Gage pens love letter to ’90s rave on ‘E Anthem’
Every time I have a conversation about rap, the mention of Rick Ross nearly always gets the most pointed reaction. Some people roll their eyes and dismiss him as predictable trash, some people light up and nerd out. Either way, it’s impossible to be ambivalent about him.
This was taken up recently by hip hop radio personality and general goof-ball Peter Rosenberg, a man who managed to cultivate such a heated beef with Nicki Minaj over her latest album that Minaj pulled out of a headline slot at his radio station’s summer festival.
Whether you agree with him or not Rosenberg is a shameless provocateur, and his prediction of Rick Ross’s ‘Gods Forgive, I Don’t’ album got listeners riled. Speaking back in April, Rosenberg claimed that if his next album is “as good as his previous work, he will hands down be the ‘Number One MC’ in the game today, and there is no-one close second place. The beats, rhymes, the character, the consistency, the charisma, the dude has it all. He’s delivered four dope consecutive albums, and he’s dropped mixtapes that are better than some people’s entire catalogues.”
Now, I’m not going to completely agree with Rosenberg here, but there’s an element of truth in this. If you want to compare and contrast it’s arguable his immediate peers – major label, multi-million album selling rappers who have been consistently active in the past decade at least – have their down-sides. Lil Wayne’s credibility as a solo artist has stalled since his last incarceration and now seems more concerned with the YMCMB empire and jumping on tracks as a feature artist (with less charm and intrigue than in his early career) rather than working on an album to match the passion and humour of the early Carter albums. Jay-Z and Kanye West are obvious choices, but the fact that Jay-Z’s last truly great solo work was on ‘The Black Album’ (which was released nearly a decade ago) makes me wonder if Kanye is the only one that could be pitted against Ross in terms of quality control. Like him or not, Ross is nothing if not consistent.
He isn’t just big in terms of selling albums. He also cuts a fascinating figure. Here is a man who has cultivated a Gatsby-esque persona of success; a relative nobody who ghost-wrote about enormous wealth and the accompanying lifestyle (as eventually seen in his massive solo breakthrough hit Hustlin ) whilst living a relatively poor life. He created a tailor-made, art-imitates-life scenario for himself – he rapped about vast wealth he didn’t have until he finally got it.
Then in 2008 rumours of Ross once being a corrections officer came to a head when photographs of him in uniform surfaced online, and he was forced to admit (albeit with an embarrassed brush-off) that he was very much once on the other side of the law. After the initial online furore though such a massive ego (and for rap, career) knock seems to have done little to his numbers. Fans have either carried on believing his stories of poverty and drug dealing that so pervade the standard street rap narrative, or they just don’t care whether it’s true or not. It’s all implied, which is apparently enough. While his new album ‘Gods Forgive, I Don’t’ may not be the flawless record Rosenberg wanted, it definitely proves something I’ve felt about him for a while. It’s now no longer about the validity of the narrative but how it’s cultivated, and that is what is so fascinating about Rick Ross.
Ross is an MC concerned first and foremost with presence and So Sophisticated is one of the best examples of this on the album. He manages to sound nonchalant about a back catalogue lyrically overwhelmed by stories of houses, cars, jewellery, women and criminal pasts. There’s a constant jostling for the spotlight between the doom-laden drama of the Maybach Music style of production, with rapid-fire rolling drum kicks and ornate string hooks, and his instantly recognisable pitbull baritone, as he gruffs, grunts and woops through bars with a near-unparalleled confidence. Meek Mill is an obvious but ideal addition to the track as his high pitched and animated flow is a great balancing act with Ross’s more breathy, enunciated bars.
Not only that, there’s the “M-M-M-M-M-M-M-Maybach Music” hook. It’s inspired. That girlish seductive drag before every track as a prelude to the hyper-masculine material that pretty much always follows. Fifty bodies deep in a packed club at 2am is its territory. Hands in the air, do the Rick Ross “wuuuugh!” grunt in appreciation when you hear it roll in. Whether Rosenberg is right or not about Ross being Number One, he’s easily the most commanding example of fabulously un-reconstructed street-rap-gone-commercial in 2012 and, what the hell, ‘Gods Forgive I Don’t’ fits the bill perfectly. My love of rap is not limited to its underground. There can be humour as well as sincerity, and I feel that for every slot given to rappers like Lil B and Schoolboy Q there’s also plenty room for someone like Rozay. This one’s for the haters.