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When will Rick Ross stop improving? All bets are currently off, because right now—as in right this very moment, in the immediate aftermath of Rich Forever—Rick Ross is the best rapper alive. Not too long ago, he was arguably the worst. Lots of other rappers have made The Leap from distinctly unpromising beginnings, but it’s hard to think of many who have traveled as far from as lowly an origin point.
Ross is all about big gestures, though. Rich Forever, his latest absurdly generous slab of Maybach Music, is twenty tracks long, runs well over an hour, and boasts features from Diddy, Nas, John Legend, Kelly Rowland, Pharrell, and more. It’s produced entirely by MMG’s production team—Beat Billionaire, The Inkredibles, Justice League—which means that it sounds bigger and more expensive than anything you can remember. And Ross has given it away for free. If he had released it commercially, it would have certainly have gone gold. But Ross insists this heaping platter is just an “appetizer” for the main course, which will be his delayed fifth studio album God Forgives, I Don’t. As far as appetizers go, it’s like being served a T-bone steak for two before the chef wheels out an entire pan of lasagna.
As far as rap characters go, Ross embodies capital-A Appetite. He’s The Man with the Bottomless Gut. Observations that he’s two-dimensional are 100% accurate; you do not experience the full range of the emotional spectrum listening to Ross. You experience one emotion—exhilaration—pumped through a firehose. From the very beginning of his career, he trafficked in gangsta-rap-as-summer-blockbuster, but as he’s gained steam and momentum, he’s moved away from emulating Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich and inched his way closer to having a genuinely Spielbergian sense of wonder.
Snort if you want; Ross invites, even encourages, snorting. On Rich Forever‘s “High Definition,” he bellows, “Got a forty by my dick/ I keep on pissin on the hammer.” On “Triple Beam Dreams,” he opens with “It’s time to take you to the other side/ The side you gotta watch A&E cable television for, homey,” which is about six degrees removed from making any kind of sense. On the non-album track “Mafia Music 2,” he says, “What’s behind the moon? Gangster city.” Over vibraphones. In a talk-down. Rap often rewards flamboyance, and great pop art demands that you run the risk of ridiculousness. For Ross, though, ridiculousness doesn’t even feel like a risk. Excess is just his character.
You see, Rick Ross raps solely about Having Things. Most rappers do; Jay-Z and Kanye rap about having things all the time. But the devil is in the details: Jay and Ye have the nerve to sound occasionally oppressed by their things, to confess feelings of nagging dissatisfaction. Rick Ross raps about having things like five-year-old boys talk about their Christmas lists: with escalating awe, a sense that he can hardly bear his own excitement. He raps about having things with an intoxicating mixture of outright absurdity and florid detail: he’s the kind of guy who would wax rhapsodic about the stainless-steel engraving on the seat-belt buckles of his space ship. He doesn’t brag about riding a helicopter to the club; he tells us that “the sound of the propeller had my bitch bustin nuts.” He doesn’t insist his life is a ceaseless parade of sex-having and money-counting, he recounts doing both simultaneously: “Fornicating, counting money with a fuck face.”
Rich Forever is the biggest-sounding thing Ross has made yet, which, by the logic of his approach, makes it his best release yet. His voice explodes out of the mix: he’s been steadily ramping up the heat in his performances since Deeper Than Rap, and now he’s pitched at a constant supervillain cackle. His word choices have only grown more rich and vivid: “Diamonds on my neck, call it the ghetto’s guillotine.” “We was all cool stackin’ in Acura coupes/ More accurately, we acted as if jackin was cool/ Snatching niggas out they shoes and then wear they jackets to school.”
The beats continue the steel-boot steamroll of “B.M.F.,” the street single that more or less single-handedly loosed Lex Luger upon the world, but they also push into all kinds of other directions: “Keys To the Crib” is an East Coast maximalist beat instead of a Southern one; “Party Heart” is a rubbery, muted and genuinely weird electro jam from The Cool Kids’ Chuck Inglish. And “Stay Schemin” recreates the smeary-headlight feeling of “I’m On One.” The guests, through the transitive property of Rossitude, sound more exciting and charismatic than they often do on their own records: Drake’s verse on “Stay Schemin” marks the first and only time Aubrey has tried to sound tough and not come off as goofy. Nas, on “Triple Beam Dreams,” spits a verse as vital, focused, personal and detailed as anything he’s done in an aeon; it’s worthy of annotated, Decoded-style transcription. Ross’s world even makes ever-present Atlanta work-horse 2 Chainz exciting.
Every rapper who makes it into Ross’s rarefied air does so for a lot of reasons: hard work, determination, vision, discipline, etc. But above all, they make it because they’ve hit upon some powerful nerve cluster, and Ross’s consequence-free consumerist fever dreams are the perfect escapism for right now, a moment in which the music industry has shrunken to a pitiful nub; when most of us don’t have very much to speak of and are going about the dreary day-to-day business of staying financially responsible. He’s our moment’s Id, the big, fat, rich, bellowing tonic to economic malaise.