I found out all I needed to know about Rick Ross back in 2009. John Legend was performing at the Garden. They had a couple hits together at the time and when you do the Garden, you gotta have a surprise or two. A mile south, Rakim was at the Highline Ballroom with U-God as the opening act. Place holds MAYBE a thousand people and Rakim is no longer the sublime talent he once was. Rick Ross left the John Legend show to come see Rakim like a fan, and I mean that in rhe realesdt possible sense. No entourage or security, rocking a white tee and a chain, Bauce got on stage and did a couple songs off the rip. They don’t share labels or alliances. Ross did it for the love of this music.He’s come a long way since appearing as Teflon on the Eric Onassis album. A long way from flipping phrases in a basketball jersey with Trina. Along the way he picked up his “Bauce” persona and never looked back. This isn’t unprecedented in Hip-Hop by any means. As hard as Trigger Treach is, Naughty By Nature began as the colorful group, The New Style with flat tops and pola dots. That doesn’t detract from their rich legacy. We all know Dr. Dre’s World Class Wrecking Crew pedigree, but that didin’t stop him from becoming a gangsta rap architect. Nicki Minaj was tough-rapping in a pissy staircase with a bad weave and a cheap purse and now she’s a big pop star. Less known is Young Jeezy’s transformation from backwards cap rocking rapper Lil Jay to the Snowman, but again these things happen in entertainment.
So we come back to Rick Ross. His dedication to his craft cannot be questioned; his music cannot be impeached fairly. There’s the rub; how can we be drawn into his world when we know it’s all made up? At least that’s what his detractors say. Rap music has always been about projection and image. Ice Cube terrorized America with the imagery created by his music and he was studying to be an architect. The only actual gangster on that whole team was the one everyone took for a joke. (R.I.P. Eazy). The myriad kingpin stories thrown around, even by the greatest rappers, are all make believe, but for whatever reason, people don’t want to accept Rick Ross.
Here’s the thing. Last Friday, at 3:05 PM, Rick Ross dropped the greatest Trap Album of all time, and one of the best mixtapes period with the release of Rich Forever. That it came this late in his career is even more astounding; that the fire in his belly is enough to power something this good, even though it doesn’t even count. People who lived in the first two Golden Eras always have stories to connect to their classics and they have a tactile advantage over today because back then, the “gods” actually walked the earth. The mythic aspect of this culture wasn’t destroyed by camera phones and Twitter. Half the power of a classic record, before you can even get to the music, is the aura surrounding the release. Anyone can tell you their Illmatic story from back then. Doggystyle was colored by the anticipation and a freaking murder trial. The hysteria behind Tupac’s All Eyez On Me eclipse the fact that half the album is weak.
Classics are powered more by the story than the music and for the first time, this generation post GRODT has something that they can attest to down to the minute. Ross could have shat on T.I., Gotti and Raekwon and pulled that New Year’s release. It would have crushed them badly. He mentions the Concorde fiasco so I don’t know if this was ready when Jeezy dropped, but he could have done some damage in the wake of the release if he wanted. Two seizures, a simmering beef, a highly anticipated album, a movement in progress and Rick Ross dropped a bomb on us. When it dropped, on a Friday, mid-afternoon on some biblical shit, with a nod to where he reps, it crashed multiple websites and took in over a million downloads in two days. You not only know what day it dropped and what you were doing, you know the MINUTE it dropped.
In the aftermath, you still have the same talk. Officer Ricky. It’s aight, but it’s fake; it’s made up. But that’s when you know it’s dope, when all the detractors are talking shit about everything BUT the music. Tune in to part 2, when we break down musically why Rich Forever passes muster.
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