God Forgives, I Don’t: Rick Ross’ Crossover Attempt

Rick Ross has been having a busy couple of years.  From bolstering the underground success of Meek Mill and Stalley to signing everyone under the sun, the self-proclaimed boss has been taking that title very literally in establishing Maybach Music Group as a big factor in the rap game.  Just when it seems that he’s been resting on his laurels releasing carbon copies of the same songs and only giving his best verses on features, he releases the fifth studio album God Forgives, I Don’t, on which I think he makes an effort to show some range as an artist, to mixed results.

“Amsterdam” is a very smooth joint that gives you trademark Rick Ross over what is, production-wise, one of the better songs on the album.  This and “Ashamed” use soulful backdrops as the canvas for Ross’ trite but, as usual, perfectly-delivered lyrics.  One must remember that Rick Ross has never been an MC known for depth or introspect, so it isn’t fair to judge his work off of that criteria, especially if he does what he does well.  Music to ride around to?  Check.  Music to get hype to?  Check.  Music to make you think?  Eh…but that’s okay.

“911” and “Hold Me Back” seem almost identical, using similar gimmicks to most of the singles you’ve heard from Ross for the past 3 years or so.  Though the tracks do what they’re intended to, this is the quality level you expect on a mixtape, not a long-awaited studio album.  “So Sophisticated” doesn’t stray very far from formula, but manages to stand out from the other two due to a slight difference in production and the presence of Meek Mill.

“Diced Pineapples” features Wale in cheesy spoken-word mode and Drake in equally-cheesy R&B-“singer” mode.  Ross drops some decent verses on it and the production is perfect, but nothing’s really being said here that makes the song memorable and the guest stars’ individual contributions made the song barely tolerable for me.  In terms of totally intolerable, recent MMG-signee Omarion completely fouls up “Ice Cold”, confirming my questioning of why he was signed to the label in the first place.  Omarion’s vocals aren’t nearly good enough for most of the things he attempts vocally and it’s really not appreciated on a song that would be decent without him or that would be tolerable with a much more capable singer.  “Touchin’ You” features Usher repeating the words “f*ckin’ you”, a vulgar attempt at delivering the kind of R&B he should probably be too mature for at this point.  “Maybach Music IV”failed along the same lines, with NeYo adding an unnecessary cheesiness to the track.  Hopefully on his next project, Ross can abandon the syrupy R&B infusion.

Ross shines on songs that come off as more mature; his flow excels against the touches of soul and featured artists that appeal more to grown folks (Andre 3000, Stalley, Nas, Jay-Z) than the teenybopper set.  He’s the audio equivalent to a bull in a china shop when he’s trying to navigate the lightweight, airy sounds of an obvious hip-pop attempt.  The perfect balance is achieved on “Sixteen” with Andre 3000, who makes you forget whose album you’re even listening to.  However, once reminded, you realize that the pairing is genius.  On “3 Kings” it’s clear that Dr. Dre is spitting from another man’s pen while fully equipped in his Rick Ross starter kit, delivering his lines in a very similar cadence to his host.  Jay-Z delivers an effortlessly flawless verse, as is his custom, making it seem as if he phoned in his verse from a yacht in the Mediterranean over brunch.  Definitely a high point.

God Forgives, I Don’t is easily Ross’ first major misstep in terms of messing up the balance between reaching for mainstream appeal and giving the streets what they want.  The attempts at showing us Ross’ softer side end up being too soft and Ross himself doesn’t even seem to be buying what he’s selling on them.  You can easily divide Ross’ many fans based on which tracks on the album they will keep vs. which they will discard.  A great artist knows how to bring all of his fans together in appreciation of all of his work and Ross’ inability to do so on God Forgives may be the difference between good and great for Ross as an MC.

Sixteen x Rick Ross f. Andre 3000


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Visuals: Zig Zag Zig x Rampage f. RA The Rugged Man

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Remember when Rampage dropped “Wild For The Night” with Busta Rhymes, did some stuff with Flipmode, and then kinda disappeared for years and years?  Well, apparently, he’s back with a new EP due out 7/31 called R.E.A.L. (Road To Everyone Ain’t Loyal), whatever that means.  Here, he teams up with RA the Rugged Man for a joint I really enjoyed.

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The Misappropriation Of “Classic”

In the era of disposable music, people have forgotten the definition of the word “classic”.  There was a time when you bought an album, brought it home, enjoyed it alone for a few spins, and waited until the next day at school or whatever to discuss your thoughts on it…after having given yourself sufficient time to sink your teeth into it.  In the age of instant gratification, we’re able to tweet or update Facebook as we’re listening to an album, giving immediate first impressions song by song without allowing any time to reflect or digest the product.  Even if the listener’s mind changes later, they’d be hard-pressed to back-track and admit to their audience that a song isn’t as good as they thought it was initially. 

And now we come to the misuse of the word “classic”.  In my opinion, it’s basically impossible to call an album a classic within even a year of its release.  Replay value and the ability to stand the test of time play too much of a role in calling something classic and both of those qualities cannot be determined properly in less than a year after an album release.  You may, of course, say that something has the “makings” of a classic based on how you believe it may fare in those categories, but there are plenty of albums that I thought would gain that title that I eventually changed my mind about, based on either a maturing of taste or based on the album simply becoming less relevant over time.

Example?  Reasonable Doubt was a classic.  It wasn’t like anything that came before or after it.  Every song was good and every song belonged there.  From 1996 to the present, one can listen to it and perhaps feel nostalgia, but not that it’s dated.  Steve Juon of RapReviews.com once wrote that “It’s possible to live without having heard it – but after you do, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it”.  I think this is a very accurate summation of the feeling the album has.  Hip-hop is a culture that’s ever-changing, due to the rapid-fire changing of popular slang, style of dress, etc.  The fact that an album like this can still remain relevant considering all of those things 16 years later is an amazing accomplishment.  Classic.

Classic also refers to the breadth of the album, not on a scale of “well, these two tracks are terrible, but the rest is great”.  That’s like saying you had a great pizza, except that two of the slices had a dead roach on them.  Not very appetizing, is it?  That’s how it feels to me when someone is overzealous and applies the title of “classic” to an album that doesn’t deserve it.  In a time where one can log into iTunes and buy only the songs they like from an album or download a mixtape and toss what they don’t like in the recycle bin, we’ve forgotten how to appreciate an album as a whole and the artist has forgotten how to make albums that can be appreciated as a whole.  Instead of being true to who they are as an artist, they’re making this song to appeal to this group and that song to appeal to that group.  I can’t say I blame them, per se, considering how difficult it is to sell records these days, but it all comes back to what you’re in the game for.  If you want respect, there’s a lane for attaining that and if you want money and fame, there’s another route for that.  Only a chosen few navigate the lane to both, as it’s the road less traveled and it usually takes longer to get to its endpoint.

We as hip-hop fans have got to stop judging new albums relative only to what is currently available when it comes to handing out the weighty title of “classic”.  Classic albums are timeless.  When you call something classic, you compare it to every album of its genre and every other genre in music history.  If you’re not prepared to think that hard about it, then you’re not ready to use that word when talking about music.  We’ve got to demand more of MCs than comparing them only to the meager offerings we’ve seen in the past ten years.  Hip-hop history is too rich for that and we sell the culture’s future short that way.  Don’t do it.

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Get Familiar: Ab The Confidant

 Just got a message from a homie from Howard University who’s now putting in work on the R&B/Soul scene.  I haven’t checked on his music in a while and definitely found myself drawn into the soulful sounds here.  Check out Prologue Vol. 1 and see if you’re not looking for volume two as soon as you’re finished.

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Visuals: Watch Me Bend It x Peedi Crakk

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This video came out months ago, but I slept.  I was definitely a fan of Peedi since back when I heard “One For Peedi Crakk” and was scratching my head at his unorthodox, awkward flow.  It appears he is still getting busy.  I just want for Peedi to get with a heavy-hitting producer like Alchemist or Harry Fraud and put out a dope tape.

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Vintage Goods: I Can’t Get With That x Jay-Z

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1994.  Jay-Z was a rapid-fire MC out of Brooklyn I had no clue about.  Check him out in this video alongside Jaz, Sauce Money and Dame Dash kicking a flow you didn’t see much of later on in his career. Looking back, some very dope stuff came out during this time before Reasonable Doubt hit.

Bonus: The Originator (1990) x The Jaz f. Jay-Z

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