By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
Alongside reliable standbys Soulja Boy and DJ Khaled, no one can get hip-hop heads spluttering quite like Rick Ross. (Other surefire topics: 50 Cent, snap music, Young Jeezy, Dipset.) As a rapper, Ross's failures are myriad and well documented: He delivers all his lines in the same slightly panicked bellow, evinces only a glimmering awareness of the beat, and generally displays all the grace and agility of a wounded rhinoceros over tracks that most mix-tape rappers could afford only in fever dreams.
Nevertheless, it must be said that Ross understands something many infinitely better rappers do not: his limits. He's taken the rudimentary tools available to him—a booming voice and a fondness for incantation—and crafted his own pidgin rap language, like Jodie Foster's autistic forest-child in Nell. He may punch in the last two syllables of every line because he has no breath control, but the odd emphasis this strategy creates can be ear-catching. And there's something almost admirable in how unapologetic he is about his lyrical ineptitude. Rhyming "Atlantic" with "Atlantic" on 2006's smash hit "Hustlin' " signaled an utter lack of creativity, sure, but also a kind of audacity: For chrissakes, the beat actually drops out to highlight Ross's non-turn of phrase.
Trilla's lead single, "Speedin'," attempts to re-create this act of nose-thumbing, with Ross rhyming "Fantasia" and "Fantasia." (Guest R. Kelly, not to be outdone, ends two lines with "Grammys.") It's unlikely anyone will bother to take offense this time, though: Such is the story throughout Trilla, which, like any good corporate-mandated sequel, reprises the strengths of its original product with as little variation as possible, to predictably diminished returns. Such as they were, the strengths of Ross's debut, Port of Miami, lay mostly in its towering production, overflowing with glossy luxury goods purchased from the Runners, Cool & Dre, and Mannie Fresh. That same lineup is brought in to lend Trilla a similarly blinding sheen, and some of the tracks here are indeed beautiful—"Maybach Music," in particular, coasts along on a shimmering bed of strings and vibes, with ghostly voices echoing in the background. "We Shinin' " is a typically fulsome piece of soul-rap from Roc-A-Fella stalwart Bink! And "Luxury Tax," featuring Lil Wayne, Trick Daddy, and Young Jeezy at the top of their respective games, piles on triumphant strings and declamatory trumpets, like the victory-lap music in a racing video game.
Throughout, Ross demonstrates his inimitable brand of declaration-rap. Sample introspection: "When I first seen a million, it fucked up my life." No elaboration is offered, or necessary. "I'm the biggest boss that you seen thus far," Ross repeats again and again, until, hypnotized, you almost catch yourself nodding in agreement. Reiteration brings realization. You are getting sleepy. In his grasp of repetition's insidious power, Ross is unrivalled.