A few months ago, when reviewing Rise to Power, I sort of sheepishly copped to a Rick Ross infatuation. I was a reluctant apologist then, suckered in by those shiny hooks. But Trilla, Ross’s proper sophomore album, has pushed me, for better or for worse, far deeper into a full-fledged Rick Ross appreciation. It’s not a guilty pleasure if you can justify it, right?
It boils down to two primary facts: the pricy production and Ross’s deep-seated acceptance of his own limitations. First, the budget: Okay, so maybe even Ross knows he’d drown without beats this buoyant. But who cares? 50 Cent is infamous for skimping with unproven producers tasked with recreating the sounds of their superiors on the cheap. Ross is opening up the coffers, and for that he should be applauded. Mannie Fresh’s marching strings on "All I Have in This World," J.R. Rotem’s swooping "oohwoohoo"s on "Boss," the Runners’ massive synths on "Speedin’." Sleek, jaunty, perfectly manicured; party music as done by automatons.
Second, Ross’s restraint. Admittedly, the emcee wastes no time embarrassing himself: "All I Have in the World," the album’s second track, finds Ross "sipping on the Remy, outside of the club/ got me tripping like I was Remy, outside of the club." I wouldn’t want to be the one charged with explaining to Ricky that rhyming a rapper’s name with the product she named herself after is, you know, not clever. But the whole Rick Ross persona is sort of like a precocious eighth-grader commendably performing the role of jolly radio rapper in the school play: When he pulls it off, it’s admirable; when he falters, it’s endearing. Ultimately, that blocky, stodgy flow — "Ceasar’s salad, Ceasar’s Palace/ You ain’t a boss, little nigga, cause your cheese is average" — becomes a warm comfort, like a worn pair of sweatpants. Knowing where Ross is going far before he ever gets there is reassuring.
Honestly, I couldn’t tell you if Ross is being intentionally funny with a line like, "Got a dead-beat dad, but he far from dead/ He never knew chocolate milk make you fart real bad." But it’s all bits and pieces of his clumsy charm. That couplet comes over the album closer, "I’m Only Human," a warm, reflective track. Ross kind of flashes his range here a little bit, going from the silly asides to expressing something more heartfelt. Forgetting his failed father for a moment, he pays tribute to his exceptional mother instead, the woman who worked three jobs in order to raise him on her own. He estimably salutes her: She "never flew on a plane till my LP dropped/ so I told her once a week that her ears gon’ pop." Clunky, overblown, and decidedly Ross.