In a single year, eight months apart, Rick Ross drops two solo albums that could not be any more dissimilar from one another. Mastermind, which came and went this past March, dialed Ross’ grandeur back to Deeper Than Rap levels, but the project nonetheless suffered from a surplus of guests paired to a deficiency of purpose. “Sanctified” aside, Rick Ross hasn’t had anything approximating a bona fide solo hit since “Aston Martin Music” in 2010. And he’s never topped “B.M.F.,” critically or commercially.
Ross’ past two albums, Mastermind (2014) and God Forgives, I Don’t (2012), illustrated Rozay’s extravagant jump of the shark. In the two years since Rich Forever, the rapper regressed to the extravaganza of Bad Boy nostalgia and favela jig that fed us “Diced Pineapples” and “Supreme.” As Ross strained to recreate Deeper than Rap, Atlantic’s rollout for Meek Mill’s second album ground to a halt, as did most of MMG’s other output, apart from Stalley’s debut album, Ohio, which surfaced just an inch above 10,000 units sold by the end of its second week out. At this late stage of his vanity label's run, Rozay is MMG’s first, last, and only titan.
With his second album of the year, Hood Billionaire, Rick Ross closes Q4 FY2014 with a mulligan. With a different classification and more robust promo run, Hood Billionaire might have made for one hell of a comeback mixtape, at least satisfying his fans who prefer his collaborations with Meek and Jeezy to his alternative sparkling, pretty boy style when paired with the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Ne-Yo, and Nas. Much unlike Mastermind, Hood Billionaire is a street rap album down to the gravel and grassroots. The soul singer loops are ghastly background to bass quakes, trap snare stutter, and the occasional gunshot, courtesy of Beat Billionaire, DJ Toomp, Timbaland, and the possibly resurgent Lex Luger.
“Trap Luv,” by far the album’s boldest cut, features Yo Gotti’s flip dismissal of the latest iPhone technology paired to Ross’ emphatic shout-outs to W.E.B. DuBois (“Souls of black folk: to hustle wasn’t a choice”). In a canny reprise of his unfortunately fuckboyish couplet (“Trayvon Martin” / “never missing my target”) from Mastermind’s “Black and White,” Ross commits the hook of “Burn” to a death threat against Martin’s killer. (“George Zimmerman, when I see you, you gotta burn!”)
Splattered throughout Hood Billionaire’s runtime are those two-dimension moments, typical in this post-”Box Chevy” stage of his career, in which Ross’ persona regresses to the monotony of his 2006 solo debut, the lo-fi Port of Miami. “Neighborhood Drug Dealer” and “Burn,” for instance, are as rudimentary as you’d guess just from reading the titles. Even Ross’ top-notch Boosie collaboration, “Nickel Rock,” suffers under the weight of Rick Ross’ persona, as if we hadn’t yet heard him rhyme “rock” with “spot,” “blame” with “fame,” etc.
“Quintessential” is a harmless, useless Snoop Dogg collaboration; and “Keep Doing That (Rich Bitch)” f/ R. Kelly is just gross. Note that nearly all of Hood Billionaire’s features are backlogged to the album’s second half, which somewhat explains (and justifies) Ross’ exclusion of fledgling Chicago rapper Tink from the album’s official version of “Movin’ Bass,” which also pares Jay Z’s contribution to a mere hook. The album’s earlier half is therefore the most focused and Rozay-centric since Miami, before every Rick Ross release was billed as a sold-out event featuring countless celebrity guests.
When “Elvis Presley Blvd.” dropped however many weeks ago, critics had a tough time calling Ross’ Q4 play. We might have predicted his return to workaday trap chants, the sort that defined his most impressive projects, Teflon Don, Rich Forever, and MMG’s Self-Made mixtape series. Such assumptions prove correct here and now, in an era much unlike Ross’ “B.M.F.” prime, when the trappers are ever younger and their mixtapes more abundant. Hood Billionaire is a street rap supremacy, which, in this Year of Migos, will run you $0.10 per dozen.