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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