Rick Ross’s career has been about perpetually outperforming the expectations. And Rich Forever was the last time he did at a really grandiose level. It’s also the recorded peak of his career.

When he first hit the scene with "Hustlin" in 2006, he had a hit and the image, but none of the meat that makes a rap career. His rap style was fairly elementary, and while his gruff persona helped deliver the song home, it still relied heavily on The Runners’ thunderstorm of roiling keyboards. Commercially, though, he was just at the beginning; he dodged the sophomore slump with another smash single (the T-Pain assisted "The Boss") and another successful album (2008's Trilla). When everyone was ready to count him out after photos surfaced of his previous career as a corrections officer, he upped the lyrical ante. On his third album, 2009’s Deeper Than Rap, he transformed his delivery into a fluid, multi-syllabic, and artfully effective tool, crafting incomparable widescreen narratives of wealth and largesse. And he began to earn the respect of hip-hop heads as a result.

The comebacks would continue; Deeper Than Rap sold the least of all his major albums; all he had to do was release another hit. Which he did, with "B.M.F.," a song that not only helped Teflon Don sell in the same range as his debut, but significantly changed the sound of hip-hop as a genre. When Ross was stricken by seizures in the build-up to his next album, God Forgives, I Don’t, he tossed out Rich Forever for free.

And it was, by all definitions except the technical one, an album. Thrown out to an eager audience for nothing, it was full of high-profile features (John Legend!) and potential hits that were never even pushed as singles (I will maintain that "MMG The World Is Ours" would have been a bigger hit, given the right opportunity). No doubt Rich Forever will go down in history as one of his label’s biggest regrets, since the DatPiff zip files weren’t manufactured and slapped with a barcode. But a free album was more a show of Rick Ross’s ridiculous levels of confidence. Every time he seemed beaten down, there was another level of success he could attain.

Rich Forever was all about ratcheting up the maximalism of “B.M.F.” to insanely high levels. From "High Definition" to "Fuck ‘Em" to "King of Diamonds," each surge of aggro-bombast was a new formulation of a musical adrenaline rush. But in between each anthemic triumph, the “filler” created a surprising diversity of musical approaches. The DJ Spinz-produced "Ring Ring," with its gurgling Future hook led into an unforgettably pop Pharrell hook on "MMG the World Is Ours." "Keys to the Crib" was a lush, momentous masterpiece. "Triple Dream Beams" found Nas revisiting his early failed dope boy dreams, an unexpected standout verse. And "Party Heart" was a strange art-pop-rap confection from Cool Kid Chuck Inglish.

But it was the Drake and French Montana feature “Stay Schemin’” that took off, an atmospheric and iconic song that crystallized the sound of Rich Forever. In turn, that album captured the sheer breadth and scope of Ross’s climactic career peak. — David Drake