Ross might be richer than he’s ever been, but he’s also as uninspired as he’s ever been on his latest.
It’s unclear what exactly drives Rick Ross to continue releasing albums. Nevertheless, here we are with another — his 11th(!) — the self-proclaimed Boss holding fast to a strict every-other-year output, sneaking this latest out during the closing days of 2021. A revealingly titled project, Richer Than I Ever Been is a victory lap type album for a career that’s largely just been that for several years now, though it’s becoming harder and harder to parse what’s even being celebrated at this point. Admittedly, this has always been the dynamic informing the Rossian persona to some degree or another, but its pleasures seem to dull with each passing album, Rozay increasingly unable to locate what originally made him such a thrilling performer.
Which isn’t to say that Ross’ technical prowess has diminished by any means, and Richer Than I Ever Been is at least a reminder that the Miami rapper/pretend kingpin is a skillful MC and a considerable headlining presence, but the songs here otherwise characterize him as disinterested and uninspired. Kicking off with a classic Ross stunt in the vein of the account balance sample on Mastermind or the Chris Rock adlibs on Rather You Than Me, opening track “Little Havana” trots out former cocaine magnate Willy Falcon to deliver a monologue thanking the artist for keeping his legacy alive by making reference to him in his music (and for that reason only!). Setting the tone for what’s to follow, the rest of “Little Havana” finds Ross buckling in for the usual ride, rattling off indicators of his hyperbolic wealth while occasionally pausing to reflect on the hardships that forged him and the friends who didn’t make it, The Dream casting his eight behind the song’s more melancholy undertones with a verse fixated on the existential dreadfulness of Kobe Bryant’s untimely death. Not far off from the mode he was in on Drake’s “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” last year, it seems that the mega-rich Ross has reached a point in his life where he is inclined toward introspection but remains very much confined to the world of the material, his best stabs at profundity arriving in the form of goofy lifestyle coachisms (“You gotta learn to use your mind / To help keep you out of certain situations”) that, while charming, don’t really mean anything. Not such an issue normally, but Richer Than I Ever Been attempts to circle back to weightier material time and again, most dubiously on the politically charged “Marathon” where Ross initially appears to be asking for violent revolution against the state before prescribing a contradictory brand of selfish individualism.
Similarly, the title track and “Hella Smoke” (which close out the album in that order) attempt to reassure the audience in the midst of tumultuous times, yet they more readily end up reminding us of the wildly different world this artist and unwelcome guest Wiz Khalifa (on the latter track, naturally) live in. Complaining about the hypocrisies of pop music decadence is, of course, a largely needless crusade to take up, especially in the context of an artistic pesona that so passionately embraces outsized fantasy, but Ross himself reads as unconvinced at this point, and his collaborators follow suit, not a fresh beat or feature in the bunch (most disappointingly the Jazmine Sullivan/21 Savage-featuring “Outlawz”, a totally okay song with production from Carnage, AraabMUZIK, and Infamous that somehow manages to eschew all of their personalities). Richer Than I Ever Been is perhaps an apt description of current-day Rick Ross, whose popularity has yet to significantly wane (and still turns in dependable features with some frequency), but it also implies a truth by omission, which is that the formidable rapper and label head is running low on ideas.
Published as part of Album Roundup — December 2021.