Rick Ross enters the post-peak phase of his career on Mastermind
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Rick Ross enters the post-peak phase of his career on Mastermind

Rick Ross remained a fixture on rap radio in 2013 thanks to guest spots on gangbuster singles from Ace Hood, DJ Khaled, Jay Z, and Rocko—hits so big they masked the fact that Ross didn’t have one of his own. Ross has never been one to let inconvenient realities get in the way of awesome myths, however, so although his sixth album, Mastermind, arrives tailed by several flopped singles, he still carries himself like the biggest star in the world. He opens “Drug Dealer’s Dream” with a recorded bank statement ($92,153,183.28, and that’s just his checking account), and dedicates an entire track to news coverage of a drive-by shooting that targeted him last January as if it were a headline heard around the world. In his mind he remains the center of the universe, an untouchable deity blessed with unthinkable power and riches and no reason to believe that prosperity will ever end.

That’s probably for the best, since nobody wants to hear a humbled Rick Ross, but Mastermind does offer some insights into what a post-fame Ross album might sound like. Already, he’s scaled back some of the ridiculous profligacy of 2012’s God Forgives, I Don’t, favoring leaner, dirtier beats over gilded indulgences. This is Ross’ first album since his 2006 debut without an opulent “Maybach Music” suite, and its pacing benefits greatly from that omission. Instead, most of the budget here seems to have been spent on judicious guest features. Jay Z offers an increasingly rare glimpse at his former greatness on the triumphant, horn-kicked “The Devil Is A Lie,” while Kanye West is a riot on his whimsical DJ Mustard co-production “Sanctified.”

For all the vitriol he attracts from certain hip-hop circles, Ross is a rap traditionalist at heart, and with its gritty raps and loud soul interjections, Mastermind is the closest he’s come to making a straightforward New York-style rap record. He even makes the city’s influence explicit on “What A Shame” with appropriations of both Wu-Tang and Camp Lo. And really, at this point in his career New York is as good a model for Ross as any. In that city, aging veterans from the Wu-Tang Clan and the Boot Camp Clik on down have continued to release perfectly respectable, if stubbornly predictable records long after their commercial peak, and it’s easy to imagine Ross settling into a similar pattern should radio ever leave him behind completely. His star may be dimming, but he’s still got some spirited music left in him.

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