Unsurprisingly, I'm not the biggest fan of Officer Rick Ross. I admit to only really being familiar with the songs that appear on the radio, but have you listened to the radio lately? This motherfucker (and his Jessica Gomes-recited "Maybach Music" tag) appears on every third song, approaching Lil Wayne-levels of overexposure for himself and his brand. I also don't appreciate how some folks in the media have classified him as the second coming of The Notorious B.I.G. (almost certainly because he's overweight and he happens to rap) when the two men share nothing in common (well, save for an association with Sean "Puffy" Combs, who either used to or currently manages Rozay, I'm not sure).
So it is with great trepidation that I'm listening to Ricky's Def Jam debut, Port Of Miami, today. Upon its release six years ago, it hit the top of the Billboard charts, and Ross hasn't looked back since. (Not bad for an album that was retooled after Ricky shifted from Slip-N-Slide Records, home of Trick Daddy and Trina, a rapper I'm sure you two would rather look at on the blog (please note that I said "look at" and not "listen to"), to The House That Russell Built, but I may or may not dive more into that in the future, depending on how this post goes.) His gruff voice and repetitive ad-libs have gotten him far in our chosen genre, but it's still debatable whether or not the man deserves all of the love he currently gets. As such, I accept the challenge that a few of the readers have thrown down (I'm making this sound too dramatic: all I received were requests to throw some Rick Ross on the blog, just because they wanted to know what I thought of him).
And yes, I realize that, by posting this write-up of Port Of Miami, I'm pretty much leaving myself open to attacks in the vein of "Wait, you'll write about Rick fucking Ross, but you won't write about (insert favorite artist or group here)?" I accept that. Everything happens for a reason. Or it doesn't, I don't know.
And we're off, apparently.
2. PUSH IT
Richard wastes no time on Port Of Miami, as he immediately hits the slopes to practice for the big downhill ski race that takes place next Saturday, where he hopes to win his way into the heart and pants of his ex-girlfriend Debbie Baxter, who dumped him at the beginning of this movie to go out with Blaine, the best freestyle skier in school. At least that's what the J.R. Rotem beat wanted me to believe: “Push It”, even with its Paul Engemann “Scarface (Push It To The Limit)” sample, is really just Ricky's premature claim to hip hop dominance. Ironically, Rick Ross really is one of the biggest acts in rap right now, but the dude you hear on the radio, with his materialistic coke raps, sounds almost nothing like this asshole and his materialistic coke raps. I love cheesy 1980s shit, though, so I can't be completely mad at this song. Now is you'll excuse me, my friends and I have a rec center to rebuild and a skating rink to save.
3. BLOW (FEAT. DRE)
Recording a cover of a Ke$ha song four years before she even records it? This motherfucker must be a wizard! Which is what I would write has Richard been clairvoyant enough to pull that off, but alas, he must have thought the task to be impossible (wuss), since his version of “Blow” is just some bullshit coke rap produced by Cool & Dre (the latter of which even performs on the hook) that fails to connect on many levels. Rappers frequently live beyond their means and talk about a lifestyle that they in no way live themselves, but in the case of Rick Ross, the guy wasn't even popular when Port Of Miami dropped, so I imagine his chosen focal points of money and bitches probably alienated some folks. Oh, the song? Terrible. But you knew that already.
Literally the only song from Port Of Miami I ever remember hearing on the radio, and it still doesn't seem right to me, since I always thought the song was called “Everyday I'm Hustlin'”. A petty complaint, sure, but fuck it. The Runners's production slid onto radio playlists seamlessly back in 2006, and it really isn't that bad, honestly. My biggest problem with this track is Ross himself, but not because of some sort of preconceived bias I know you two will accuse me of later: the dude simply doesn't sound confident enough to carry a song such as this successfully. That tends to happen when you come right out of the gate talking about how profitable your illegal business ventures are. Still, this could have been worse: there's a reason why this was chosen to be remixed (more on that later).
5. CROSS THAT LINE (FEAT. AKON)
On which Richard (and guest star Akon, whose hook is so Akon that he may as well Akon the shit out of it) dares the listener to “Cross That Line” and meet his true self, someone who will apparently murder you for the thinnest of reasons. Curiously, I feel that only the Ross of Port Of Miami could pull an act like that off: the Rick Ross of today comes across more as a crime boss that refuses to get his hands dirty, leaving this kind of shit to his peons, so that's a compliment to his business acumen, I suppose. His lyrics on here aren't very good, though: it sounds like he's forcing himself to be Florida's answer to the Biggie Smalls question that nobody ever asked.
6. I'M BAD
This was somehow both completely stupid and the most entertaining song on Port Of Miami thus far, thanks to the K. Luck production that was catchy as hell and really deserved a better collaborator. Richard rides the beat admirably with his monotone and one-track mind, but for whatever reason (I'm going to be mean and go with “lack of exercise and proper nutrition”), he doesn't have the energy level needed to pull this out at the last minute. Also, his hook sucked. Still, I wouldn't mind this beat in the background of me cleaning my kitchen or something: it certainly would make that chore more exciting.
Because things worked out so goddamn well on “Blow”, Richard brings back Cool & Dre's Dre to perform on yet another rap song with a four-letter title beginning with “b”. Consistency isn't a hobby of Ricky's: hell, even his invited guest pronounces the word “boss” at least two different ways during the hook. How the fuck does that happen? To their credit, Cool & Dre give Richard a slightly less accessible instrumental, and our host talks his shit to the best of his ability, even though he sounds more like Kelsey Grammar than Tony Montana on here. Am I really still listening to this song?
8. FOR DA LOW
Aside from “I'm Bad”, I'm failing to hear these allegedly awesome beats that Rick Ross is supposed to be so good at selecting for himself. Obviously, the man must have developed his ear for instrumentals after having already recorded Port Of Miami, which isn't surprising. “For Da Low” was apparently completed back when producer Jazze Pha was still a thing, which he is most certainly not today, and probably coincidentally but not really, the track sounds instantly dated: you may be in the same position I'm in right now, never having heard a lick of Port Of Miami until today, and you'll still be convinced that you've already seen this episode. Never a good thing.
9. WHERE MY MONEY (I NEED THAT)
Follows the same sonic blueprint as “Hustlin'”, all the way down to the use of a chopped-up vocal sample as the hook (which isn't surprising, since both “Hustlin'” and this track were produced by The Runners), although Richard makes the curious decision to go after Ludacris's flow (SPOILER ALERT: he fails). The beat isn't quite as compelling as the one from the earlier effort, and I'm starting to get the feeling that Ricky deliberately chose to bombard the audience with materialistic tales and shit in the hope that, eventually, he would just wear you down and you would start to agree with him just to shut his ass up. Because all of the songs on Port Of Miami sound exactly the fucking same so far.
10. GET AWAY (FEAT. MARIO WINANS)
Kudos for the restraint on Ricky's part: he waited ten tracks deep into Port Of Miami to unleash a track with a blatant R&B hook (Akon doesn't really count, since I already forgot he appeared on this project). Said hook, by the way, was way overperformed by Mario Winans. By itself, this song isn't an awful idea: The Notorious B.I.G. Did this kind of thing often. But there isn't anything engaging about the beat, and “Get Away” ultimately sounds as though it were written by committee in order to ascertain the absolute best way to gain the female audience's trust (and to get them to drop those panties, of course). Overall, this song was bleh, and the homage to Nice and Smooth's “Sometimes I Rhyme Slow” (which happens twice on here. Twice!) is fairly blasphemous by design, but at least we're now much closer to the type of rapper Rick Ross wanted to be when he grew up.
11. HIT U FROM E BACK (FEAT. RODNEY)
This has to be a joke, right? There's no way that any woman on Earth would find “Hit U From The Back” enticing in any way. Not even the women who vote Republican regardless of the fact that Republicans absolutely don't believe that women should have the right to control their own bodies are that fucking stupid. This was just (insert confused look here).
12. WHITE HOUSE
Yeah, I got nothing.
13. POTS AND PANS (FEAT. JROCK)
The cooking motif continues on “Pots and Pans”, which takes coke rap to its natural conclusion, one which distills that particular criminal lifestyle into the basic act of actually preparing said product, which is far less appealing. At least when Ross does it. Our host doesn't really bother talking about this boring shit; he leave that for guest crooner (and producer) JRock On the hook, who sounds terrible, but seriously, what the fuck else was he supposed to do with this shit? The instrumental is a precursor for the yacht rap Ricky is better known for today, but nothing on “Pots and Pans” would lead listeners to believe that all of this shit is actually leading somewhere: he sounds so disinterested in his own process that he may as well be falling asleep in the booth and dreaming of Jay-Z's life.
14. IT'S MY TIME (FEAT. LYFE JENNINGS)
The Lyfe Jennings chorus, optimistic as all hell, contrasts violently with Ricky's dark tales of his supposed early life as a major drug distributor. To be fair, Rozay uses “It's My Time” to take advantage of all of the opportunities that rap music has afforded him, one of which is actually getting out of the game as soon as possible, and another of which is somehow convincing Lyfe Jennings to sing a hook on his debut album. His lyrics on here aren't awful (I know, right?), but this Runners beat substitutes instrumentals for joy, and the result is less than fetching.
15. STREET LIFE (FEAT. LLOYD)
I can't be the only person who finds it impossible to take guest crooner Lloyd seriously, right? His voice always threatens to unmask him as a fraud, as his singing (usually about women, from the little I've heard, but on “Street Life” he expands his worldview by adding money and cars into the mix) acts in direct contrast to the subject matter. In short: we don't believe you, you need more people. Rozay expresses himself just fine on this Big Reese and Jasper Cameron-produced synth-y concoction, but it was difficult for me to move beyond the chorus. Which probably means “Street Life” is one of your favoritest Rick Ross songs ever, and I'm just a dick. Because it's like that sometimes.
16. HUSTLIN' (REMIX) (FEAT. JAY-Z & YOUNG JEEZY)
Weirdly, this song wasn't saved to be a bonus track, as something like this normally would be. Given the fact that the original “Hustlin'” was the only song I had heard off of Port Of Miami that featured a beat that other rappers would have actually wanted to jump on to, I'd say that this remix was a foregone conclusion even before Ricky was finished recording the original version. The Runners beat remains the same, but at least our host delivers a new verse, and a post-”retirement” Jay-Z (as evidenced by his reference to his own “99 Problems” from The Black Album) proves that he was at least familiar with Richard's work by adopting a flow similar to his. Young Jeezy is the wild card, gamely sticking to his own script instead of conforming, and although the overall subject matter prevents the remix from breaking certain boundaries, it still manages to be the best song on Port Of Miami by far, probably just based on the guest list alone. Sorry, Lloyd.
17. IT AIN'T A PROBLEM (FEAT. TRIPLE C'S)
His career today doesn't really mesh with the following concept, but here is something I just learned right now about Rick Ross: he's a part of a group called the Triple C's (a clever way of saying Carol City Cartel, names after Ross's hometown), alongside Torch, Young Breed, and the currently-legally-troubled Gunplay. This is just a standard posse cut with no clear theme aside from “Don't fuck with us”, but for what it was, it wasn't terrible, and everyone along with our host, come across as competent-enough rappers, although it's kind of hard to tell them apart aside from our host. The J. Venom beat was fairly generic, but otherwise, I didn't really find much to complain about on here.
18. I'M A G (FEAT. LIL WAYNE & BRISCO)
Fuck, is this album still playing? Rozay comes through with a Lil Wayne collaboration (one that also features Brisco, but who cares) that is every bit as insipid as that description makes it sound. “I'm A G”? Clearly rappers have run out of words to create song titles and.or themes with. None of these guys sound remotely threatening, and even if they did, the reader should be reminded of Lil' Weezy's “Real G's move in silence” line from “6 Foot 7 Foot”. So which is it, Wayne? Are you a real G or not? Inquiring minds have better shit to do but would still like to know.
Unlike DMX, Rick Ross doesn't actually pray on “Prayer”; instead, he uses the JRock instrumental to justify his place in the rap game while thanking his God everyday that he somehow managed to secure that Def Jam record deal that led us to this point. The beat wasn't bad, and this is the most clarity Rozay has managed to offer on Portof Miami, but at this point, nineteen tracks later, I'm just too exhausted to give a mother fuck.
THE LAST WORD: Rick Ross's Port of Miami is an overstuffed project in the vein of DMX's debut, except Ricky hardly ever changes his subject matter, which makes it very easy to grow tired of the guy about halfway through the album. I found it interesting that his delivery has changed somewhat from what appears on here leading up to today, but he's still the same guy, and apparently he's been all over this coke rap shit since the very beginning. Lyric-wise, he sucks. Period. On some tracks he's just able to mask it better than on others, but he isn't very good at writing, or at least he wasn't back when he was recording Port Of Miami. Musically, the album is also fairly shit; I see absolutely no evidence of Ricky's great ear for beats when the majority of these tracks sound interchangeable. Port Of Miami suffers from having been recorded by an artist who might have truly believed that this was his only shot in the game, as Ross has packed it full of every single idea that he has ever had, convinced that he would never get another chance to tell his story; however, he apparently only had multiple variations on the exact same idea (I'm a drug dealer, I'll fuck you up after spending some of this money), which leaves Port Of Miami feeling more than a little bit hollow. A very inauspicious start to a highly successful career: I assume Ross doesn't even bother acknowledging that this album even exists today. But hey, we all have to start somewhere.