Not much to say here, I just figured that since I’d been playing Mastermind a lot lately, I ought to write up my thoughts on it. The word playing probably should have been in quotes, but before I explain that, some context: I’d ignored Rick Ross until The Boss came out. But really it was Maybach Music that showed me that Ross sometimes makes real music worth my time. Until that song, he was just an average Southern rapper who jacked the Raekwon/Nas/Biggie kingpin shtick for mediocre lyrics on painfully standard Southern beats. Basically, he was lazy and I had no time for his shenanigans. Then Maybach Music’s beat, which is perfectly layered with subtle strings, a funky bassline, and about 5 other things I love, forced him to RAP. Its relatively fast tempo gave him two choices, the easier, slower route that Jay-z took on his surprisingly aight feature verse, or attack the instrumental. Ross chose to attack, did extremely well in terms of flow, and since then I’ve always respected him as a rapper who has the ability to entertain me sometimes.
So that led me to this time spent with Mastermind.
Understanding that Trilla, the album that included The Boss and Mayback Music, only has 4 songs which I deemed worth keeping, I didn’t go into Mastermind with high hopes. So I wasn’t much fazed about being completely unimpressed by the lead singles. The Devil is a Lie has energy in its overly insistent horns yet both Rick Ross and Jay-z turned in verses that matched that it only in delivery, ignoring flow, lyricism, and of course content. Nobody might be ok but I confess to not loving the beat even when Biggie used it for You’re Nobody Til Somebody Kills You. French Montana’s lazy-voiced hook did nothing to improve things, so the only positive is Puff Daddy’s irrelevant yelling (another thing jacked from Biggie’s music, that’s three so far.)
The first half-ish of the album includes those singles, and does nothing to counteract them. It has a few songs of that style of Southern rap that I hate the most: lazy beats and lazy verses, but mostly it’s just bad. Rich is Gangsta, track two, sounds like a boring intro from a mid-career Jay-z album, while Mafia Music III has to be the sleepiest reggae-hop song that I’ve ever heard. Not until track 8 of 19, War Ready, do the beats pick up some speed, and
Jeezy kind of rips his verse. Ross still sucks but this is progress at least. The Pastor Troy soundalike’s hook is good too.
What a Shame is the song that really solidifies the turnaround. It has that booming bass that I love, the drum loop is interesting yet simple, and Ross raps like he might give a got damn. Even French Montana’s nasal voice sounds decent on such a dope instrumental.
But Walkin’ on Air is by far the best song of Mastermind. Like Maybach Music, it has the cinematic sound that Ross shines on, but with more urgency in both the beat and his delivery. Again, nothing important is being said but it sounds damn good. Meek Mill stops in to yell a pretty good verse that’s the cherry on top of this pretty damn good song. When Ross gets it right he really gets it right. As right as mainstream non-Kendrick hip-hop can get…
The problem is that this doesn’t happen nearly often enough on these 19 tracks. If the South does nothing else, they flow well and their beats boom in ways that can’t be ignored. But Rick Ross shows almost zero lyrical hunger and the beats don’t bang. I won’t discredit anyone for liking Sanctified, but its long gospel wailing sample was too much for me, to say nothing of Kanye’s horrible verse. Blessing in Disguise is the token semi-conscious song on this mainstream gangsta album, this time featuring Scarface, who valiantly fails at rescuing the mediocre mistake. The last good song is Thug Cry which smartly adds that boom I love to the Souls of Mishief’s 93 Til Infinity sample. Both Lil Wayne and Ross deliver solid verses that fail to interest but also fail to ruin the mood.
Verdict: That equivocation is the main problem with Mastermind, and Rick Ross in general. They’re spotty, the good spots are few and far between, and even those could be a LOT better with more effort. Only every once in a while do they get most things right, and never is everything right. Mastermind is a few worthwhile anomalies amongst a sea of trash. Not that I expect a lot more of Ross but damnit I expect more!
- What a Shame
- War Ready
- Walkin’ on Air
- Thug Cry