By Gary Suarez
These last twelve months have been rather turbulent for Rick Ross, the imposing kingpin of the Maybach Music Group. He’s been threatened by members of the Gangster Disciples street gang, cancelled a string of headlining tour dates, and survived a seemingly credible attempt on his life—on his birthday, no less. Ross later found himself accused of glorifying date rape on Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O.”, ultimately losing a lucrative Reebok endorsement deal in the fallout. It’s been the kind of year that would sink a lesser artist’s career. But we’re talking about the Teflon Don here.
Months later, the embattled emcee is apparently comfortable enough to take the MMG show on the road again, full band in tow, for a multi-city tour in the lead up to Mastermind, his sixth official LP. Following 2012’s Gold-certified God Forgives, I Don’t, Ross has been stingy with sharing the material with the public, with only two of its tracks—”Box Chevy” and the Future-assisted “No Games”—released so far. Coupled with his selections from this Fall’s Self Made Vol. 3 compilation and recent features for artists like Ace Hood, DJ Khaled and Jay-Z, that material offers a glimpse into what Rozay plans to give his fans when the album drops on December 17. Here, then, are five possible directions that he might take on Mastermind.
1. Go For The Jugular
When you’ve got shooters coming at you and your girl, choppers aimed at your Rolls Royce on your birthday, the rap game pretty much demands that you go hard. While nobody in their right mind would recommend that an entertainer try and start a war with a real-life gang, Ross can still channel that anger righteously back into his music. Incredulous and vengeful, “Box Chevy” tears into more than just haters, doling out threats in his most menacing bark. Mastermind would be well served by more of that and help insulate himself from accusations of softness in the face of danger. What’s more, rap fans value this type of response. 50 Cent, incidentally one of his longtime rivals, saw his star rise after being shot nine times and living to tell the tale as emboldened survivor. Rozay can score some serious points in the credibility department with a few particularly vicious bars.
2. Go Into The Light
Between gangland threats and the handful of seizures he’s suffered in recent years, The Bawse has had to face his mortality arguably more than most men his age. Near-death experiences can be transformative, in both positive and negative ways. Channeling some of this raw honesty into his new work could shift perceptions about Ross, especially in the aftermath of the “U.O.E.N.O” scandal. An obvious influence, The Notorious B.I.G. fearlessly plunged into such serious subject matter on both Ready To Die and Life After Death. By confronting death in his art, he prepared himself for immortality. Given the events of this year, Ross would do well to follow that creative path. And it appears he may have done just that, as Mastermind will apparently feature a version of the gripping Biggie classic “You’re Nobody.”
3. Go Without
Even though “F***withmeyouknowigotit” is mainly credited to Jay Z, Ross’ austere flow carried the Magna Carta Holy Grail cut and assured its radio and chart placements. That clipped glibness he infrequently likes to employ in his bars may be derided by some, but like it or not it’s hard to deny its effectiveness—or its influence. Rappers from Kendrick Lamar to Nicki Minaj have been accused of copping Rozay’s stop-start flow on certain tracks, so clearly he’s done something right. Haters be damned, another batch of bangers in the tradition of “Push It” and “Ashamed” couldn’t hurt. Yet “F***withmeyouknowigotit” really is such a stark piece of music, uncharacteristic spare alongside the business and chatter one finds on a contemporary rap record. Allowing some Mastermind songs to breathe, so to speak, might be a key strategy for recreating that sort of success.
4. Go Deep
With Kanye West’s full-throated support, Pusha T’s My Name Is My Name will assuredly rank high on many hip-hop fans’ Best-Of 2013 list. And while the Clipse spitter deserves all the praise he’s getting and more, Ross’ bone-chilling, almost world-weary verse on “Hold On” stands out for its depiction of ghetto tragedy. Yes, the cars and and the women have been long-standing themes in his catalog, but to some extent Rozay’s greatest lyrical asset has been his ability to tell a compelling story. Self Made Vol. 3‘s “The Great Americans” is a kind of hustler’s lament, exceedingly grateful for his good fortune in the game while mournful for those who didn’t make it. “Ultimate Price,” an as-yet unreleased Mastermind track, may very well be the next to follow.
After all, it wouldn’t be the first time Rozay has gone “Deeper Than Rap.”
5. Go To The Bank / Back To The Well
If all else fails, Ross always has the well trod tropes of his amassed wealth and luxe lifestyle to fall back on for lyrical inspiration. He certainly has little reason to stop bragging altogether, as his verses about opulence have been integral to his success. Accordingly, “Stack On My Belt” off Self Made Vol. 3 fits snugly in his overall discography, as does his verse on DJ Khaled’s ubiquitous “No New Friends.” Still, some seven years since his Port Of Miami debut, Rozay has come a long way as an artist and built a sizeable fanbase for himself and the Maybach Music roster in the process. After the year he’s had, Mastermind needs to reflect where his head is at. While there’s no harm in bragging about status, it would seem fairly mundane when compared to the year’s most talked about rap records. Kanye West’s Yeezus and Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail both dealt with overarching issues of class and race. Surely Rick Ross can contribute to that conversation. If he chooses not to, we can look forward to finding out more about his latest watch purchases.