Deeper Than Rap: A Decade Later
Rick Ross, the pride of Carol City, is an acclaimed veteran in hip-hop with albums, mixtapes, compilations, EP’s, and loosies hidden away in every end of Youtube with a discography as rewarding as it is expansive. Depending on what the day is, Rick Ross has a different magnum opus. Jay-Z and Kanye West’s discographies are ever moving and shifting in the hip-hop power rankings, and Rozay holds the same kind of autonomy. There are albums that as rap fans we all know don’t deserve much mention from all three (Kingdom Come, Life Of Pablo, Hood Billionaire) not meaning the albums aren’t good, but more they aren’t on the same tier as the elite works (Reasonable Doubt, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, etc.). Depending on the way the wind blows, I’d argue the bipolar Sistine Chapel / Carol City soundtrack God Forgives, I Don’t is Ross’ finest moment. Then there’s Teflon Don, a concise LP of back to back, throw the top down and turn the volume on high hits that helped push the Lex Luger era of trap beats to the mainstream. This isn’t one of those days. At this moment, 10 years after its release, the intro to the re-branded Rick Ross we love today, Deeper Than Rap holds as the crown jewel atop the Florida legends crown.
I entered ass backwards in 5 different ways to the greatness of Ross. As a kid with a tumultuous early years, I found Ross when everyone else did. Moving from Ohio to my now permanent home in South Florida a day didn’t go by that “Hustlin’” or “Push It” wasn’t on the radio, mashed in between Pitbull freestyles and everything Plies or T-Pain ever graced there vocals on to. Drilled into my young brain the way tying your shoes does, I grew annoyed quickly of Ross’ presence. The man I pictured as a weed smoking big man draped in chains and a white tank top was a musical enemy in my mind. So much to the point that when downloading music from every virus filled site on the internet, Rozay’s albums were happily avoided. Digging online lead to the grumpy backpacker phase every rap fan hits at one point. The one where MF DOOM is the GOAT and you force all your friends to listen to “Dance With The Devil”. I brushed off his legendary verses and blurbs on Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as flukes, just another case of Ye forcing peak performances out of everyone. Then Rich Forever came out and I questioned every decision I had ever made in my short stupid life. Starting from Port Of Miami I combed endlessly through every Ross track, doing my best to stay in order to fully see the path that lead the guy who rapped over Paul Engemann to such a mixtape where he and Nas went toe-to-toe and nobody really lost. Port Of Miami was good, but outside of a few tracks, my idea of Ross being a slightly more advanced version of the street rappers in his era stayed the same. Next was Trilla. Ross stepped up his rapping, the girl records and the R&B crossover joints were better, and the seed was planted for what Rozay was planning next. “Maybach Music” slowed the groove and replaced the trap-Miami Bass cross breed Ross was perfecting with softer sample chops and a string section fit for an opera house.
After Trilla, the black cloud that hung over Deeper Than Rap, one of many seminal records that the King Of Miami created (and the reason for this piece today), began to roll in. Reading up on the roll out of his third album I learned the beginnings of his 50 Cent beef. And, to be honest, that’s 1000 more stories rolled into one so here’s a great summary of all the fuckery here. But what I will say is that to this day the “Kiss the Ring Curly” video released by Rick Ross featuring him going into NYC, the whole time rapping over “Special Delivery”, to diss 50 is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen a guy who eventually lost a beef do. Purposely mispronouncing monkey as if 50 was so low in his eyes he didn’t even deserve the proper pronunciation. That track still holds as disrespectful in every way regardless of the outcome, and the last time Ross would truly go all the way gutter towards another artist. With everything 50 brought to light, it has since lead to a conversation that was had on and off in rap for generations. Being about what you really say you’re about. Using the name of an internationally known drug pusher to rap about pushing drugs and the life that surrounds such things is something only a person who has really done it would do, right? Maybe. To this day the idea of Rozay’s street persona looms in question by, well, everyone to a degree. But in actuality who cares? Why does this matter? If Rick Ross the rapper is even half the dealer Freeway Ricky Ross was does that make the music better? The answer is an obvious, and hard, nah. His street cred from his pre-rap days holds no weight in the world Rozay has now become a part of, whether it was successful or non-existent. The “problem” hip-hop has with authenticity is a complicated one, and one that has lead to bloodshed and embarrassment to notable acts for decades. Lying on record doesn’t lessen the record, unless it’s a court record. Being able to paint these pictures from the sideline is impressive, knowing the ins and outs without really being in or out. If Hov can lie for 20 years about losing 92 bricks, Ross can lie about being anything more than a corner boy (if he was even that) all he wants, as long as he does it well. So in comes Deeper Than Rap. Hearing “Mafia Music” for the first time blew my mind, purely for the fact that I knew this to be Domo Genesis’ “Salute” from Odd Future’s Radical. Like I said, my Ross fandom took an ass backwards entry. Rapping in couplets, painting a picture of the new and improved Rick Ross, to this day it’s on of the best showing of Rozay’s skill set. A new and improved Ross laced head to toe in custom international fabrics, with the streets close to his heart, and capitalistic world domination on his mind.
Inspired by the East Coast mafioso classics like Reasonable Doubt and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Ross takes it back to what inspired those classics. Scarface, the story of a Cuban immigrant turned Miami drug kingpin, has been infamous along with basically anything Martin Scorsese has touched as the inspiration for the Mafioso mentality Kool G Rap and other New Yorkers made they’re name off of. This is a story that hits close to home for Ross, because it’s about his home. The land that made Tony Montana into Scarface is the same one that turned William Leonard Roberts II into Rick Ross. Playing as a descriptive day in the life of an Al Pacino-esk figure “Yacht Club”, a personal favorite on the record, is full of piano stabs and a Magazeen hook that could raise the dead. Between shouting out every territory in the Caribbean, Rozay brings an authenticity that only one form his hometown could create. The horns nested with light strings and Magazeen adlibs creates an aura South Beach and it’s sky scraping condos can push. Miami legends in their own regard, Gunplay and Trina shine in the spotlight Da Boss attracts and sculpts for them later in the LP. For every flex the album shows, there’s nuggets of wisdom to go side by side. For some, the never ending weed analogies and bucket-o-money bars make Rozay seem like an egocentric drug dealer, which he very much paints himself as. And with the brush in his hand he paints a detailed mural of a new Florida kingpin. But the mission statement of this whole album, the dichotomy of seeing those street skills and looking to transfer them into signing multi-million dollar contracts in corner offices, is where the self proclaimed Biggest Boss We’ve Seen Thus Far has since pushed as his career narrative.
Though the record is a decadent new chapter in Rozay’s career, the knocks against it are memorable. To this day I believe in my heart Kanye continues to work Ross as an apology for his verse that nearly sabotages the entirety of “Maybach Music 2”. “…If B.I. was alive he’d probably have da two tone / with the Grey Poupon / anything Ye poop on / will explode / cause I am the shit / and this is my commode” may be one of the most cursed string of words in rap history and that’s coming from a guy who has listened to every Wayne album from ‘10–’15 multiple times. A Foxy Brown verse that goes back in forth between bird cage lining level bars and half decent punchlines to the point I have no idea if I actually enjoy “Murder Miami”. Along with those, the same records that propelled it into number one album sales marks are what dings it’s case to be a classic in 2019. The ear bleeding beat that The-Dreams whispers over on “All I Really Want” is a relic of its era, along with the Robin Thicke assisted “Lay Back”, and Ne-Yo featuring “Bossy Lady”. Ross’s wish to make records to appeal to the women he rapped about having in droves reminds us of a happily long gone arc in raps history of forced R&B collaborations for the sake of radio play. The beats on every Rick Ross album since have never stooped as low as they did on these tracks. The verses from Ross are still top notch, and the hooks from each crooner do there best within the confines of the production choices. Not even these road bumps can take away from the cinematic soundtrack Ross was creating.
“Cigar Music” is something Isaac Hayes would shed tears to. “Magnificent” is one of John Legend’s coldest hooks. “Rich Off Cocaine” is a reminiscent anthem suited for only the highest quality speakers. “Valley Of Death” is a bar fest with shots directed still 50’s way, but full of wisdom in case an untimely demise creeps up. “Mafia Music” still lands as a top 5 cut, and the best album entrance Rozay has ever put together. No words can put together my adoration for “Yacht Club”. With all these highlights guiding the way, a decade later Deeper can be seen as a reintroduction into the artist known as Rick Ross. Instead of piggy backing off the Atlanta sound of the time and putting Slip-N-Slide flare over top of it, an eloquent J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and Inkredibles lead backdrop outs the battery in the back of rap next great. Time has passed some of the records, and history has nearly erased the entirety of the 50 beef. Teflon Don was his next record, but it’s also a nickname that describes the entirety of Ross’ career. His longevity has creeped over the decade mark, with his fingerprints being across some of the biggest moments in hip-hop over that time. Off record Ross has grown from being the showy sumo of South Beach to a trimmed down business leader looking to push ownership in his own neighborhood and across multiple industries. An all-time great already, in the industry and on record, nothing in his catalog can go over what seems like his true debut, at least for today.