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Rick Ross, “God Forgives, I Don’t”—Album Review

The Island Def Jam Group (2012)

While God Forgives, I Don’t, the fifth studio album from Miami-based rapper Rick Ross, remains faithful to many of the Teflon Don’s established themes, the LP distinguishes itself from his past work by taking the unlikely pillars of anger and decadence (musical, rather than lyrical) as its architectural basis.

Teflon Don, Ross’s critically lauded fourth album, met with widespread success by perfecting a formula championed by the MC throughout his career. Ross cruised through that album like a low-riding BMW, pausing to illuminate (in his Cookie Monster baritone) a drug kingpin fantasy that was shallow, ridiculous and utterly compelling. By focusing relentlessly on his ability to buy cars in pairs, pour champagne like water and spend money like he was printing it, Ross created a soundtrack to the affected swagger of all the US’s would-be dons, tycoons and “bawses.”

God Forgives, arriving two years after Teflon Don, maintains Ross’s thug life booster-ism, but takes aggravated standoffishness as its rhetorical mode, rather than hard-won celebration.

On “Hold Me Back,” “Sophisticated” and “Triple Beam Dreams,” Ross mixes boasts about imported fabrics and his domestic “fortress” with threats to the personal safety and sexual supremacy of his rivals. In a particularly cringe inducing lyric from “Maybach Music IV,” he suggests that his enemies “get abused like boys at Penn State.”

The beats from which Ross constructs the album seem to have earned their inclusion by dint of how successfully they affect a faux-epic scale. Early in the proceedings, this strategy chalks up some wins with the soul inflections of “Ashamed” and the brass-based swagger of “Pirates,” but by the time the sizable LP reaches its seventeenth track, overindulgence in this technique has left it barren.

Ross’s insistence on maximalism extends to the album’s lyrical constituent as well. As his own shtick begins to overextend itself, he calls on a host of thirteen guest MCs—such luminaries as Jay-Z, Usher and Andre 3000 among them—to provide variations in tone. On past albums, Ross has employed a similar technique, and his talent for realizing the limits of his own appeal forms one his greatest strengths as a performer. However, God Forgives lacks precision, instead proffering a rare lapse in Ross’s normally exemplary editorial instinct.

Ross didn’t climb to the top of the modern hip-hop world by chance, and God Forgives provides plenty of examples of the talent that brought him to his current renown. “Pirates” offers some quintessential Rozay swagger and “Diced Pineapples” gets solid mileage out of its Drake/Wale/Ross admixture.

It’s in the doldrums that God Forgives falls from the status of “classic” into the realm of “decent”—an unfortunate lapse for Ross, but, in the long term, probably one that his fans will find it in their hearts to forgive.


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About the Author

on MUSIC IS MY OXYGEN WEEKLY.

Shane Danaher's affection for pop music has peppered his adult life with a variety of aesthetically rewarding and financially disastrous decisions. After moving to Portland, Oregon for college (because that's where he heard Modest Mouse was from) Shane has wound up participating in the music world in roles ranging from 'drummer' to 'promoter' to 'bathroom floor scrubber.' He has toured without money, written about almost every band ever to have come out of the Pacific Northwest, and one time traveled all the way to Los Angeles just to see a catch hip-hop show. He currently resides in Portland, where he writes about hip-hop, pop and rock music for a variety of publications. He still plays drums. He wants to meet Kanye West.

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