The most fascinating theater that’s permeated Rick Ross’ oeuvre during the better part of his memorable ascent to hip-hop royalty over the past four years has been the rapper’s unmistakable affinity for hyperbole. Just take the simple conflict of the title of his newly released record, God Forgives, I Don’t for instance. He’s made countless allusions to praying to this same God and, in occasional reference to what he suggests will be his untimely death, gets to Heaven in this fictional narrative, with the $100,000 casket carrying his body a gilded symbol of the life he led. The fact that the casket is about to disappear into the ground is secondary to his legend, and it’s strangely poetic.
You couldn’t criticize Ross for a theologically-flawed motto (forgive and you’ll be forgiven, Jesus taught) if he didn’t believe so deeply in redemptive songs and couplets. By rapping about lavish spending justified in an economic downturn by mafia-level discipline and allegiance to the ‘hood, Rozay did the unthinkable and built a hip-hop empire in the Internet age. And that is to say nothing of his born-again career; 50 Cent, you’ll remember, thought he hit pay dirt when he told anyone who would listen that Ross was a former correctional officer. In response, Rozay darkened his glasses, wore bigger chains, talked even greasier on the mic, and took his shirt off early and often. Rick Ross became a wrestler.
While God Forgives shares much of the magneticism and moxie that makes Ross the game’s most charismatic heel, it’s neither good enough to function as a coronation of all he has accomplished as a mogul (if often feels that constructed that way), nor bad enough to be considered a failure. In fact, at times Ross is at his most revealing and vulnerable. “On Ashamed”, produced by Miami duo Cool & Dre, Rozay masterfully illustrates a common thread of personal struggle that in his formative years on the streets (“Before I was a fetus, had the genes of a leader/I mean look at my features, educated my teachers/I was calling them plays, you were still in the bleachers/Boobie gave me the game, change to give me some sneakers”) tough times in his career (“I was dealt a few blows, I felt a few lows/Even shed a few tears, I traveled that road) and even as he contemplates his retirement (Fifty M’s in the bank, I get me 200, I’m gone/Still so close to the hood, I’m ashamed to say/All the money in the world can’t take this pain away).
Rozay’s fourth installment of Maybach Music is a major blunder on this project, and not only because the others are widely considered classics. Ross re-imagines the rather serious seizure he suffered last year as though caused by a fellatious experience. Later, he claims to abuse his rivals like “boys at Penn State.” The presentation is awkward and clumsy, with none of the character that featured Kanye West’s infectious flow on Maybach II, or Erykah Badu’s villainous, “Everybody Knows” refrain on Maybach III. Sure, Ne-Yo will “Be Dreaming of You,” but it’s never quite clear what he’s singing about. Ross keeps all the verses to himself this time and with those courtside Heat season tickets (to which there are about 6,000 references to on this album), you wonder if he’s taken in too much hero ball.
The features on God Forgives are entertaining, if unfocused. On “Sixteen”, Andre 3000 is at his very best, insisting he’s got more to say than sixteen bars will allow: “How’s he God if he lets Lucifer let loose on us?/ That noose on us won’t loosen up, but loose enough to juice us up/Make us think we do so much and do it big/Like they don’t let us win, I can’t pretend/But I do admit, it feel good when the hood pseudo-celebrate/Hence, why every time we dine we eat until our belly aches.” It’s rap virtuouso. Then, inexplicably, at Rozay’s urging, the man who will play Jimi Hendrix in a biopic plays a guitar solo. It consists of about six notes. It is unbearable. “3 Kings” is similarly rote. On it, Dr. Dre seems to believe he needs to get the word out about his headphones. And thanks to Jay-Z, we’re clear on the fact that well, we just can’t relate to his daughter’s room. It’s cool to hear Hov so enamored by baby Blue Ivy, but his spot on “3 Kings” is a long road from “Glory”. “Diced Pineapples” is the obligatory Drake appearance; on “Touch N’ You” Rozay falls in love with a little help from Usher.
In all, Rozay’s delivered something lesser than his outsize personality, lesser than the precision and grit say, Meek Mill (who is brilliant on “So Sophisticated”) is likely to deliver at the end of August. Rozay’s “911”, though, feels truer to the wall-clattering genius through which he made a name for himself: Should he have to ride the ‘highway’ to Heaven, he asks, “Can I let my top down in my 911?” With missteps along the way, it’s said with all the fear and trepidation of a man who knows it’s already been one hell of a ride.