Rick Ross is more so a businessman who happens to rap. When his Maybach Music Group crew got hit with a thing called probation violation, the former had to act to cover his bases. Meek Mill’s jail sentence left Philadelphia without a hero (because the Sixers damn sure aren’t filling in that role) and Dreams Worth More Than Money — Mill’s sophomore effort and MMG’s main fall release — was delayed indefinitely. That’s a money and publicity hit. That’s not bawse.
Ross never explicitly said this, but you got the sense the two MMG studio releases made up for this loss. Stalley, the clique member known by many for simply being “just different,” finally got to drop his debut album last month. It was received warmly, but when you’re part of a crew named after a luxury car brand, you have to push units. A paltry 10,200 units in the first week (good for a No. 35 debut) isn’t pushing units.
So “The Boss” was forced to draw his hand and drop Hood Billionaire, his second album this year and first in a while to drop with no delay. These are his only two musical achievements— Hood Billionaire isn’t very good. “Phone Tap” finds Ross trying to make up a hook without getting around to actually finishing it. Timbaland wasted one of his better recent productions on “Movin’ Bass.” People saw nothing wrong with putting K. Michelle’s abysmal hook performance on “If They Knew.” Think about it: People will pay money to listen to Ross rant about the cocaine he doesn’t sell.
Hood Billionaire is another Ross-ian 2014 lowlight. This is a year where “Sanctified” and endorsing pears are his two lone highlights. Seeing as to how the fulcrum of each of Ross’ albums includes the three Ms — money, materialism and misogyny — and breathy, straightforward delivery, it’s hard to foresee another rise in Ross’ career arc. At least nothing like his heights from 2010 to 2012. You see, Ross is a gas planet: Large in stature and aesthetically pleasing, but lacking in actual substance. A gas planet’s noteworthiness and reassurance lies with its empty size, even if the epicenter of its orbit has shifted away.
Even the moons that surround Planet Bawse have lost their gravity. Meek Mill had shifted a level under his prime in the year before his arrest. It’s a bit unfair because “I B On That” on Dreamchasers 3 is a banger. But that release didn’t cause the same splash the second installment had. “I Don’t Know” featuring Pamela Ford was a clunker and “Levels,” the last Mill joint that really stuck, been left the playlist. French Montana is obviously more visible, but he’s just an affiliate: he runs his own orbit.
This makes Wale the next point of focus. He is signed to MMG, but at best, he runs a close parallel with the clique’s ethos. Think back to his Instagram response to his brief Twitter tussle with Meek Mill: “I walk in a completely different world… Where I look for slp jeans and Shanghai dunks online and know what “kayfabe” means. I check nbadraft.net daily . I’m on whatculture allll day I enjoy shyt like that. I play f**kin Zelda and f**k wit bitches who teach yoga and paint… I get it. I’m different.”
He plays Zelda, ya’ll. Unlike his fellow MMG members, Wale is very clearly aware that the materialistic values and absurdities like, “My trap Mike Tyson, n***a, heavyweight,” (Whole Slab being the trap’s James Baldwin on “Heavyweight”) are just hats. Seinfeld, the faint sense of social consciousness and slight anima are closer to his core. Ross can’t quite cling on to him without some disconnect.
Gunplay, Omarion and others don’t have the aforementioned’s level of mainstream visibility. So this leaves Ross, whose coke empire fantasies have peaked a little after the tail end of Lex Luger’s late ’00s peak. Ross had a knack for balancing these concussive trap anthems (“The Boss” and “B.M.F.” will still get reactions in the club) and lush displays of grandeur (“Aston Martin Music” and his incredible near-hallucinatory verse on Kanye West’s “Devil in a New Dress”). Ross’ hitmaking prowess was so sureshot that they eventually became formulaic and bland. Part of that is on him never quite leaving his behind his coke illusions. Part of it is how times have changed. The rap game has gotten weirder and more emotionally transparent, with darker productions grabbing the streams and airwaves. Drake, Young Thug, YG, Kendrick Lamar and a few others are all rap heads ever argue/physically react to. Bobby Shmurda’s rise may hint there’s still room for Ross’ gun-totin’, legally flippant mythology. But for now, he’s living up to the former fate of his namesake.
Brian Josephs writes, frolics and cavorts in East Flatbush, N.Y. He tweets here.
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