Rick Ross’ fifth studio album God Forgives, I Don’t attempts to be bigger and better than anything he’s done before, and his previous Teflon Don would be the album to beat. That album, from 2010, was released at a hectic time in Ross’ career: an injunction was filed against him by Freeway Rick Ross, the L.A. drug lord from whom Rick Ross took his name, threatening the album’s release. Worse, he had been exposed as an ex-correctional officer, a blow that confirmed the infinite artificiality of his lyrical claims. Ross survived both, and Teflon Don was a tight, 11-track reclamation of place in the commercial rap game. His relentless and clever exhibitionism triumphed; it didn’t matter what was true.
So where to go from there? During multiple interviews, Ross said that God Forgives was going to be his “Tarantino” or “Scorsese,” to quote his cinematic approach. But more than a well-crafted work, the album feels like a calculated move for Ross to cement himself as one of major-label rap’s top tier dog – a feat in which he’s been largely successful. Riding on the wave of the rap industry’s metaphorical drool since Teflon Don, God Forgives is a promotional powerhouse.
Rock Ross’ “3 Kings”
But commercial success (Ross is on the cover of the new issue of Rolling Stone, shirtless and beaming) says more about pop culture than it does about the music itself, and God Forgives has its fair share of failures. “3 Kings” features heavyweights Dr. Dre and Jay-Z over an excellent Jake One beat that sounds like it’s from the Blueprint era: at track three, it has the potential to slam something real powerful at you right off the bat. Yet all three lyricists flop, spewing mediocre rhymes about their current achievements. “You should listen to this beat through my headphones/Money long, number one twenty years strong,” raps Dre, and Jay spits a disconnected, inept line about how “Niggas couldn’t fuck with my daughter’s room.” As for the Bawse, throughout, there’s no shortage on God Forgives of the fanatical boasting that he built his reputation on. (What might his new throne as a “King” look like, for example? “24k my toilet,” he raps on “Hold Me Back.”) Ross’ bombast certainly entertains, but it’s nothing new, nothing unexpected, nothing that raises his lyrical bar. Rozay has shown dimensionality before, though, and God Forgives has some solid glimpses of sincerity. “Amsterdam” paints a real rags-to-dope-boy-to-riches story; on “Ice Cold” Ross so skillfully depicts the mentality of the dope boy, it’s almost surprising:
I could tell you what a dope boy feels like
I could tell you that he never sleeps
He may smile but it’s never sweet
Swisher burnin’ at his fingertips
Tears on the inside but they never drip
It feels like a genuine expression of private pain, a depth that’s welcome among otherwise unbridled materialism.
Rick Ross’ “Ice Cold”
Another clear highlight is “Sixteen,” featuring Andre 3000 and produced by longtime Ross collaborator J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, about the impossibilities of fitting in one’s story into just sixteen bars. Though Ross is completely overshadowed by Andre, the hard-to-get guest star’s exceptional and witty presence is enough to carry the track. It’s an interesting mix of styles that delivers one of the album’s most satisfying moments. Ross has always had a good instinct for production, and God Forgives, I Don’t alternates between booming, synth-heavy Southern club-bangers and smooth boom-bap feeling tracks with R&B hooks. There’s enough variety here that there’s something for everyone, and the track-to-track progression flows well.
Ross suffered two seizures in one day last October, leading to hospitalization and the postponement of God Forgives’ release. There is a sense on the album of a newfound feeling of mortality, and he raps as urgent and hungry as ever, despite his post as rap’s newest business, man. Sure, we’re still hopelessly in a world of money, cars, hoes, and weed. But who cares, right? This is The Bawse. We listen to be entertained. He is hilarious, and what’s more, he’s endearing: “Fabricate ‘bout my fortune/All my fabrics imported,” he raps on “Hold Me Back.” He knows he can be absurd; he admits it. God Forgives, I Don’t successfully personifies the larger-than-life character Rick Ross has built for himself. It will never come close to rivaling the “vintage 90s classics” that Ross aspired the album to be, but it undeniably resonates within the current money-making pop-rap sphere, for better or for worse.
Written by Megan Conway
OurVinyl | Contributor