Excuse the triple entendre here – but it doesn’t matter if you care for his music, or believe in his ex-coke pusher persona, Rick Ross has proven that he pulls an awful lot of weight in the hip hop world. At this point, it’d also be a safe bet to say that he’s one of the hardest working and business savvy figures in the industry too. Even though he’s the CEO and founder of one of hip hop’s most buzzed about and commercially successful labels (Maybach Music Group…as you’re probably more than aware), he’s still been able to put together a near endless stream of material over the past few years. With the use of strategically timed features, as well as full on mix tapes and label-wide collaboration projects, “The Bawse” has kept his name fresh on the lips of hip hop fans for quite some time now.
With his fifth studio release, God Forgives, I Don’t, Ross is hoping to continue his impressive amount of commercial success. To date, none of his solo projects have ever debuted at lower than #2 on the Billboard charts. Based on buzz alone, that streak is probably going to continue. If you were to judge it by the music – regardless of your personal feelings – it’s tough to say the album won’t be a hit either. That’s because he isn’t doing anything new here…at all. His old albums sold like drugs at a music festival, and this one probably will too.
Some might understandably call it a legitimate criticism, but Rick Ross’s music has become extremely formulaic over his past few projects, with two distinct styles. While he might alternate between smooth, what is often referred to as “Mafioso” rap, and a slightly altered form of “trap” music, this is the pattern that most of his songs take…glossy big budget production + hustler aesthetic (whether it be drug or music business) + some big name features + a healthy does of label tags and grunts.
With that said, anyone who’s a fan of Ross (or familiar with his work) should know exactly what to expect out of God Forgives, I Don’t. Depending on if you’re a supporter of Rozay or not, that’s either a great thing, or a terrible thing. Judging by the way most hip hop fans talk about him and his work, there is no in between.
Lyrically, there really isn’t much to say about Ross’s effort on the album at all. But, if you’re an avid Ross listener, you probably don’t listen strictly for his lyrical sensibilities anyway. On nearly every track, his flow, lyrical cadence, and the substance in his rhymes is pretty much the same. We do get transported from his former supposed “hungry”, young drug pusher days to his current CEO life a bit, but topically, there is really only one subject covered by Ross here – his financial ambitions. Even when he glances on other subject (i.e. women, or his inner demons), he usually drops a line about blowing or making cash within 4 bars.
Luckily for the project, as with all of his past three solo albums, Ricky never hesitates to bring in outside help to keep things from becoming mind numbingly monotonous from a lyrical standpoint. In fact, his ear for features (and ability to get them) has probably been one of the biggest reasons for his success. To be honest, he’s always been consistently out performed by his collaborators, and that doesn’t change here. But, when you look at the list of who he brought in here, that isn’t an insult in the least bit.
Andre 3000 drops one of the best features in recent memory on “Sixteen”, which might even arguably be one of his top 5 verses of all time. Without a doubt, this is the most impressive track on the album, and is worth any music fans time. While Ross doesn’t give his best effort, the production and 3 Stacks assist makes it one of the best hip hop records to be released so far this summer.
“3 Kings” is going to be drawing plenty of attention due star power alone, even though Jay provides an average (by his terms) verse, and Dre proves that he’s been too busy counting Dr. Pepper and Beats money to write with the same force he used to. Drake and Wale combine to make a bon-a-fide hip hop slow jam with “Diced Pineapples” but Ross genuinely feels like the odd man out, even though it’s his track. John Legend drops in and gives a lyrically simple, yet vocally intricate, hook to “Rich Forever”. Nas comes with a verse on “Triple Beam Dreams”, which is far inferior as a track, when compared to the Ross featured “Accident Murderers” from Life is Good.
The rest of MMG shows up too, with the exception of Gunplay, and stays pretty true to form. It should be noted that Stalley puts in a pretty impressive, and insightful, performance on “Ten Jesus Pieces” though. Meek comes with a relatively strong appearance on the trunk banging “So Sophisticated”, and Omarion provides some generic pop-R&B vocals on “Ice Cold”.
The real star of the show here is the production, which has been the case for almost all of MMG and Ross’s work. While it’s a reasonable argument that Ross has never been too interesting lyrically, not even the most pretentious of hip hop heads can deny Ricky’s ear for beats. The production credits speak for themselves… you’ve got Pharell, J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, and Cool & Dre (don’t get excited by Harry Fraud’s name on the album though, as he only supplied a 59 second intro with zero to minimum instrumentation).
While the production never really deviates from what could be considered “mainstream” or “radio-friendly” forms of modern hip hop, it’s tough to find much fault with any of the beats on the project at all. Personally, “Ashamed” stood out as the biggest highlight here, but I’m not sure if it would be possible to argue against any of instrumentals as “the best”. However, the trap beats are admittedly a little less (and as ridiculous as it might sound) “polished” than could be found elsewhere. They will rattle windows, but they aren’t as crisp as they could have been.
Overall, this album is quite honestly one of the most accessible and easy-to-listen-to albums this year. If you’re looking for music to bump in the car, at the gym, or while you’re trying to get a little wild, you can’t go wrong with God Forgives, I Don’t. But, if you’re looking for some genuine, thoughtful lyricism or outside of the box instrumentals, there really isn’t too much here for you at all. In comparison to Teflon Don or Deeper Than Rap, it’s probably a step back for Rick Ross.
While there might be some degree of variety throughout the album, it’s completely restricted to what would be at home on pop focused radio stations. It’s definitely enjoyable, but outside of “Sixteen” it doesn’t do anything too interesting or original. It’s mostly paint-by-numbers hip hop/pop designed for the masses (which isn’t a bad thing), and it doesn’t take many risks (which might be). It’s probably a must buy for any Ross fan, or anyone who’s into the MMG sound already. However, with the list of albums that have dropped recently, and those about to be released, it’s tough to say this is going to be one of the top albums of the year, as the hype surrounding it would make some believe. It’s definitely worth at least one listen even if you aren’t a MMG or Ross die hard, but it probably isn’t going to be going down in hip hop history by any means.