Review: Rick Ross – ‘Mastermind’

rick-ross-mastermind-deluxe-2

Artist: Rick Ross
Album: Mastermind
Genre: Hip-hop

Rick Ross has gone through a lot since his last album. Between accusations of date rape lyrics, lawsuits from the real Rick Ross, tour dates around the globe, an attempt on his life, and all sorts of shade from artists and critics alike, the man behind Mastermind has experienced more in the last two years than many will ever go through in their entire lives. Unfortunately, most of that never gets addressed or put to good use on his sixth studio album, Mastermind. Instead, Ross offers a collection of potential radio singles that hit more often than they miss, but not by much.

Kicking off with the signature Maybach Music introduction, Mastermind spends its first minute setting the bar for self-indulgence incredibly high. A static-heavy radio signals pours through the speakers with a collection of Ross’ hits, as if you needed another reminder why you purchased the album in the first place. From there, “Rich Is Gangsta” picks up the energy with Black Metaphor production that is as triumphant as music can possibly hope to be. Larger-than-life percussion, trumpet samples, and bar after bar about the struggle to be hip-hop’s boss. Much of what I describe is laid out here, including multiple references to how there are people who want Ross dead. He isn’t letting that stop him though, because he remembers the days before the fame and he never wants them to return. This leads well into “Drug Dealers Dream,” which opens with Ross commenting how he has ‘come too far to ever look back.” It’s straight fire from there on, with Jake One production testing the limits of your stereo’s bass.

The attempt on Ross’ life comes into focus again on the skit “Shots Fired,” and it appears again several times throughout the album. How could it not? Skits never do much for me, and neither this one or “Dope Bitch” change that opinion.

Nobody” was one of the most hyped tracks leading up to Mastermind, but it again suffers from placing self-indulgence over creativity. Ross offers his best Biggie flow, while French handles the hook in a way only his unique style of deliver can provide. Those elements are fine, and for a few spins rather enjoyable, but squeezed between those moments are inspirational speeches from Diddy and French that fall flat. They aim to make you hype, but on repeat listens become increasingly distracting against the otherwise laid back feel of the production.

Mastermind’s lead single, “The Devil Is A Lie,” follows “Nobody” with a much needed dose of energy. The overall impact is strong, but it’s a little embarrassing how superior Jay Z’s contribution is to almost everything Ross offers on the track. This is the opposite of “Mafia Music III,” which finds Ross’ talents weighed down by depressingly lackluster appearance from Movado.

“War Ready” finds Ross and Young Jeezy putting aside a long-standing beef that many have likened to the now squashed feud between Jay Z and Nas. The two apparently talked out their issues during a flight in 2013, and by the time they landed the had made plans to work on what would eventually become this track. That’s the kind of story that has all the makings of a great song, and for what it’s worth the track is good, but it’s hard to not feel like it could have been better. It longs to be a slow-burning anthem for the streets, but somewhere in its 6-minute(+) runtime it loses its way.

The large amount of guest features stacked into the opening tracks of Mastermind make it difficult for the album to find a cohesive flow. Each track jumps from influence to influence, with seemingly little to no thought put into the order that they appear. This begins to change around “What A Shame,” which ends a run of guest-heavy tracks with French Montana once again helping Ross be enchantingly arrogant. The flow of the track is pitch perfect, and it transitions smoothly into the timeless feel of “Supreme,” which may be the true highlight of Mastermind. It’s a feel-good track with a catchy flow and themes of happiness that are universal (even if you can’t relate to the wealth). This, again, is the opposite of the track that follows, as “Black And White” turns the focus back to the dope game with street ready production courtesy of D-Rich. It’s not as good as “Shameless,” but it is a nice throwback to early Ross.

The back four tracks of Mastermind are once again filled with big name guest appearances. Five emcees contribute across the closing numbers, and among those included are Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and fellow MMG member Meek Mill. Each song stands out as a unique offering crafted to best suit Ross and whoever he is working with, but this again causes Mastermind to lose flow. It plays more like an iTunes playlist of singles than a cohesive, focused effort.

“In Vein” feels more like something from The Weeknd’s next album than something Ross would choose for himself. This is fine if you dig The Weekend, which I do, but again it throws off the feel of the record as a whole. “Sanctified” feels closer to falling in line the rest of the record, and it features contributions from Kanye and Big Sean that are absolutely phenomenal. People who hated Yeezus are reminded here why they fell in love with Kanye in the first place, but even his bars cannot take the spotlight off Ross. He’s rubbing shoulders with two of the biggest names in hip-hop and he delivers a verse that is as good, if not better than everyone else involved. There is nothing to hate about this track.

The two closing numbers are pretty by-the-numbers as far as Rick Ross albums are concerned. “Walkin On Air” is the MMG all-star duo, with Meek Mill’s quick-tongued delivery pairing well with Ross’ more aggressive approach, while “Thug Cry” is the album’s quasi-ballad. Ross contributes some powerful lines to the closer, but it’s actually Lil Wayne that steals your attention. The Young Money kingpin has struggled to maintain fans’ attention over the last few years, but 2014 is shaping up to be big for Weezy, and his verse on this track is one of his best in recent memory.

At its best, Mastermind is a continuation of the sound patented on Deeper Than Rap, with little to no innovation to be found anywhere amongst its sixteen tracks. It’s a grab bag of ego, drugs, sex, violence, and tired references to the so-called good life thrown together with a title that only serves to further perpetuate the exact same image Ross has been boasting for years. It may be catchy and fun for a listen or two, but once the initial excitement over the many appearances dissipated you’re going to be left with an album most will find hard to enjoy to from start to finish.

Save your money. Buy the singles you like off this record, then pick up “No Games” and “Box Chevy.” Put those tracks together on a playlist titled Mastermind and I promise your listening experience with be vastly improved.

Score: 7/10
Written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • Julien Reurings

    Shameless should be supreme

  • Damien

    I had high expectations for the album and I must say I’m dissaponted.

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