The problem with Rick Ross is that he lacks any star qualities. His flow is good, his lyrical content is good, the beats are good, and that is how the album really plays out – it’s just good. There’s no wow factor where you might listen to a track and immediately have to rewind it and play it again, or a string of lyrical wordplay that makes you sit back and take notice. The album just goes by without any much thought or attention paid to it, like a background soundtrack to a long boring car journey on the M25. Innovation and creativeness isn’t exactly what Ross is about, but in terms of consistency the rapper can take all the plaudits, solidly delivering good album after good album, and Mastermind is no different to previous projects.
Money, drugs, money, women, drugs, money, women, money…money. These are the hard tackling subject issues that Ross negotiates on Mastermind, reading off a bit like something from a Hollywood film, the rapper tells of anecdotal stories and tales of getting rich, having sex with numerous models and dealing and taking a lot of drugs. Ross is the personification of excess and wealth, but with the emptiness that comes with that, his raps end up becoming very boring – reeling off a number of expensive brands, like Patek Phillipe, platinum Audemar, Birkin bags, and expensive cars, like Ferraris and Rolls Royces. The album becomes more like an advertising reel for posh snobs living in the suburbs. Ross is rapping about his life though, and when occasionally he arks back to his younger days of drug dealing and hustling on the streets, we understand why he is so boastful and eager to express this wealth that he has worked hard and grafted for. He also shows the not so glamorous side to being as famous and rich as he is, this most prominent realisation being on ’Shots Fired’, a number of snippets of phone calls to police and cuts from news programmes to when the rapper got shot at whilst driving his car down the street. These kind of real life tales and struggles are few and far between on the album though, and if Ross could express these a little bit more, intertwined with the boastful raps, then the album would’ve had, for me, a much better all around appeal and therefore would’ve become more engaging.
Ross is one of the most successful MC’s in the game at the moment, falling under the same brackets as other rappers, like 2 Chainz, French Montana and Meek Mill, but it is worrying that he should be this successful. He is terribly limited and uninventive, solely relying on the production skills of sought after producers to get him by. The beats are all slick and on point, but it’s Ross’s inability to set these a light and give them the true justice they deserve, as to why the album falls very short. However, there are a few highlights sprinkled around on the album, although, these mostly come through features. ‘The Devil is a Lie’, featuring Jay Z, shows Ross in full flow, riding the beat nicely before Jay Z comes in and destroys what was left, K.E taking full credit for delivering a superb beat. ‘In Vein’, sees The Weeknd, as he has done several times before, taking full control of the song and making it his own, Ross cutting in with his hoarse rapping tone making for a surprisingly very good collaboration. ‘Sanctified’ is an exuberant and joyful track, opening up with an extract from Betty Wright. Big Sean and Kanye West then both come in laying down very good verses, with Ross then adding his own flavour.
All in all though the album lacks any sparks that would make you say, yes this album is well worth the buy and listen. The limitations of Ross are on full display on Mastermind, and in a day and age where rappers are becoming more innovative and lyrical astute and conscious, this album just doesn’t cut it.
First published: March 6, 2014