After his first two records, Port of Miami (2006) and Trilla (2008), everyone knows what to expect from Ross: decent production, and the cookie-cutter braggadocio concerning cash, cocaine and females that’s all too common these days. If you’re looking for something different from him, this album will likely disappoint. To his credit, the Boss certainly shows improvement; his flow sounds more natural, and his distinguishable voice has always been a strong suit. His next step is to show versatility, which is sorely missing from this project - he displays the same rhyming pattern on nearly every track, and the subject matter is nothing new. Unfortunately, you might find yourself finding that you’ve heard enough after getting halfway through the album.
To Def Jam’s credit, they loaded this record with top-notch production and crooner accompaniment for many of the hooks, following a formula that they have perfected to date. Producers include the Justice League (4 tracks), The Inkredibles (2 tracks), The Runners (2 tracks), DJ Toomp, Drumma Boy, Bigg D and Chris “Tricky” Stewart, and hook guests include John Legend, The Dream, Ne-Yo, Robin Thicke and Avery Storm.
The flagship track is Maybach Music II, sporting finely tuned Justice League production, T-Pain on the hook, and Kanye and Weezy F each lending a verse of their own. The beat is anthem worthy, with carefully placed, accented percussion and a string/horn/synth combo that will keep this on your ipod throughout the summer. Kanye continues to go hard on guest spots after his 808 experiment, seemingly determined to show people that he’s still got the swagger and clever approach that put him in hip-hop’s elite. Ross’ lyrics are serviceable, as he doesn’t fall too far behind Kanye with his performance. Of course, Wayne closes out the track, and rightfully so. His wit is undeniable, as his trademark wordplay puts this track among the singles of the year. Check out this sample:
“All black Maybach, I’m sittin in the asshole / classy as a mother, still gutter like a bad bowl / Benjamin Franklin on X how that cash roll…Sweet as banana split every time I peel through / fresher than Will Smith and Uncle Phil too…”
Although he’s experimenting with rock these days, Wayne can still murder in a way few can.
A second certified banger is Usual Suspects, an Inkredibles track featuring Nas that rivals Maybach Music II for the album‘s best. This could be a summer anthem in it‘s own right; voice tone basis with distinguished strings and synth accents, along with percussion that fittingly ties everything together. The catchy hook features Kevin Cossom - who doesn’t disappoint - although I can’t help but think that Akon would have shut the studio down on this one. Nevertheless, the rags-to-riches, “you know its us” subject matter is inspiring, and Nas sends this over the top with his classic flow.
A few tracks make for good additions, including three more Justice League contributions: Yacht Club, which features a slower, piano-based melody and a horn-infused hook (enhanced by Magazeen’s rasta flavor); Magnificent, showcasing raindrop keys, driving percussion, and a John Legend hook that holds it together; and Rich off Cocaine, featuring a smooth soul sample with strings and keys, a west coast synth line, and Avery Storm filling out the hook.
The rest of the album serves as filler, although one would expect more from the likes of DJ Toomp, The Runners and Drumma Boy. The biggest let down may be the Tricky Stewart-produced All I Really Want, which features one of the most sought-after up and comers of the day, The Dream. While The Dream and Stewart have done big things in the past, All I Really Want ultimately falls short, as the beat sounds over-produced with an ill-fitting bass line. What keeps this track afloat is the hook, which is good on its own terms. Rather than serving as an accent to good material, though, it simply makes you wonder what could have been.
Overall, this is a record that will see rotation, although front-loaded with it’s best material. As some may have expected, the production carries this album only so far, and Ross slightly improves on what we already knew he was capable of. In short, Deeper Than Rap is a tiny step in the right direction for Ross, but it’s not the big step that many artists of his stature have made by the third album.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Rick Ross ft. Kanye West, T-Pain, Lil Wayne-”Maybach Music 2″