For the record, we shouldn’t even be having this conversation. 50 Cent murdered Rick Ross. We all heard the flurry of diss tracks. We all saw the photo of William Roberts in corrections officer’s gear. We all saw the ThisIs50 interview with the mother of Ross’s child exposing him as a fraud and his other child’s mother as a possible call girl. 50 killed Ross dead. The second arc of Rick Ross’s career has been nothing short of a Lazarus act, and the inverse trajectories of his and 50’s careers in the years since their tiff speaks volumes about the shifting mores of modern rap.
50’s rise cemented an era in rap where fans required actual real life danger from their rap superstars. Ross’s rise has everything to do with a young generation raised on Kanye West and the wave of everyman MCs that followed in his wake, kids who don’t care about what you do off-mic as long as your music bangs. But where 2009’s Deeper Than Rap was an unexpected victory lap, and 2010’s appropriately titled Teflon Don hoisted Ross to the forefront of the hip-hop elite, God Forgives, I Don’t sees Ross struggling to secure his stranglehold on the rap game.
2012 has been a tumultuous for Rick Ross. With Ross suffering a series of serious health issues, album delays and star-studded singles that didn’t hit, and his Maybach Music Group capo Meek Mill steadily gaining traction in the streets, Ross’s 2012 was beginning to look like the part in The Godfather where Sonny Corleone takes over for a mortally wounded Vito. As it turns out, Ross’s false starts were no cause for alarm (well… stopping at a wing spot immediately after suffering a series of seizures in the middle of a cross-country flight is still worrisome behavior), and it turns out he was sitting on some heat. God Forgives, I Don’t isn’t quite the monster that Teflon Don was, but it’s far from the debacle we were all quietly anticipating. Ross is a deft songwriter when he wants to be, and his rolodex is a force to be reckoned with.
God Forgives, I Don’t is very much a sequel to Teflon Don in the way both balance lush jazzy production with nods to the claustrophobic trap sound. The new album tries to one-up its predecessor at every step of the way, and even though it’s only roughly ten minutes longer than Teflon’s economic 11-song run, it feels much more sprawling. That has a lot to do with the amount of musical ground covered in the album’s 15 tracks. You get the requisite one-two punch of Lex Luger worship with “Hold Me Back” and “911”, a mid-album double-shot of impossibly massive J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League productions in “Maybach Music IV” and “Sixteen”, a string of R&B singer-assisted loverman cuts in the back end with assists from Usher, Drake in hook-man mode and a surprisingly on-point Omarion. And all manner of madness in between. The album is short on outright failures, but there’s just too damned much of it.
The spoken word intro and outro are wholly unnecessary, the Usher feature is surprisingly inferior to the duo’s previous 2012 collaboration. Dr. Dre and Jay-Z sleepwalk through “3 Kings”, an event track that would’ve destroyed if only it happened a decade earlier but still comes out halfway decent. The Andre 3000 assist on “Sixteen” starts out like a dream but overstays its welcome, as Andre chases his 48-bar verse with a scary guitar solo while Ross yells “Amazing!” in the background. (Andre? Andre! I know you’re playing Jimi Hendrix in a movie pretty soon, and I know you’re probably on some kind of Brando-esque method acting binge to try and get into the mind of a dead man, but that does not mean you have to carry out these guitar abortions on every major label album this year. Sincerely, management.) “Hold Me Back” and “911” shoot for Teflon Don’s “MC Hammer”/“BMF” onslaught and fail miserably. “Hold Me Back” coasts on pure energy even though anyone watching the MMG camp knows the chorus was pretty much lifted wholesale off Self Made 2’s “Actin Up” which only dropped a month ago, and “911” is the album’s true dud. And Stalley… What is his function? Why does LA Reid pop up in the clearing of “Maybach Music IV” to toast Ross’s success? What is this album’s purpose?
But be real: expecting Rick Ross’s career moves to make any sense is a dead enterprise at this point. His rise to hip-hop dominance is an immaculately improbable telenovela full of completely unexpected hard lefts and fake endings. Why should his musical output be any different? Ross’s ear for beats is still golden, and he has shed the purposefully dumbed down comedy rap routine that made Teflon Don such a left field success for a more technical delivery that sacrifices none of its wit for beefing up the word count. He’s still got great stories to tell (even if they aren’t his own), and he’s still the author of many of the year’s most outlandish boasts. God Forgives, I Don’t ain’t album of the year material by any stretch, but if you’re looking for a side-splittingly hilarious, if bloated slab of Miami Vice poolside gun fight music or musical accompaniment for your next viewing of Scarface, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better candidate.