Let’s be clear – Rick Ross can rap. However, he also rarely sheds the immovable heel persona he’s known for, so it’s difficult to see the glint of talent shining amidst the corner he’s painted himself into creatively. But the man can definitely rap when he puts his mind to it. On Rather You Than Me, Rick Ross delivers exactly what’s expected of him in the way of big, blustering records to ride around to alongside a few soulful, more luxurious tracks so as not to confuse an album for a mixtape. The heel persona slips away on certain records, revealing a more thoughtful, vulnerable mafioso than we’re used to hearing from.
Though there are some enjoyable records here, many are still wrought with issues that make them fall short of praiseworthiness. For example, “Santorini Greece” would probably be an incredible record if not for the blaring horns (I assume) throughout the song, which are not only repetitive, but uncomfortably shrill for some reason – to the point it sounds terrible in the car. Take those verses and put them on a different track and you’d probably have a hallmark Ross record.
“Idols Become Rivals” brings us an older, wiser version of the same Rick Ross who wrote “Mafia Music” as a rumbling 50 Cent diss. On “Idols”, Ross calmly dismantles Birdman over Jay-Z’s “Daddy” sample, a record where Beanie Sigel tells a heartfelt coming-of-age tale to his own absentee father, complete with choked-up delivery. While Ross never gets that emotional discussing his rift with the Cash Money CEO, it’s clear that there’s more to the record than your typical rap-game pissing contest. Given that Birdman’s not really taken seriously as a rapper (or much else at this point), there’s nothing to gain on Ross’ end from the diss, other than getting his point across. And to think how happily Ross shouted out Birdman just one album ago on “Burn”.
The Achilles heel of this record is that it begins with one of several Chris Rock interludes on the album as a whole that just seemed unnecessary and worst of all – unfunny. Rock comes off like he’s trying too hard to justify being in the same room with Ross and it’s obvious he’s too old to be doing rap album interludes. Unfortunately, in the a la carte era of music consumption, interludes have gone the way of the dinosaur and those who still try to attempt them almost always fall short of the mark. Yet and still, they force them onto the album either at the end or beginning of tracks, as no one is going to pay $1.99 for a stand-alone interlude track.
One thing I respect Ross for is never being afraid to bring rappers of his same stature (Gucci Mane) and others even above his stature (Nas). It’s when he invites upstarts like the forever underwhelming Young Thug (“Trap Trap Trap”) or Ty Dolla $ign (“I Think She Like Me”) where he seems like a lion among housecats, desperately trying to get those obligatory new school features on the album to please the kids (not to mention label execs). However, even some featured guests who look good on paper sometimes fail to deliver. “Dead Presidents” reminds me of “Burn” off of the Hood Billionaire album, aside from the fact that Ross thought it necessary to invite Future, Jeezy and Yo Gotti into the recording booth while he was alone on “Burn”. Frankly, he could have flown solo again on this one, as his paid guests all managed to drop weed-carrier caliber contributions that completely squander the momentum Ross generates on the first verse. Yo Gotti manages to redeem himself on “Summer Seventeen”, the quintessential Rick Ross barn-burner that properly closes out the album.
While Rather You Than Me has its flaws throughout, it impresses by actually being an album as opposed to a compilation of attempts at a hit. There’s texture and variation, but with cohesion, which is more than can be said about a lot of his contemporaries’ efforts in recent years. Rick Ross’ ear for production remains a strong suit, whether you like the formulaic stomp of records like “Summer Seventeen” or not. These days, I thank God for the small things when it comes to hip-hop because he could have taken a stab at mumble rap, in which case I’d have thrown my phone into traffic. While the game might be changing around Rick Ross, he remains a rapper’s rapper at heart (thought it’s buried pretty deep) – delivering verses from time to time that you feel he took pride in writing. He’s not just going through the motions in the booth just to get a song of a particular style on the radio. Overall, Rather You Than Me is a fun listen, whether you find yourself rooting for the bad guy on some records or hearing him evolve on others. Rick Ross’ place in rap history isn’t questionable at this point. Now I’m just waiting on him to drop a classic album to mark his place permanently.