By some accounts, Rick Ross’ heart stopped last October, following an in-flight seizure that forced a dramatic emergency landing. Ever protective of his aura of invincibility, Ross tweeted from his hospital bed shortly after his resuscitation that he was fine, more than fine, and to prove it he boarded another flight that afternoon, which he promptly grounded with another seizure. Those brushes with death would have given other artists pause, but Ross isn’t the type to concern himself much with such non-material matters—after all, he has a lifestyle to uphold. Though death crosses his mind periodically throughout God Forgives, I Don’t, an album delayed in part by his health issues, he shows no grasp of its finality. On “911” he frames the afterlife as a joy ride ending in his inevitable resurrection, imagining himself in his priciest Porsche as he wonders “On the highway to heaven, can I let my top down?” The possibility that you can’t take it with you never even crosses his mind.
If Ross’ outsized reckless-spender persona doesn’t lend itself to introspection, his recent albums haven’t suffered for it. 2009’s exquisitely smooth Deeper Than Rap revealed Ross’ superb ear for soul, while 2010’s Teflon Don expanded on those velvet sounds and added the awesome menace of Lex Luger’s tower-quaking beats. On God Forgives, though, Ross begins to feel boxed in by his shtick. “It’s just another story at the campfire,” he huffs on “Ashamed,” between rhymes about mafia codes and cash reserves. He’s told so many of these campfire tales that they’ve begun to bleed together, yet he’s committed himself so completely to broad fiction that changing course is no longer an option. Even when he teases substance on the eight-minute “Sixteen,” prefacing the track by grumbling about the impossibility of fitting all that’s on his mind into a standard 16 bars, he just uses his double-length verse to rap about his usual Cadillacs and flat screens. Much more memorable is André 3000’s supersized verse on that same track, in part because André stamps it with the album’s most bizarre moment: a hopelessly amateurish guitar solo that leaves no doubt it’s actually him playing guitar. His triple-thumbed riffage sticks out against the track’s perfectly coifed strings and woodwinds like a bleach stain on a Persian rug.
Maybe that rug could use a few more stains. God Forgives has opulence to spare, and it’s almost always a pleasure to behold—Rick Ross proved long ago that he’s mastered the art of making alluring albums. Unlike its predecessors, though, God Forgives rarely shocks or excites. As recently as this January’s nonstop Rich Forever mixtape, Ross sounded like one of the fiercest players in the game, a bloodthirsty titan whose riches came at someone else’s expense. Here, though, he’s more interested in basking in fine imported fabrics than getting his hands dirty, and he comes across as a softened version of his usually unrestrained character. Though it’s solid enough to maintain Ross’ reputation as one of commercial rap’s most reliable album artists, God Forgives rarely feels like an event, and by the standards of a rapper who once threw a press conference in his own honor, that makes it a minor disappointment.