Rise to Power
he “Make It Rain” remix told us everything we needed to know about Rick Ross. On that particular song, he’s set up by, in order: top-shelf Scott Storch Doppler 5000 schmaltz, R. Kelly’s self parody/Major Payne referencing tight rope sprint, Weezy’s mutant purr, a palette cleanser of inability from Baby, T.I.’s JP Morgan smirk, and just for shits, a bridge of caterwauling perfection from Kells.
Or, in other words, pop fucking momentum.
Even that is not enough. Ross stumbles: he has to use the self-echo at the end of every line, he rhymes “fifty” and “city” and “mayor” and “haters,” he steals the most stolen Biggie line, and in the process reminds us that, outside of “Hustlin’” and maybe a handful of other tracks scattered around Port of Miami and various other “Southern” rap albums, Rick Ross is only great when it comes to dry humping tracks into submission and less so for things like riding a beat or coming up with his own lines.
Rise to Power, a collection of previously uncollected tracks from Ross’s pre-Def Jam days, when he was signed to Suave House (the independent home to all of 8Ball & MJG’s mid-‘90s classics), does have Ross making his own lines, does have Ross trying to shape a persona, and does have Ross trying to make some cutely bizarre collaborations (Devin the Dude? Gillie The Kid?) work.
There’s no major label pressure. And, as a result, his rhymes are nimbler and he hasn’t settled into that wide-bottomed lethargy that plagued Miami. His voice sounds relatively sharper too, not yet content to bury itself under two finger keyboard melodies and the admittedly cheap off-brand Dre (skeleton synths, well timed chimes, midnight mood—see: “Bird Bath” and “Strapped”) productions on Power.
But low-budget juvenilia from a forgettable MC is just that. It’d be fantastic if we could blame the sins of Rick Ross’s career on the puppet-masters at Def Jam, but when his gangster ballad (a trope, but one that’s given us “Miss U” and “Me and My Bitch”) is him barking: “we aight when I like how you makin me moan” (“Prove Me Wrong”) and his most vivid lines are about a trill-ass brunch—“Sleep late, nice brunch at PF Changs / Lettuce wraps fresh pineapple juice sip a cosmo or a lime Malibu” (Realest Niggaz)—it’s just another zero sum choice. Do you prefer your mediocrity escapist shiny or sloppily modest? With Rise to Power, the Ross you prefer is up to you.