It was a warm day in June of 2006. Sitting at the Champs store in the North County Mall, just outside of San Diego, anticipation loomed in the air, causing me immense mental strain. Of course, there is really only one source for such emotions in normal, functional people: I was waiting to see if new pair of sneakers were available in my size. I started a conversation with the customer waiting next to me, curious about what he was snacking on.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“This Poptarts,” he said.
“It’s hot fudge sundae, bruh.”
“Hot fudge sundae? The fuck?”
He flashed me a frown, apparently very disappointing about something. Whether in the conversation or my lack of poptart knowledge, I know not. What I do remember is that they did not have my size in that particular color. Dejected, I decided to take another swing at it. Did they have them in white? They went to check, but surprisingly, concern for the new advancement in poptart variety was eclipsing my concern for the kicks.
“You shittin’ me? Smores?” I asked.
“You’ve been sleeping on the poptart game,” he said.
Suddenly, in the height of my anxiety, a foreign voice descended from above.
Hustlin’ Hustlin’ Hustlin’ Hustlin’ Hustlin’ Hustlin’
Everyday I’m Hustlin’, Everyday I’m Hustlin’…
My feelings at the time were hard to express verbally, but perfectly aligned themselves with that of the pimptastic eloquence and articulation of Katt Williams.
Even if you aren’t familiar with the work of Katt Williams, you obviously know that the song I heard that day was crafted by none other than the bawse himself, Ricky Rozay Ross. Years later, the array of Poptarts you can choose from has grown exponentially, as has Ross’ fame and waste line. Although Rozay’s debut album Port of Miami surprised a lot of folks, the rapper has struggled throughout his career to reverse the notion that he lacks lyrical ability (in addition to his attempts to prove that, despite being a corrections officer, he was equipped with connections able to move coke across the At-lantic. It also doesn’t help that Ross is constantly being compared to the late great Biggie Smalls. I suspect that this unfair comparison has something to do with their similar appearance, but I’m only guessing here. Since Port of Miami, Ross provided the world with a few 3.5-4 star albums, but the shit really hit the fan when the rapper released his magnum opus, Teflon Don, in 2010.
On Teflon Don, Ross bombarded from all angles. At last, we had an overweight emcee rapping about blunts and broads, tits and bras, menajae tois, sex in expensive cars (oh…wait.) Whether Ross was trading raps with Jay-Z about the Illuminati, comparing himself to MC Hammer, or just blowing money fast in a similar fashion, Ross was in championship form. Even “Super High,” the first single from Teflon Don (which featured Ne-Yo) was dope, despite the near impossible task of making a song with Ne-Yo actually sound good. If you don’t agree with my opinions on the album, just remember that Lil Wayne completely stole (whoops, I meant sampled) the first track “I’m Not A Star,” added a couple verses and some gibberish about John Lennon, and used it as a single for his Carter 4 album. Ross continued to display his lyrical abilities in subsequent months, his efforts culminating with his verse on Kanye West’s 2010 “Devil in a New Dress,” which for me ranks up there with AZ on “Life’s A Bitch” and Inspectah Deck’s on “Triumph,” leaving long-time doubters (including me) stunned, but more accurately, pimp slapp’d.
The success of Teflon Don allowed Ross to reach that rare position in the hip-hop industry when a rapper becomes an influential executive. Ross’ MMG squad has released two stellar compilation albums, (Self Made Vol 1 & 2). Ross even had time to open up his own Wing Stop restaurant (seriously). Hip Hop fans, myself included, were hopeful that Ross’ natural course of career progression would lend itself to something that could contend with the likes of Life After Death (or at least Biggie Duets).
All of the songs featured on God Forgives have their merits, and let me be clear, Rick Ross has never released a wack album to be sure. But the fire brimming rapper we found throughout Teflon Don is only a 600 lb shadow of his former self on this record.
I tend to ascribe a little too much meaning to album covers, so excuse me if the following analysis rings as pure bullshit for you. But on the Teflon Don cover, Ross appears hungry, wearing a sly expression as if to say: “I’m about to take over the game with this shit.” On God Forgives, I Don’t, the contrast is staggering. A seemingly contented Ross has his hands out expectantly, as if he is awaiting his 3rd Wing Stop order of the evening. It’s the same expression of naive confidence that Tony Montana dons towards the end of Scarface, minutes before he gets hit with a swarm of approximately three billion bullets. Possibly, Ross has overextended himself, a fate that seemed impossible for fellow mega-star Lil Wayne until he released The Carter 4 (which hit me like a swarm of bullets the first time I listened to it, and every time since).
The guest list is quite impressive, but excessive. Ross’ attempts to mask the flaws of his album are transparent in this regard. “Triple Beam Dreams,” which features Nas, is one of the gems of the record, but loses its impact when you realize that Ross released a version of this song nearly a year earlier. Possibly the greatest disappointment in hip-hop history is the song “3 Kings,” which features Jay-Z and Dr. Dre. Greatness is the minimum requirement with that roster and title, but the song is a complete dud. The crime is unforgivable, whether God is doing the forgiving or not. Similarly, a track with Andre 3000 seems like a win on paper, but the song is a great disappointment, with both rappers wishing aloud that they could properly express all their thoughts in a standard, 16-bar verse (I have a solution. Make it 300, 400, or even 500 bars, just ask The Game).
Aside from Nas, the most engaging guest features come from the rapper’s own MMG crew. While writing this review, I found it hard to maintain focus on the album. “Ten Jesus Pieces,” featuring Stalley prompted me to want to listen to Savage Journey To The American Dream or Lincoln Way Heights. Or “So Sophisticated,” featuring Meek Millz, led me to a listening session of Dreamchasers 2. I hate to say it, but this might be indicative of something deeper than rap. The new jacks are currently more exciting than the boss himself. A similar situation seems Lil Wayne has found himself, recently being eclipsed by his proteges.
Most of my criticism for Ross, aside from the fact that lemon pepper wings are disgusting, is that he is often too unwilling to branch out of his lane. With any given song, his rhyme scheme and beat selection is all too predictable. And overall, God Forgives, I Don’t sounds like a lackluster imitation of Teflon Don. Take “Diced Pineapples” for instance. The song is an obvious attempt to capture the appeal of Teflon Don’s “Ashton Martin Music,” and although it is definitely a catchy song, it falls completely short of the task. There are, however, a few shining moments on the album. Along with “Triple Beam Dreams” and “So Sophisticated,” “Hold Me Back,” “911,” and “Pirates” are some of the rare instances where Ross exudes a semblance of the passion he exuded on Teflon Don, and consequently, these songs sound as they could reside comfortably on the tracklist for Teflon Don, or at least the bonus tracks that come along with an iTunes purchase.
Hopefully Ross will receive a heavy dose of Ooooh, I needed that and come back with another classic in the near future. In the meantime, I just hope that MMG lesser-knowns like Meek and especially Stalley will see a major debut sometime soon. I’m also very curious as to whether there have been any new advancements in toaster pastries in the time it took me to pen this review.