Rick Ross’s fans have been waiting for Mastermind, his sixth studio album, for over a year. A promotional video released in January 2013 and the pre-release of ‘The Devil is a Lie’ kept everyone guessing. He promised “passion and aggression”, and, after pushing the release date back, levels of anticipation for this record were very high upon its release.
Just like J. Cole’s Born Sinner, Mastermind returns to more a relaxed, classic style of hip hop, which is refreshing following hip hop albums of the past year such as Yeezus and Magna Carta Holy Grail. Mastermind is free of overtly computerised sounds, and Rick Ross relies more on strong lyrics and his own voice than a lot of other rappers have done recently. However, he does try to do something different by including tracks which consist of nothing but speech, such as ‘Dope Bitch Skit’ and ‘Shots Fired’. These have the potential to be strong and revolutionary, but the use of talking tracks feels like a wasted opportunity. He could have used them in a far more interesting way, but ‘Dope Bitch Skit’ just consists of a girl talking about how people throw rose wine on her because “I’m a fucking boss”, and ‘Shots Fired’ is equally pointless.
Despite these tracks, most of the lyrics on Mastermind are brilliant. Rick Ross manages to include both fun, meaningless lyrics and intelligent messages on the album, combining the two strongest aspects of hip hop as a genre. The best example of this is ‘The Devil is a Lie’, which is easily the best song on the album. Rick Ross includes lyrics which will make the song successful in clubs, such as “Black bottle and a bad bitch/Club Armani where the cash is”, but at the same time includes lyrics which raise serious questions about race and class, some of the most powerful of which being “Gotta be Illuminati if a n***a shine/Oh, we can’t be a n***a if a n***a rich?/Oh, we gotta be the devil, that’s some n***a shit” and “Getting white money but I’m still black”.
The lyrics of ‘Paradise Lost’ are equally hard-hitting, particularly “Children gotta change, but they don’t have a thing/All this drug dealing, it’s killing our brother”. This is surprising following songs like ‘Diced Pineapples’, and it shows that Rick Ross has definitely grown up. Lyrics like this mean that Rick Ross can no longer be associated with unsophisticated rappers like T Pain and T.I., and songs like ‘Paradise Lost’ show that he is likely to be remembered for a long time.
Some of the best songs on the album are collaborations, and these are usually better than songs by Rick Ross alone. A particular strength of these collaborations is that Mastermind manages to include huge, successful rappers like Kanye West, Big Sean and Jay Z but also gives a voice to up and coming artists like The Weeknd. This means that there is a brilliant variety on the album, and it is great to hear something from the next generation of rappers on an album as huge as Mastermind.
Earlier today, Rick Ross Tweeted “I put more into this #mastermind album than any other”, and you can definitely tell. Mastermind is Rick Ross’s best album yet, and it even tops Trilla. The lyrics are brilliant, and the album has all the qualities of both a mainstream hit and an intelligent, important record which should be taken seriously. This is a brilliant album and will no doubt be enjoyed both by fans of classic hip hop and by people looking for a new sound.