Ranking Rick Ross' Albums From Worst To Best

From mixtapes to solo albums to group projects, we count down the best of Rozay's catalog.

BONNER SPRINGS, KANSAS - APRIL 28: Rick Ross during the Kelce Jam at Azura Amphitheatre on April 28, 2023 in Bonner Springs, Kansas. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images)
Barry Brecheisen / Getty Images

On Rick Ross’ “Rich Is Gangsta,” a song off his most recent album, Mastermind, Ross makes a boast few of his contemporaries can repeat, “So what's your goals, nigga?/All my shit went gold, nigga.” That’s a pretty substantial claim considering his first album, Port of Miami, was released in 2006 as record sales kept falling off a cliff. But Ross’ sales figures aren’t the improbable part of his career. The self-proclaimed mastermind is a master of beating the odds. Although he’s certainly had his blunders along the way, the Teflon Don (another moniker he’s awarded himself, though that one is quite fitting) Ross built a formidable empire with this MMG imprint while creating an impressive musical catalog.

Now, if in 2006, someone had told us we’d be having a serious debate about Rick Ross’ catalog we’d probably just laugh. “You mean the guy who rhymes ‘Atlantic with Atlantic?’ Um, yeah...no.” But in typical Rick Ross fashion, he’s defied the odds, defied all logic, and here we are: Debating Rick Ross’ catalog.

A unique aspect of Ross’ musical growth is that it can be divided into two parts using two different metrics. Sonically, it’s everything before “B.M.F.” and everything after. Lyrically, it’s everything before “Mafia Music” and everything after. In other words: Everything before he learned how to rap and everything after. And yet, his projects don’t stack up so nicely. His first three albums showed steady improvement, but in the past five years—when he reigned as hip-hop’s top “street rapper”—Ross released an abundance of material with varying levels of quality. To help sort it all out, we put all of Ross’ projects against each other for Ranking Rick Ross’ Albums From Worst To Best.

Written by Insanul Ahmed, David Drake, Claire Lobenfled, Kyle Kramer, Justin Davis, & Justin Charity

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BONNER SPRINGS, KANSAS - APRIL 28: Rick Ross during the Kelce Jam at Azura Amphitheatre on April 28, 2023 in Bonner Springs, Kansas. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images)

15. Rick Ross, Black Bar Mitzvah (2012)

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14. Triple C's, Custom Cars & Cycles (2009)

Label: Maybe Music Group, Def Jam Recordings
Producers: Schife, OhZee, Phil 4 Real, Don Logan, Drumma Boy, The Olympicks, B-Rock Agee, Rick Rock, The Dream Team, The Tranzformerz, Cool & Dre
Features: Bun B, Birdman, Schife, Gucci Mane, Drumma Boy, Young Jeezy, J.W., Game, B-Rock Agee, Masspike Miles, Mack 10, Warren G, Suede Royale, Yo Gotti
Sales: 12,100

The Carol City Cartel's debut Custom Cars and Cycles was at once underrated and a disappointment; underrated in that it deserved to do better than 4,000 in first-week sales, and surely someone should have noticed that Gunplay had star potential early on. It was a disappointment, in that the record largely stays in one mode from front to back. The album is a little like going on a long road trip with all of your friends: packed with ignorant fun, but at a certain point, you'll know exactly how long is too long to be stuck in the car together.

In this case, songs like Gucci feature "Trick'n Off," Jeezy's spot on "Erryday," and Birdman feature "Go"—which includes scene-stealing bars from Gunplay—are standouts, in part because the guest stars add a dynamic contrast to Torch and Young Breed's more workmanlike bars. On the other hand, it also points to the album's primary flaw: it is perhaps the least impactful album ever released. Songs crest five minutes and occasionally stretch to seven. Great beats and song concepts wear you down with verse after verse. Ross is a little too generous to his crew here. Burying a great Gunplay spot at minute 4:30 in "Trick'n Off" feels like a waste of talent. Although it can feel like a slog, the grooves are strong, the tone is upbeat, and the energy ideal for drinking. —David Drake

13. MMG, Self Made Vol. 3 (2013)

Label: Maybach Music Group, Atlantic
Producers: Lil Lee, Aone Beats, D. Rich, Cardo, Schife, DJ OhZee, Brian Nunez, Beat Billionaire, Tone P, Kebu, Childish Major, Rock City, The CoCaptains, John "$K" McGee, Hit-Boy, Jake One, Swish, DJ Spinz, The MeKanics, Boi-1da, The Maven Boys
Features: Lil Snupe, Gunplay, Rick Ross, Yo Gotti, Meek Mill, Omelly, Young Breed, Lil Boosie, Wale, Whole Slab, Birdman, Rockie Fresh, J. Cole, Stalley, Omarion, Fabolous, Pusha T, Hit-Boy, Louie V Gutta, French Montana, Lupe Fiasco, K Kutta, Torch, Iceberg
Sales: 74,000

By the time Self Made Vol. 3 hit shelves, the untouchable empire seemed well within reach. It was the year the label had no real hits; Ross seemed able to hit the charts only as a guest (see: Rocko's "U.O.E.N.O.," Jay Z's "FuckwitmeyouknowIgotit," DJ Khaled's "No New Friends," etc.). Meek Mill's "Levels" was a great concept and hashtag, but a fairly average actual song, and skimmed just outside the Hot 100 all summer. MMG appeared vulnerable.

Suffice it to say that the best moments on Self Made Vol. 3 came from either Ross, or the younger friends  and signees of the label. An intro by Lil Snupe gave the compilation a spark of life, although even then, it wasn't as impressive as his freestyle on Meek Mill's Dreamchasers 3 or his intro for DJ Mustard's Ketchup tape. Rockie Fresh, a recent MMG signee who became a part of the label during the Chicago gold rush of 2012, distinguished himself with a Ma$e tribute produced by Hit-Boy entitled "What Ya Used To." Ross, meanwhile, had a few standout verses, and remains one of hip-hop's best writers.

But for the most part, Self Made 3 showed the limitations of the MMG formula; most songs simply didn't connect, and even connosieur's choice Gunplay didn't do much to distinguish himself on feature "Gallardo." A few gems can be picked out of this record, but for the most part, it suggested a slight downslide for a label that had been known for relentless consistency. —David Drake

12. MMG, Self Made Vol. 2 (2012)

Label: Maybach Music Group
Producers: Lee Major, Young Shun, Southside, Don Cannon, Beat Billionaire, Rico Love, Earl & E, Cardiak, Boi-1da, The Maven Boys, Harry Fraud, The Beat Bully, Ayo the Producer, Trevor Chin
Features: Gunplay, Stalley, Wale, Meek Mill, Kendrick Lamar, Omarion, Nas, French Montana, Nipsey Hussle, Wiz Khalifa, Roscoe Dash, T-Pain, The Notorious B.I.G., Ace Hood, Bun B, T.I.
Sales: 277000

If Self Made Vol. 1 was a happy accident and Self Made Vol. 3 an obligation, then the MMG compilation in the middle felt the most like a composed album, kicking off with the luxurious mission statement “Power Circle.” It’s there where Gunplay announces himself as the album’s star, tearing into a verse just 77 seconds into the album that features one of his most enduring and incredulous lines: “Where your seat at? Where your plate, where your lobster, where your sea bass?”

After a soft middle, he again electrifies the album on “Black on Black,” calling back to his forgotten banger “Bitches, Swangerz & Candy” with tongue-twisting imagery: “All gold Dayton spokes stroking the pavement slow.” But in between those verses are a few great tracks, including Meek Mill and Rick Ross on “Black Magic” and Rozay and French Montana on “All Birds.” The album produced only one hit—the dreary “Bag of Money”—but it was nonetheless an affirmation of unshakability. —Jordan Sargent

11. Rick Ross & Birdman, The H: The Lost Album Vol. 1 (2013)

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10. Rick Ross, Trilla (2008)

Label: Def Jam Recordings, Slip-n-Slide Records, Poe Boy Entertainment
Producers: J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Mannie Fresh, J.R. Rotem, The Runners, Bink!, Drumma Boy, DJ Khaled, J-New, Black Elvis, DJ Troomp, Jean "J Rock" Borges, DJ Nasty & LVM
Features: Mannie Fresh, T-Pain, R. Kelly, EbonyLove, Trey Songz, Nelly, Avery Storm, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Trick Daddy, Young Jeezy, Triple C's, Brisco, Rodney
Sales: 645,059

Trilla is Rick Ross' first attempt to break through the underground glass ceiling that many rappers in the same category after the unlikely success of Young Jeezy. Ross was thought to be a one-hit wonder—but he gave us "The Boss," the T-Pain featured hit single that grew to be his most successful song to date. Even R. Kelly & Nelly show up on the album, on singles "Speedin" & "Here I Am" respectively. He also started showing signs of his current incarnation on Trilla, trading his donks for Bentleys and introducing us to the first song of the "Maybach Music" series.

Forming a partnership with then unknown producer trio J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Ross traded the 808s for lush instrumentals and soulful backdrops on the latter half of Trilla which destroyed the idea of him being just a coke rapper. The method to Ross' madness is balance, he gives listeners enough sophistication to balance out the ignorance. "Money Make Me Cum" is a hilariously named ode to his favorite type of woman, while "Luxury Tax" is the ultimate victory lap for hustlers.

Thematically, Trilla sees Ross foreseeing his own death on the beginning of the album saying "I don't give a fuck about death, cause death don't give a fuck about flesh," and continuing his fatalist view of life on much of the album. Trilla is about the price of fame and it's effect on the Boss, but it is also his most varied and easy to listen to album in his discography. —Justin Davis

9. Rick Ross, God Forgives, I Don't (2012)

Label: Mercury Records, Island Def Jam
Producers: Jake One, Cool & Dre, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Cardiak, G5Kid, Young Shun, The Beat Bully, Pharrell Williams, Reefa, Rico Love, Pierre Medor
Features: Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, Ne-Yo, Andre 3000, Meek Mill, Elijah Blake, Omarion, Usher, Wale, Drake, Stalley
Sales: 565,000

In a sense, God Forgives, I Don't completed Rick Ross's king-making saga. Teflon Don established him as rap's most grandiose personality and proved his talent with a set of classic songs; Rich Forever sat him atop the throne of absolute rap excess and continued to take his maximalist sound to even more lavish extremes. God Forgives, I Don't, with its authoritative title, promised a glimpse of what Ross's reign might be like. Like many royal institutions, though, it ultimately seemed caught up in its own delusions and swollen with excess, suggesting Ross's monarchy might be short-lived.

God Forgives, I Don't is a good album, but it never really feels like a great one. Other than the confused, grating sex jam "Diced Pineapples," with its misguided and off-putting attempt at a sensual spoken word intro—and, despite any critical reservations, this was the album's second highest-charting single—there's very little that feels particularly wrong on its own. Ross's world is still lavish, his Rolodex is still extensive, and his producers still know how to make beats that sound like money.

For all the face-palming phrases like "get abused like boys at Penn State" (foreshadowing Ross's talent for tone deaf controversy-stoking), by this album it was clear that Ross could hold his own lyrically on a track. He drops lines like "fascination with fortune afford me mansion and Porsches" and "seen so many things, be preposterous not to record it" that show he can buy hundred-dollar words along with $24,000 toilets. Songs like "Ashamed," "Amsterdam," "Ice Cold," and "Ten Jesus Pieces" are all quiet lyrical triumphs for Ross.

"Hold Me Back," "So Sophisticated," "911"—these are all fun, high-energy songs that got Ross some mileage in the club. But structurally these songs don't feel too different from, say, "Tupac Back," "Ima Boss," "Bag of Money" or several other Maybach Music Group offerings that came in the year before the album. God Forgives, I Don't's central weakness is that it began to prompt Maybach fatigue (a broader trend, seeing as the actual car was discontinued the same year). On the heels of two MMG compilation albums, two Rick Ross mixtapes, two star-making Meek Mill mixtapes, and a Wale album—among other MMG projects—in 18 months, God Forgives, I Don't felt increasingly like it was hammering home the same ideas and, in the guest-heavy second half, tirelessly pushing the same artists on fans. With all that other material out there, the tracklist felt unnecessarily long. Rick Ross's music about being a boss seemed to be taking a back seat to his interest in being an actual boss about music.

There's not much inclination on Ross's part to evolve as an artist, something that's underscored by memorable appearances from Jay Z and Andre 3000. Jay delivers one of the loosest, most fun verses he's had in years, running completely off the rails in the best way possible, while Andre raps about a billion bars before letting loose with a guitar solo that stretches the track out to eight minutes because why the hell not? Ross including this type of experimentation is a cool touch, but it would be cooler if any of it came from him.

Instead, Ross is settling into his sound rather than continuing to try to top it. He's not going above and beyond past genre hits like "B.M.F.," he's uninterested in pushing into anything particularly weird, and he doesn't seem to have much inclination to go for a full pop crossover. He's still a boss, sure, but no sooner is he on top of the market than it's beginning to change and leave him behind. On "Maybach Music IV"—a great song but one that falls quite a bit short of its iconic predecessors in the series—Ross raps "the good times don't last long/just rewind the last song." It rings a little too true. —Kyle Kramer

8. Rick Ross, Port of Miami (2006)

Label: Slip-n-Slide Records, Def Jam Recordings, Poe Boy Entertainment
Producers: J.R. Rotem, Cool & Dre, The Runners, Akon, Giorgio Tuinfort, C. Fournier, Kenny "K. Luck" Luckett, Jazze Pha, Mario Winans, Miykal Snoddy, DJ Troomp, JRock, Big Reese, Jasper Cameron, J. Venom, DJ Khaled
Features: Dre, Akon, Mario Winans, Rodney, JRock, Lyfe Jennings, Lloyd, Jay-Z, Young Jeezy, Triple C's, Lil Wayne, Brisco
Sales: 750,000

Prototypical Ross, when he had two hits and much bounce. A promising character with no arc. At 77 minutes, Port of Miami is Ross' longest LP and yet his most constrained. A crowd-warmer. The poverty funk of "Pots and Pans" is "Hold On" and "Ambition" Ross refined the mafia severity of his character. This that Down South, Jazze Pha lean right here. At this stage, Ross' solo debut via Def Jam, the boss' voice is skinniest—that ghastly whisper a la 2Pac or else Jeezy, depending on whether the track calls for broke talk or coke talk.

Port of Miami is Ross before the "Maybach Music" series, before the jingling keys and sweet-nothing's from a busty Australian supermodel as his crew's signature drop. All Ross' boasts are informal, relatively modest—"I'm bad! I'm back! I'm mad! I'm strapped!"—apparently improvised between long nods and sips of the rosé. Trilla is next in the chronology but Deeper Than Rap is the culmination. "Prayer" is "Rich Off Cocaine" as a demo cut. Trilla is where shit gets big. Deeper is where shit gets vivid. Every epic requires a prologue, Port of Miami is just that. —Justin Charity

7. Rick Ross, Mastermind (2014)

Label: Maybach Music Group, Slip-n-Slide Records, Def Jam Recordings
Producers: Black Metaphor, J. Manifest, Sean Combs, Stevie J, DJ Enuff, Jiv Poss, Major Seven, K.E. on the Track, Bink!, Mike WiLL Made It, A+, Reefa, Stats, Scott Storch, D-Rish, The Weeknd, DaHeala, Kanye West, Mike Dean, DJ Mustard, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League
Features: French Montana, Diddy, Jay-Z, Sizzla, Mavado, Jeezy, The Weeknd, Kanye West, Big Sean, Meek Mill, Lil Wayne
Sales: N/A

Mastermind is as good as Ross gets short symphonic onslaught and big beat absurdity. Following a couple years of stellar guest verses and MMG mixtape supremacy, Ross' sixth studio album isn't as impressive or as memorable as it should be, given how dope it is. Hardly quotable, though—with the exception of Puffy's legendary "Nobody" rant, which ought to be incorporated into high school graduation ceremonies and employee training videos nationwide.

After swelling beyond all compelling excess on his previous album, God Forgives, I Don't, Ross loosened his belt a few notches here. Mastermind was a needed relief from the mafioso angst of God Forgives... and 2010's Teflon Don, interspersing tracks like "Drug Dealers Dream," "War Ready," and "Thug Cry" with vacation flourishes like "Mafia Music III," "Supreme," "BLK & WHT," and the cheeky blasphemy of "Sanctified," led by none other than Our Lord Yeezus.

You get the sense that Ross had a lot of fun pulling this project together. "War Ready" and "The Devil Is A Lie" aside, it's a relatively chill listen. There's reggae, there's bounce, there's marching band brass. Even the album's rare, divisive risk—"In Vein," a screwed R&B collaboration with The Weeknd—is thankfully less agonized than Ross' standard for-the-ladies work with Ne-Yo or John Legend.

Released at the top of 2014, following a year in which Ross' foremost contemporaries—Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake—revised or else doubled-down on their strengths, Mastermind is a remarkably static project. As a spiritual sequel to 2009's Deeper Than Rap, this album suffices as a refresher of why hip-hop embraced Ross in the first place. But there's minimal growth or deviation from Ross' well-worn Bad Boy nostalgia. Apart from the gospel comedy of "Sanctified," there's not a sound or conceit on this LP that Ross hadn't mastered on some other project in the preceding five years.

Hence the dilemma of Rick Ross as a persona—never breaking character means never breaking character, means eventually we start glancing our watches and minding the nearest exits. Whereas the dynamism of Kanye and Jay's real life narratives lend to a compelling evolution of their musical personas and output, Mastermind is a type-casting that, eight years after his major label debut, is wearing thin in the hip-hop imagination. Even the James Bond franchise has to retire its leading man and reboot its protagonist persona every decade or so. Granted, Ross is more so Goldfinger than Sean Connery, but the point stands.

Ever an impresario of the past, Mastermind hosted Ross as a tribute to his own legacy and influence, with little else to offer. Ross acknowledged as much on the album's outro verse. I lived on Billboard; where the fuck to go next?  —Justin Charity

6. Rick Ross, Ashes to Ashes (2010)

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5. Rick Ross, The Albert Anastasia EP (2009)

Label: Maybe Music Group, Def Jam
Producers: Infamous, Lex Luger, Boi-1da, The Runners, Philly Phatboi, Clark Kent, The Remedy, L-Don
Features: Styles P, Yo Gotti, Birdman, Trey Songz, John Legend, Ne-Yo, Kool G Rap, Triple C's, Masspike Miles
Datpiff downloads: 230,393

There are a few ways you can considering The Albert Anastasia EP's place in Ross' canon: It's all catchall for his post-Deeper Than Rap bombast. It's when he took a turn to making speaker-rumblers that were both menacing and lyrical—or, at least, lyrical enough. It's what made his tax bracket go up just a little bit. And it wasn't just because "MC Hammer" makes you want to slap someone with a stack of bills or that "Super High" is still his smoothest song to date. It's that "B.M.F." transitioned him from having music that rattled in rap clubs to being a hipster staple, as well. He supplanted Gucci Mane from hipster rapper du jour, the Cosa Nostra-gleaned persona given a second sector to fascinate.

But man can't live on artisinal bread alone. And having Diddy not just co-signing, but opening the entire mixtape with a "take that, take that, take that"-filled signature rant solidified Ross a rapper who could walk down every single fork in the road. He'd defied a 50 Cent pillaging, attempted actual lyricism and then figured out how to master the balancing act between quick-witted bars and catchy hits that he had been publicly trying to ace since he was rhyming "Atlantic" with "Atlantic."

Its songs are the thing that turned Rick Ross from Pitchfork-panned and, ultimately ignored, artist into someone who got an 8.0 for Teflon Don, the album that repackaged almost of all of Anastasia from free work into something that sold 188K+ in its first week. And while that album stunned with "I'm Not a Star" and the third installment in the "Maybach Music" series, it wouldn't have had the same panache, Ross wouldn't have had that same battery in his back, if it weren't for "Fire Hazard" or "Gotti Family." With this, he built the bridge that would make Rick Ross from someone crafting a larger than life personality to someone whose entire makeup could dominate the rap game. —Claire Lobenfeld

4. MMG, Self Made Vol. 1 (2011)

Label: Maybe Music Group, Warner Bros. Records
Producers: Just Blaze, Mike WiLL Made It, Marz, Cardiak, Young Shun, Lil' Lody, Beat Billionaire, Cardiak, Lex Luger, Jahlil Beats, Lee Major, Raz of Beat Billionaire, Tone P
Features: Rick Ross, Wale, Meek Mill, Pill, Teedra Moses, Jadakiss, J. Cole, Curren$y, Cyhi the Prynce, Jeremih, Gunplay, D.A. from Chester French, Torch, French Montana, Stalley
Sales: 183,000

You can debate when Rick Ross was at the peak of his musical powers, but there is no debate about when Ross made his greatest series of power moves. After reigning triumphant in 2010 with the career changing Teflon Don, he kicked off 2011 by recruiting talent for his Maybach Music Group. In the past Ross had signed artists like Triple C's, Masspike Miles and Magazeen to his imprint, but they didn't move the needle and made MMG look more a vanity label than a burgeoning empire. Ross managed to bring three artists who had build some buzz on their own but needed a push to get over the top into the fold; Wale, Meek Mill, and Pill (he also signed Teedra Moses and Stalley). He put them all right to work to on Self Made Vol. 1, a compilation album that exceeded expectations.

The truth about compilation albums is that they're usually not very good. They quickly morph into a hodgepodge of songs with no glue holding them together. So when it turned out MMG Presents: Self Made Vol. 1 was a lot better than just a couple highlights and endless filler, it proved Ross hadn't just made some moves, but smart ones.

What Self Made Vol. 1 also proved was that Ross' formula could serve as a template for a multitude of artists. Most notably, the album's breakout star and welcome surprise Meek Mill. While most of the early attention went to Wale (who was more firmly established at the time) Meek came out swinging with absolute bangers like "Tupac Back" and "Ima Boss." Meek's undeniable energy and street edge would soon turn him into a star.

Meanwhile, Wale fit into the crew better than expected. He opened up the album with the great quotable that perfectly summarized his situation, "They tried and tell me I don't fit up in this motherfucka/Cause Rozay been talking white, he think he Uncle Ruckus/I left Jimmy, they was spending silly with my budget/And now I'm rolling with some cooler niggas I can fuck with." Though Wale assured fans his upcoming MMG album wouldn't "sound like a hundred Lex Luger beats and Wale," Luger actually produced the Jeremih assisted "That Way" that would become a fan favorite and gave him so much momentum it later appeared on Wale's MMG debut, Ambition.

Lex Luger is an important figure in all this too. Though Lex's sound is forever intertwined with Ross and "B.M.F.," his only contribution to the album is actually the soft, slow moving "That Way"-a song you would never guess Luger produced. Instead, the beats were instead provided by rising producers like Jahlil Beats, Cardiak, and Mike Will Made It. Though Jahlil Beats and Cardiak essentially co-opted Luger's sound (and provided it at a time Luger didn't want to become boxed in) they inevitably trapped Luger in his own trap sound. Fans thought Luger was all over the album because it sounded like he was. However, Mike Will would go on to make the most of his success with "Tupac Back," and rather than becoming a clone he became a king unto himself. Soon enough, Mike Will went from working with the likes of Gucci Mane and 2 Chainz to pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Rihanna.

Though Meek, Wale, and even Made Will were able to make the most of appearing on this album, the only hired gun that was shooting blanks was Pill. As it turned out, he wasn't even signed to MMG at all. Ross had essentially added him to the roster at the behest of his label who basically had Pill sitting on the shelf. Pill's lone solo outing on the album "Ridin' On Dat Pole" is easily the most unbearable moment on the album. Even album guests like J. Cole, Curren$y, and Jadakiss sounded more in tune with Ross' vision. Soon enough, Pill would be gone.

As for Ross, his pen was sharper than ever and he was getting better at using his husky voice to his advantage. Songs like "Ima Boss" and "Pandemonium" featured some of his most vicious verses to date. On the former he remained cold blooded claiming, "No love cry when only babies die," and on the later he rhymed about the lavish life with increasing sophistication, "Armadillo cigars, killers who like to play golf/Heroin transactions with Russians, shots of the Smirnoff." To top it off, Ross rapped eight hooks on the album; evidence of his growth as a songwriter. Although the chorus to songs like "By Any Means" and "Tupac Back" were increasingly complicated, they remained as catchy as ever.

In the end, Self Made Vol. 1 did everything it was supposed to. It helped establish the MMG brand and launched both Wale and Meek's careers. On "Ima Boss" Ross claimed, "A boss is one who guarantee we gon eat." After the success Self Made Vol. 1, and years after declaring himself "the biggest boss that you've seen thus far," Rozay finally lived up to his claim. Just ask Meek or Wale, working for the biggest Bawse has its benefits. —Insanul Ahmed

3. Rick Ross, Deeper Than Rap (2009)

Label: Maybach Music Group, Slip-n-Slide Records, distributions from Def Jam Recordings
Producers: The Inkredibles, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Tricky Stewart, The Runners, The Monarch, Bigg D, Drumma Boy, DJ Troomp
Features: Kanye West, Lil Wayne, T-Pain, John Legend, Magazeen, Nas, Kevin Cossom, The-Dream, Avery Storm, Robin Thicke, Foxy Brown, Gunplay, Ne-Yo, Trina
Sales: 439,000

Rick Ross' beef with 50 Cent was the turning point in the Teflon Don's career, and as he approaches his fifth number one album just weeks after Curtis tucked his tail and went indie, it's important to remember exactly how Ross prevailed. His third album Deeper Than Rap was ground zero for that feud with "Mafia Music" containing the bars about 50's baby's mom that set it all in motion, but it also explains why Ross won the war even if he lost the initial battle.

By early 2009, 50's career was on an irreversible downslope, but he was still commanding a disproportionate amount of respect from rap fans. (This was only about a year after people seriously debated whether 50 was more popular than Kanye West.) Ross, on the other hand, was taken seriously only because of his success: his hits to that point were good but disposable, and his albums were wildly uneven at best. 50, conveniently, had picked a perfect target: a relevant and ascendant rapper who no serious hip-hop fan would have argued was better than him.

But with Deeper Than Rap that all changed. "Mafia Music," really, fired two shots. The first, obviously, was at 50, but the second was at the rest of his peers and anyone (read: everyone) who thought he was more a movie character than rapper. Over a booming beat by The Inkredibles, Ross rapped for four straight minutes, tracing his come-up from part-time roofer to being in suites eating crab meats, displaying a depth and level of artistry he had never shown before. It was the track on which Ross' dual identities became one: William Leonard Roberts played the Miami kingpin Rick Ross in public, but now he really was one, too, flipping his middle finger and chilling on $20 million.

It's easy, maybe, to forget how pointed that line at 50 really was. Imagine the ego and self-assurance it would take as an ex-corrections officer passing himself off as a drug lord to tell a man who had been shot nine times that he was a "jealous, stupid motherfucker." Ross, clearly, felt untouchable, both in terms of his career and his life. It was, and still remains, an incredible leap of faith, but you hear it all throughout Deeper Than Rap. It's not his best album, but it's the one where the Ross character, powered by the deep confidence of the man behind the mask, really fully blooms.

"Mafia Music" is followed by "Maybach Music II," a track with Kanye West and Lil Wayne that truly sets this luxury yacht of an album on its way. Helmed by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, the song might be the most opulent in Ross' entire catalog, bringing the live bass and deep organs of Southern rap straight to the opera house. The album that follows feels similarly expansive and expensive, providing Ross, the man, with a perfectly untouchable sound for his character. If "synesthesia" is the condition that makes artists like Pharrell and Frank Ocean see colors when they hear music, then Deeper Than Rap created one that makes you feel fabrics: Egyptian cotton, silk, linen, and fur.

That we remember the sound of the record more than some individual songs is why Deeper Than Rap is not in the top slot, but the writing skill that would propel subsequent albums was first developed here. The MC that lords over this album is not the same one who rhymed "Atlantic" with "Atlantic." Compare that infamous nautical rhyme with one from this record's "Yacht Club": "Kill all the middle men like I'm the militant Gilligan/Speaking Creole with gentlemen as I cruise the Caribbean."

Still, the album ends as it begins, fixated on Ross' rival. On "Valley of Death" he again comes explicitly at 50, while also humanizing himself by admitting to his CO past as a means of feeding his family. The closer "In Cold Blood" is an elaborate and nasty murder fantasy ("Kids get grazed by my piss poor ways") in which Ross once again names names: "Got one over 50, 50 you better watch it." Coming off that line, the second verse could be read as a direct death threat: "Do him in cold blood/Look him in his eyes, may do him with no gloves." Later: "At my earliest convenience I'mma kill y'all."

Ross flips the last line of the song's hook each time to take a different dig at 50, but the last time he issues another warning. It's the final thing we hear on the record: "You know I'm toting the rocket, so don't make a nigga pop it." The legacy of Ross' ultimate victory is that he never even had to follow through. —Jordan Sargent

2. Rick Ross, Teflon Don (2010)

Label: Maybach Music Group, Def Jam Recordings, Slip-n-Slide Records
Producers: J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, The Inkredibles, No I.D., Kanye West, Clark Kent, The Remedy for F.A.T.E., LLC, Danja, Lex Luger, The Olympicks
Features: John Legend, Jay-Z, Cee-Lo Green, T.I., Jadakiss, Erykah Badu, Kanye West, Ne-Yo, Diddy, Trey Songz, Gucci Mane, Styles P, Chrisette Michele, Drake, Raphael Saadiq
Sales: 724,000

Legendary Gambino crime family figurehead John Gotti's improbable acquittal in a racketeering trial he was widely expected to lose in the mid-'80s earned him the nickname "The Teflon Don" around his native New York City. Like Teflon, chemical brand DuPont's famed nonstick polymer, none of Gotti's adversaries' attempts at bringing him down seemed to take. Rick Ross christening album four Teflon Don after coming out of an embattled 2008 and 2009 miraculously unscathed was both a thumbed nose for the haters and a celebration of his improbable dominance.

Teflon Don advanced the florid instrumentation and R&B textures of Deeper Than Rap on tracks like lead single and Albert Anastasia holdover "Super High," an N.W.A. sampling chipmunk soul jam pushed into the red by an impossibly smooth hook from Ne-Yo. (Check the outrageous video for that, where Ross heads up a biker gang that swipes a pre-Tea Party Stacey Dash from her boyfriend in the middle of the highway and parties in black leather at a roadside cafe, Wild One style.) "Aston Martin Music" transformed a washed out Drake b-side into radio gold on blissed out synths and an alley oop from soul singer Chrisette Michelle. "Maybach Music III" matched the previous two installments' finesse, pulling guests T.I. and Jadakiss into a yacht rap gala blessed by Erykah Badu on the chorus.

The album intersperses its slick bombast with a series of brutal trap numbers from opener "I'm Not a Star," an uncharacteristically rugged showing from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, to hellish Albert Anastasia anthems "MC Hammer" and "B.M.F. (Blowing Money Fast)," which employed Flockaveli architect Lex Luger's steel mill stomp, pushed Ross' gangster cosplay to the extreme, and ended up dominating the summer in the process. Teflon Don's bounce between the moneyed sheen of the radio joints and the grit of the Luger ones ensured the album stayed in rotation in the streets and in the sheets.

Deeper Than Rap was the career resurgence nobody saw coming, but something about Teflon Don's resounding success felt like a coronation. —Craig Jenkins

1. Rick Ross, Rich Forever (2012)

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