You can understand a lot about Rick Ross by listening to “Sixteen,” the fifth track on God Forgives, I Don’t. First, a sax solo that evokes Kenny G lounging on a bearskin rug. Then Andre 3000’s slithery chorus. Then Ross wondering to himself, “How the fuck can I squeeze my whole life into a 16 bar verse?” Most musicians deal with a host of synesthetic concerns in their musicianship: pitch, texture, volume, emotion, density. For Ross, the only thing that matters is size. Not just size: largeness. Rick Ross’s life is too large to squeeze onto 16 bars, his wealth is too vast, his women are too sexy, his idea of luxury is too lavish. He doesn’t just wake up, he wakes up to turkey bacon, probably presented to him on a gold plate by a beautiful woman in a fur bikini.
Many times throughout God Forgives, Rick Ross talks about the streets, selling cocaine, doing criminal deeds. But we all know the jig is up. He isn’t “affiliated with wealth,” as he obliquely describes it on “Pirates,” because he sold drugs as a young man — he’s a rapper whose honeybear bass voice, big beats and uncomplicated flow attract a ton of listeners willing to fork over cash to hear his music and own the products he endorses. GQ writer Devin Friedman got it right when he wrote, “[Ross] may be the streetest dude out there…but talking about it just ruins the vibe Ross has created.” Never do the streets appear so figurative as when Rick Ross chooses to rap about them.
When Ross breaks character as the Boss/the Don/Ricky Rozay, it’s to engage in the roleplay of being broke, tough, and ready to hustle, as he does on “Hold Me Back.” That performance, delivered in a wheezing bark (“I look in my fridge/My shit looking scarce”) almost seems credible against the background of panic attack synths. But people want happy Ross, ooey-gooey Ross, the Ross who sits back and smokes his weed and counts his millions. 2012 has been another rough year for the economy, but Rozay’s relentless financial positivity can still apply to folks who don’t have $25 mil in their bank accounts. After all, this is a man who, on “Maybach Music IV,” brags that he can “get a blow job, have a seizure on a Leer,” as if both events are routine and desirable. The power of positive thinking—making medical emergencies seem like part of a luxurious lifestyle.
Elsewhere Ross flexes his Maybach Music muscles, letting Meek Mill, Wale, Drake and Usher (among others) in on his fun. “Diced Pineapples” is a gross sex ballad about buying a Lexus with cash in exchange for trysts with a young woman whose “pussy is excellent.” “3 Kings” has Ross trading verses with Jay-Z and Dr. Dre over a soul beat almost bombastic enough to match the three kings themselves. Dre’s mantra? “You should listen to this beat through my headphones.” For Rick Ross and his crew, there is no difference between a song and a product. Every piece of music he records is so enmeshed with the idea of buying, selling, endorsing and owning that it’s difficult not to think of one’s album purchase as a direct deposit toward Ross’s lifestyle: a tiny bit of gold for a grill, maybe, or at least an order of that turkey bacon for breakfast.
God Forgives, I Don’t is slick, large, and sounds like wealth. Each cymbal downbeat on “Sixteen” may as well be a cash register ka-ching. Ross has upped the complexity of his lyrics and the musicality of his beats with every new record. The only way to truly hate this album is to truly hate capitalism, and even then, one could transmute Rick Ross’s love of making money into the sheer joy of his consumption. Don’t we all love to consume? On “Amsterdam,” a track that celebrates the finer points of Dutch culture, Ross raps that he just wants a “slice of cheesecake before my niggas all deceased.” Maybe he’s speaking metaphorically, “cheesecake” being money and power and fancy things. But I’d like to think he’s rapping about actual cheesecake.