Rick Ross’ Mastermind Album is His Finest Yet. Some May Say Classic (Food For Thought)


Last night (February 11), Rick Ross hosted a Mastermind album release party at New World Stages in New York City and AFH was in the building. The event was a star-studded affair, with Ross and Meek Mill there from MMG, as well as DJ Khaled, Fabolous, Busta Rhymes, Mack Wilds, Bow Wow and a host of music industry heavyweights.

After some fits and starts at the door and getting into the theater, DJ Khaled set the tone for the evening by boldly encouraging all media outlets present to quote him as saying “Mastermind is a muthafuckin’ classic.” Even despite Khaled’s bias as an executive producer, that was a big statement. He then introduced Ross who said a few words and made it clear he was going to let the music speak for itself. He asked for the music to commence, offered a couple of anticipatory “uhnns” and walked off stage.

And then, it began…The bombast that came from the prodigious sound system was 2nd only to the Jay Z/Kanye West system used to preview Watch the Throne in the sheer brute force of its volume. Unlike that listening session, however, the Ross music was still audible and not overwhelming with its decibels. The intro, which was released this week, features a brief monologue with a man describing the capabilities of a mastermind. The intro, along with each subsequent song, was accompanied by visuals that were directly-related to the audio (in this case the actual visual clip from which the monologue was lifted).

Immediately out of the intro, the album launches into “Rich Is Gangsta,” a power-track not in the vein of “Blowin’ Money Fast” and “911,” but of the more soulful variety. The corresponding visuals evoked the power of the song, with images ranging from plentiful bars of gold to Michael Jordan sporting his six championship rings. Like many of Ross’ themes on Rich Forever, this is one of his street motivation anthems.

What followed from tracks 2 through 11 was the strongest sequencing of songs ever on any Rick Ross album. Period. If he had stopped there and thrown in “Sanctified,” “Thug Cry” (The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s interpretation of Billy Cobham’s song “Heather,” the sample that powered Souls Of Mischief’s “93 ’til Infinity“) and bonus cuts “Blessings In Disguise” (featuring Scarface) and “Paradise Lost,” many might be lining up to call this album a classic—and plenty still may. But, a song or two toward the end (The Weeknd assisted In Vein sounded more Weeknd than Ross and Walkin on Air with Meek Mill broke no new ground), represented the only POTENTIALLY skippable fare on the album, in our opinion—at least on first listen.

Standout tracks from songs 2-11 were aplenty. “Shots Fired” begins with news reports on the infamous attack on Ross’ Maybach in Miami and then proceeds to go full tilt at his haters. “Nobody,” produced by Diddy, revisits Biggie’s ominous “Nobody Till Somebody Kills You,” drawing on that hook and including ad-libs from Diddy that are equally venomous as those he spit on B.I.G.’s record. “The Devil Is A Lie” has already established itself as one of the finest of the many Ross/Jay Z collabos. “War Ready,” released last week, finds both Ross and Jeezy sharp over a fittingly aggressive beat. “What A Shame” pays homage to Ol’ Dirty Bastard. “Sanctified,” featuring Big Sean and Kanye West (also produced by West), takes the Gospel-Rap fusion prototyped by West and fined tuned by Meek Mill, and deftly expands on that sound. And, “BLK & WHT” boasts of drug dealer riches but in the end flips the script with Ross (at least on screen in the visuals) encouraging those making their living in the streets to get an education.

In fact, it’s songs like “BLK & WHT,” “Shots Fired,” “Nobody” and “What A Shame” that help to elevate Mastermind over previous Ross works. Whereas almost all of his music possesses a cinematic quality and even he, himself, presents a persona that at times is bigger than life, these and other songs on Mastermind break the fourth wall and let us into Ross’ reality. It’s a world where he acknowledges and salutes his musical influences and at times spins cautionary tales about what happens in the streets instead of celebrating it. He even takes moments to poke fun at himself, as he does in the “Rich Bitch Skit” where a fictitious woman BAWSE goes to extreme lengths to prove just how baller she is. You think Rick Ross is not keenly aware of how he is perceived? Think again. This is a more circumspect and fleshed out version of Rick Ross.

There is no doubt to us that this is Rick Ross’ best work yet. Will it be viewed as a classic? Only time will tell…

Related: Rick Ross & Diddy Bring Some Star Power To Mastermind. Did You Really Expect Any Different From This Tracklist?