Reviews

REVIEW: Rick Ross – Teflon Don

by Marcus K. Dowling

Rick Ross feat. Kanye West – Live Fast, Die Young

After being publicly outed as a corrections officer, having 50 Cent vow, then try his damnedest to “ruin your life, for fun,” and shooting one of the most ridiculous rap videos of all time for “Magnificent,” in which you proclaim your love for the equestrian arts, a weaker rapper than the living embodiment of Al Pacino’s turn as Tony Montana inScarface, Rick Ross, would’ve retired. But apparently, in hearing his latest release, what doesn’t kill your career only makes you stronger, and in his strongest performance from beginning to end on an album to date, the recently unleashed Teflon Don succeeds as one of the better produced hip hop releases of 2010.

This accomplishment has as much to do with Ross’ development as an emcee to a level just below his most lyrically adept collaborators on this album, that being 2/3 of the L.O.X. in Styles P and Jadakiss, Kanye West and T.I. His lyrical content, that of a vividly imagined life as a drug kingpin, leaves little in the way of next level wordplay, and instead emphasizes cliched lines about a life being lead in the shadow of dead or incarcerated name checked criminal masterminds. However, Ross’ playground for his potent imagination is in his words, as he kicks flows that give the impression that you too are a crime lord cruising the streets of the 305 in a Grand Theft Auto feeling dream scape. Ross’ music after all has the moniker of being “Maybach music,” and you indeed feel like the king of the streets with the whip to match after a listen to this album.

The real key so Ross’ hyper-stylized universe are the beats. Yes, the orchestral wonders of the Grammy award winning J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League are present, especially on the old school hip hop remix feeling Maybach Music III, where special guest Erykah Badu being a controlling presence on the hook keeps the disparate nature of the flows on the track from Ross, T.I. and Jada unified. The idea of having a NY, ATL and MIA trap star on the track was smart, but given the extreme differences in flow, approach and feel of all three, the track, while lush and magnificent, suffers from top notch but flawed execution in delivery on record. Timbaland’s best student Danja is wasted on the Diddy and Trey Songz collaboration “No. 1,” as the as of late under-motivated appearing Songz is here, and Diddy gets handed a flaming and tired turd of a rhyme here, even by his “can’t stop, won’t stop” 1996 hypeman standards that he delivers with the lyrical gusto of a whistle in the wind. “Free Mason” featuring Jay-Z is perfunctory, the lyrical equivalent of Babe Ruth doffing his cap at the crowd as opposed to the Reggie Jackson at the plate in the ’77 World Series that he was on his own release. Jay has attempted to dull his usually sharp and potent lyricism for neophytes and the less talented as of late, using his star power instead of his lyricism to advance the career of his collaborator, a canny, veteran move.

This album is greatest when it intentionally underwhelms. Newcomer producer Lex Luger, a more polished member of the same school as Gucci collaborators Zaytoven and Fatboi, may not be the “Total Package” like the legendary pro wrestler his name suggests, but in providing Ross the ability to step out of his Maybach into a Coupe de Ville for cruising in Liberty City, he gives Ross a certain depth and legitimacy he hasn’t had since the Runners’ production of “Hustlin’.” “MC Hammer” and “Blow Money Fast (BMF)” are hook driven pearls of ignorance, the type of songs that cause the average urban blogger to run screaming to their 20 most recently noted songs on blip.fm and listen to Lupe and Cudi’s latest. Gucci Mane and Rick Ross on “MC Hammer” is a match made in trap star heaven. “My gun dirty/my brick clean/I’m ridin’ dirty/my dick clean/she talk dirty/but her mouth clean/bitch I’m MC Hammer, I’m about cream.” It’s the most ridiculous hook of the year, and easily part of all around, probably the best street hip hop track of the year. Radio friendly singles “Live Fast, Die Young” with Kanye West, and the extra marketable “Aston Martin Music” with Chrisette Michelle and Drake at his faux reflective and melodramatic best imbues the album with a sense that hip hop’s mainstream, is boring, understated, terrifically formulaic yet a guaranteed moneymaker when produced with excellence.

In final, Rick Ross completely understands his niche, and in not deviating from form, has melded his formula for success quite well here with disparate hip hop methods. Teflon Don isn’t the year’s best mainstream hip hop album, but absolutely has the year’s best mainstream hip hop record. In this economy and industry, that’s pretty much all you need to get by.