Ross released two albums last calendar year and both were the least successful of his career. Neither were radically different from his previous work and to be fair, Mastermind was the No. 1 album in the country at one time, but there was some point when rap fans seemed to stop checking for Ross like that.
The same gangster rapper who survived being doxxed as a correctional officer, making most of his on-record boasts unbelievably ridiculous, has had trouble staying relevant when he’s getting shot at by moving cars or allegedly kidnapping and pistol-whipping someone. Maybe Ross flooded the market with too much music—Mastermind and Hood Billionaire combined for nearly 40 songs and three hours–or maybe he’d just worn out his welcome.
Black Dollar was originally supposed to be a proper album, but ended up on the popular mixtape site Datpiff yesterday. It may follow the lead of fellow Southern rapper Future, who rose back to prominence after a disappointing sophomore album with an exciting run of mixtapes, or maybe Ross is just throwing spaghetti at the wall. Either way, there is some sticky-ass marinara here.
Rozay has never been a great rapper, despite often impersonating the Notorious B.I.G. and/or Jay Z, but he excels at what he does do well. Ross still raps like he’s lavishly describing his TV while channel surfing, jumping from tableau to tableau of diamonds, women, and colorful food. A lot of the lyrics are vague concepts tossed together, like “Whitey Bulger or a soldier leaving Vietnam” on “Money Dance.” He’s all over the place, dissing the drug trafficker he borrowed his name from or throwing shade at fans who objected to his “molly all in her champagne” bar.
The one exception is “We Gon Make It,” with its constant repetition of the title phrase and samples from the protests in Baltimore earlier this year following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. It’s complex with actual double entendres (“Throwing bricks at the man/We gon make it/Hope my son understands/We gon make it”) and deals with surrounding issues of poverty with nuance and optimism. It’s the closest Ross will ever get to making Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” Those topics aren’t confined to that one track, but nothing else is as focused and authentic.
Like any other Ross project, the beats are probably worth whatever rubies and doubloons he paid for them, drowning in piano trills and drums echoed through a canyon. There are a bunch of guests as per usual, but not many of them stick out past Ross’s belly. A number of them are R&B singers going up on the hook, but “Take Advantage” sounds more like a Future song with a Ross verse than the other way around. The-Dream and Anthony Hamilton bring some crucial soul to the record.
The recently embattled Philly rapper Meek Mill is on two songs with solid, disquieting verses. On “2 Shots,” in between Ross narrating a stripper’s life and calling himself the “black Bob Dylan,” there is an uncredited feature that sounds like a fake Drake and may or may not be Quentin Miller. “Beautiful Lie” with Wale seems to be about a woman either faking an orgasm or lying about her age, and “Bel Air” is an especially bald-faced attempt to recapture the opulence from Teflon Don. Black Dollar is not quite a return to form, whether that form be “Stay Schemin,” “B.M.F.,” or “Hustlin’.”
Lowering the bar he has to jump over with a mixtape rather than an album–especially with the relative flops of his last two–might help Ross regain some credibility. His record label Maybach Music Group has one of the most lopsided rosters in rap. There’s Wale and Meek Mill, who have sold hundreds of thousands of units for MMG, and then there’s Stalley and Gunplay, who can barely manage to go double driftwood.
If Ross is no longer a superstar rapper, the whole facade that no one cared about when it was identified as such may finally come crashing down. Even with a decent effort, lowered expectations, and a seeming willingness by fans to prop him back up, Rozay might still be falling off.
Screengrab via WORLDSTARHIPHOP/YouTube