rosé, fire up Rick Ross’ most recent #1 album Mastermind, and take a little spring break trip to Rozay’s Florida coast.

Rick Ross is really good at making albums that will sell a lot of copies. Like, really good. Five of the MC’s six albums released on major record labels have reached the number one spot on the Billboard 200, with his 2010 release Teflon Don settling for a pitiful second place.1 Mastermind is no exception.

And it’s easy to see why listeners lap up Ross’ output. The man has an ear for downright cinematic production that you’ll often find yourself luxuriating in (despite, or maybe in spite of, Ross’ decent-to-mediocre verses). Opener “Rich Is Gangsta” captivates with crash symbols and reverberating snare beats while producer Black Metaphor’s synths, horns, and backing vocals wash over you. Yet on “Rich Is Gangsta,” as well as just about every song on the record, Rozay’s voice stays constant (unlike the album’s production or bass lines, which bounce around every which way), refusing to change his pitch or timbre or delivery. The aesthetic may grow old at times, but it never stops sounding full and forceful.

No song on Mastermind comes anywhere close, however, to touching Kanye/Big Sean banger-sandwich “Sanctified.” Fusing an organ and vocal chorus that could make Rick James’ corpse sport a partial with a verse whose staccato horns bounce off of precise cracking snares, the song’s beat perfectly fits the lyrics of a Kanye who sounds like he’s having some soul-infused fun after a long draught with the self-important “arrrrggghhhh art” sound of Yeezus. It’s Maybach music. Just, you know, better. Thanks ‘Ye.

After establishing his name thanks to featured verses on the albums of other artists as much as, if not more, than he did with his own albums, Ross calls in some favors for Mastermind. Combs, Jay-Z, Young Jeezy, The Weeknd, Lil Wayne, and the aforementioned Big Sean and West all grace the album, doing most of the heavy lifting for Ross in major singles like “War Ready” and “Thug Cry.”

Not all of these collaborations work out as well as they look on paper though. “The Devil Is A Lie,” for example, features a break that would have sounded tired way back when Ross was working as a Correctional Officer. In fact the only thing interesting about the track is Jay-Z comparing himself to Mansa Musa, presumably the result of all the Civilization IV he’s been playing with Bey. The song is a calculated and boring money grab, but I guess that’s the kind of shit you have to pull if you want your opening week sales to top Pharrell.

Far more interesting than Jay-Z’s taste in Malian emperors, however, is Ross’ willingness to address criticisms regarding his perceived lack of authenticity. The real Rick Ross is no gangster like his character claims to be, but he is a mastermind. The intro makes Rozay’s underlying thesis clear: “To achieve success in all that you do, you must know that you can borrow other people’s knowledge, achievements, life experiences, and even their personal achievements in order to execute your own life goals.” Ross does all those things in the tracks that follow the opening strains of his first hook, and the result is infinitely more compelling than another goddamn week of Frozen‘s chart success.