Rick Ross continues his gilded reign of terror on Mastermind, another appropriately massive chronicle of attaining ridiculous wealth and flaunting fiscal irresponsibility. Full of thundering beats and equally gargantuan self-regard, it’s more of the same from the ever-cartoonish Miami rapper, who continues pioneering the art of sounding as relaxed as possible while still putting out paranoid, pounding coke-chic jams. As with his previous efforts, the album thrives on the fun dissonance between Ross’s supposed laidback boss status and his sweaty, overeager gaucheness in establishing those bona fides.
This usually involves the folding of real-life events into the Rozay mythology, and on these terms Ross hit the jackpot last April, when members of the God’s Disciples gang made a halfhearted attempt on his life. A 911 call and some news soundbites from the event appear at the beginning of “Shots Fired,” a bit of skewed verisimilitude that jibes nicely with the asinine excess of “Drug Dealers Dream,” which opens with a computerized voice detailing Ross’s $92 million checking account balance. Keeping all his assets liquid, giving away cars to friends and associates, Ross maintains conspicuous consumption as his primary pastime, gearing his drug-baron narratives toward maximum tackiness. While Diddy shows up to hawk Ciroc and scream manic motivational speeches, Ross lowers the bar even further, repping his Wing Stop franchises, repeatedly expressing his fondness for their lemon-pepper flavor.
Sleazy swank mixed with high-society pretensions is nothing new in rap, but Ross pushes it to such levels that he makes bathing in champagne and scarfing down chicken wings seem like Henry VIII-style regal recreation. It helps that while his cataloguing of possessions remains vulgar, Ross’s ear for beats that suit his halting, percussive flow is still on point. Sinking into his throne while burping out a bottomless supply of coke and cash metaphors, he thumps along like a bass drum over songs that advance in lockstep; the album often feels like the hip-hop equivalent of a commemorative march for a triumphant ruler.
The downside is that, unlike God Forgives, I Don’t, which pushed into À Rebours levels of gothic self-indulgence, Mastermind scales back on the absurdity, settling for familiar modes like Biggie roleplay (on the shameless, fascinatingly derivative “Nobody”) and soporific self-pity (“BLK and Wht”). There’s also some heavy sag in the middle, a common symptom of so many super-sized hip-hop spectacles. The Weeknd contributes some paltry crooning and half-assed sex appeal to “In Vein,” a gloomy drug track with atmospheric pretensions, and “Supreme,” the contribution from supposedly re-ascendant producer Scott Storch, is just as pallid. The album revives when Kanye West shows up to produce and guest on “Sanctified,” a revival song that pairs religious rebirth with monetary excess in a sort of frenzied ritual. Tracks like this and the Lil Wayne closer “Thug Cry” identify the sorts of types Ross needs to be palling around with, noted eccentrics who can draw out the weirder notes of his crude aspirational fantasies.