8. Rick Ross "Mafia Music" (2009)
On "Hustlin'" Ross shoved his way through the door. But for many rap heads, he remained a one-dimensional figure. Sure, he had the look of a kingpin, the beats to match, and a booming rapper's voice that befit a self-styled boss. But Ross was missing one important thing, and that absence kept him a marginal figure. Persona is key, but to be a truly great rapper, you have to be an engaging lyricist. And "Mafia Music" was the first time Ross took everyone by surprise.
The beat was as epic as "Hustlin'" but functioned completely differently. The "Hustlin'" instrumental was an epic slam-dunk, with a melodic hook that was as intense in its instrumental form. The beat to "Mafia Music" was more of an epic alley-oop just waiting for the right rapper. The beat's slow, scene-setting pace was a blank canvas. There was no hook for Ross to hide behind, so he had to deliver. And did he ever: a four-minute song with no chorus, "Mafia Music" was the first indication of the artist behind the shades and the endomorphic image.
Dense with internal rhymes and intricately composed lyrics, his newfound grandiloquence seemed to perfectly match the persona he had cultivated. It was baroque rap for an artist whose entire approach was about grandiose largesse. —David Drake