Album Review: Rick Ross – Teflon Don

[Maybach Music Group / Def Jam; 2010]

The fact that people take Rick Ross seriously probably says as much as anything about what’s wrong with hip hop. It’s not so much that his past was exposed as being fake; it’s the way he’s carried on after. In the current state of rap, having a “gangsta” past doesn’t really matter anymore. Please understand me: it shouldn’t. After the whole Fiddy disaster, I thought, “He should just make an album dealing with his actual history and just say fuck you all.” Instead he lashed out and a pretty lame beef followed. Why does he feel the need to defend his nonexistent life? With guys like Asher Roth and Drake around, what does it matter? The problem with Rick Ross isn’t that he wasn’t a hardcore thug; it’s that he felt the need to say he was and the fact the carries on with his cartoonish image. When Ross threw in his chips with Diddy and his ilk, Puff made a bunch of people angry by comparing Ross to Biggie. Simple truth is that Fat Joe is a more accurate comparison, both are big guys with embarrassing flows and a penchant for bad chart-ready songs (“Lean Back” vs. “Hustlin’,” same lame shit). Only difference is Ross still has big names backing him, while Joe’s flame began simmering out years ago.

When I sat down to write up Teflon Don, I was ready to rip Rick Ross a new one. Yet, after a second listen, I had to begrudgingly admit – this isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s all pretty smooth, catchy, and enjoyable. Yet, little of this is due to Ross. The album is 11 tracks long, yet another bite size rap record (is this the new trend? Will the over-long rap record become a thing of the past?), and at least one guest is present on every single track except the first. Ross has moved into the Def Jam house, and he gets the full treatment – were hip hop a movie, this would be an A-list casted film through and through. The production is also noteworthy, easily the album’s greatest asset.

Whether you adore or despise Ross, you should be able to listen to this record and have a decent enough time. Yet, when did this become the standard for a rap classic? I began to write this review a week behind the majority of the press, and got a rare opportunity to see the general reaction before coming to my own. The essentially universal praise that this record is receiving has put me in my place. The majority of the critical community has abandoned any standards created by records of the past, and seems to be judging hip hop only against albums released in the last few years. By those, I suppose this is quite an album. Yet, I cannot believe people consider this good music.

The record is pretty much crafted with the recipe for the standard “big” rap record. Ross seems to have spent plenty of time listening to B.I.G., “The Purple Tape,” and the like and contemplated how to mimic their every move, retread track after retread. Teflon Don can pretty much serve as a rubric for a hack gangsta album; each and every song tries to be something already created rather than trying a single idea not already tested. It’s got the epic feel, and Ricky deals with the most standard rapper issues possible (he’s really cool, women like him, and he gets high…that’s pretty much it). Guesting are Hova, T.I., Ye, Ne-Yo, Trey Songz, Diddy, Gucci, and Drake, among others. Yes, I felt the need to go through all of them. It perfectly illustrates my point – could there be a more obvious list of talent current and past? With guests that eye-grabbing, Ross likely doesn’t even have to do anything himself to sell records. Looking at the track list and its guests prior to listening one may wonder as to whether Ross himself even raps on the record. Maybe that’s how Ross is avoiding talking about his fabrications, I thought – by not spitting at all.

Sadly, that’s not the case. Ross has always been more of a slow talker than a rapper, putting on his tough voice and practically lecturing the listener. Somewhere along the road this somehow got recognized as a flow. On Teflon Don he’s, uh, perfected his craft. The guy should get hired as a reader for novelists premiering their work. On the introductory track, “I’m Not a Star,” Ross basically lists reasons that he is. From there the record doesn’t really go anywhere; it just stands still, never taking the listener backwards and never forward either. He and Jay-Z (still on his BP III slump it seems) bore on “Free Mason,” Ross repeating, “I’ll go to the grave before I be a bitch nigga” (sigh), and Hova self-importantly dealing with those pesky Illuminati rumors. Ross also continues his tradition with rhyming the same word over, and over, and over, namedropping JFK three times in a row on the aforementioned track. Next up is “Tears of Joy” on which Ross puts on his hip hop savior and Cee-Lo guests. Following this is one of the record’s strongest tracks “Maybach Music III,” which offers up a superb T.I. and Erykah Badu (Jadakiss still bores, don’t hold your breath on that classic) to breathe some life into this carcass of commercial-obsessed rap. Following is “Live Fast, Die Young” which has been floating on the internets for some time now: its got a catchy-as-hell West beat and is one of the album’s more enjoyable affairs. The track also serves as a bit of a return party for Ye, which makes it worth the listen. From there the album progresses exactly as one would expect, there’s the silly Ne-Yo single, a poor Diddy feature (someone else who just needs to stop rapping), “MC Hammer” on which Ross fittingly collaborates with the awful Gucci, and so on. As for Drake’s appearance, fans will be disappointed, he only choruses it. His appearance is odd – not even speaking as a hater – he’s one of two choruses on the song, and his bit feels pasted right out of one of his own songs. Honestly, it clearly seems a last minute addition to cash in on the popularity of the Young Money star.

While this record’s fantastic production and support made for a decent listen, chances are that I will never return to this record once I wrap up this review. The simple fact is: Rick Ross cannot rap. His flow is simply embarrassing. Even attempting to disregard Officer Ricky’s past, one can’t help but chuckle when he talks about parole officers. This album is a testament to the attention you’ll receive if you can pull in the dollars. The best description I can possibly think of regarding this record is the most talent ever pumped into nothing. The production crew and guests involved in this record could have produced a decent rap record with just about anyone, I don’t care if you put Pauly Shore with these guests and over these beats, and it’d still be listenable. Yet Ricky is a black hole: he sucks all the potential quality right out of this album. One can only imagine how fantastic this record would have been had an MC with an ounce of talent been chosen to grace these cuts (hey, with any luck Weezy will throw some of these beats on No Ceilings 2 when he’s out of the joint). Ross does have reason to gloat; he’s kicked up at his desk with people making his records for him.