Much has been said about the emergence of streaming and its impact on the music industry over the past couple of years. Countless think pieces have been written about how artists are here today and gone tomorrow and listeners’ attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter. This has created an environment where listeners gravitate more towards the hit singles they like rather than the artists behind them. As a result we’ve seen many artists attempt to combat the changing way that people consume music through a number of tactics. Surprise albums have almost become the standard along with digital releases to avoid leaks and a new found sentiment from many artists that their quantity of output will do more to keep them in the spotlight than one quality project that they spent years working on. More music equals more opportunities at something sticking in the eyes of many artists and labels, and this year has continued that trend as we look at Future releasing two full lengths in the span of two weeks and Drake releasing a “playlist” as a stopgap between albums with over 20 tracks worth of new material. If all of these changes make me appreciate anything, it’s consistency. While bloated albums and constant new music can be a blessing, there are times when it can verge on overwhelming. Rick Ross is no stranger to releasing music at a fast pace. Over his now eleven year career, he has delivered nine studio albums and another mixtape that might as well be. At an almost a project a year rate, Ross started to see his popularity dwindle in the streaming age. It’s been awhile since he has had a smash that was all over radio a la ‘Aston Martin Music’ or ‘B.M.F.’, but like any artist that stands the test of time, Ross adjusted. After a couple of lackluster releases and declining sales numbers and popularity, it was looking like he would have to adjust again. He attempts to do this with Rather You Than Me. Would this be the album that regains some of the traction he’s lost during the streaming era or would it be another misstep.
Ross begins the album as he has many times before: The female voice dropping the signature “M-M-Maybach Music” tag. Following the all too familiar voice is album opener ‘Apple of My Eye’ with a beat that bleeds luxury. From the moment Ross begins rapping on ‘Eye’, it is apparent that he is focused, both in the content he is rapping and the confidence in which he is rapping it in. Whether he’s reflecting on advice he gave to label mate Meek Mill while dating Nicki, or speaking on the documented seizures he’s experienced in the past few years, there is a level of openness in the albums introduction that it feels like we don’t hear from Ross enough. Raphael Saadiq’s vocals on the hook and bridge only further the track’s effectiveness. From there, Ross begins one of the strongest runs to open an album that he’s ever had. Between ‘Trap Trap Trap’ which wouldn’t sound out of place on his ‘Teflon don’ album or his ability to let the beat breathe on the lush ‘Santorini Greece’, Ross is balancing the many styles he’s displayed throughout his discography quite well here. Falling in the middle of that run of songs that opens the album is the much talked about Birdman diss, ‘Idols Become Rivals’. In what essentially serves as an open letter to the world on Rozay’s thoughts regarding his once friend Birdman, Ross pulls no punches. He shares his thoughts on Birdman not paying Wayne, not compensating producers and even betraying DJ Khaled. Hearing an artist not only call someone out by name, but also shed some light on a situation that we all wish was resolved, is a refreshing deviation from the norm in hip hop these days.
Following the strong opening run is the first misstep. Both ‘Dead Presidents’ and ‘She on My D**k’ sound like dated trap records and all of the artists involved sound as if they’re just going through the motions. It feels as if the likes of Gucci Mane, Future and Ross could make these records in their sleep and the end result is some of the least memorable moments on the album. The first single and Ty Dolla $ign featuring ‘I Think She Like Me’ is a serviceable attempt at a radio hit and an overall strong song. Outside of the aforementioned songs, the album seems to have no interest in cheap attempts at radio play. The Meek Mill assisted ‘Lamborghini Doors’ is another strong collaboration between the two in a history full of them. The introduction to the song alone with Rick Ross disclosing a story about visiting Meek in jail and hearing him rap in his cell to the other inmates, makes this collaboration dynamic. Other guests shine when called upon as well. Dej Loaf takes the forefront to continue the storied ‘Maybach Music’ series. Now in its fifth iteration, he and Dej have a surprise chemistry on the record that results in another solid entry into the series. Nas and Ross also continue to showcase just how good the rapport between them is on the Bink! produced ‘Powers That Be’. Every time that the pair connects for a song, it makes my head spin with the thought of what a Nas album executive-produced by Rick Ross would sound like.
All of which brings us to one of the traits that has always been the biggest strength of Ross: His beat selection. Rather You Than Me is no different in that department and further progresses his signature sound. The album isn’t such a stark departure from his past efforts but more-so a refined version of it. While 2015’s Black Market was an improvement over the lackluster Hood Billionaire that preceded it, it was nowhere near interesting enough to regain his place in the game. In the almost year in a half since his last effort, it seems as if he has had some time to reflect on not only where he’s been in the game but also where he wants to go moving forward. He’s been a part of beefs by association with Drake and experienced drama in his personal life as well. It’s hard to say that any experience could ever humble someone as braggadocios as Ross, but this album displays a man with a newfound sense of perspective. The fact that the weakest moments on the album are the ones where he is attempting to recreate the style he once dominated, is evident that he has grown as an artist. In an era where most artists are clamoring for more streams and striving to stay one step ahead of music’s ever-changing landscape, Ross decided to step back, focus and create his most balanced, well rounded album in years. If first week sales numbers are any indication, the strategy was a success. Ross nearly doubled his sales from his last go around. With his already announced sequel to his debut album, let’s hope he continues the momentum.
Repeatable: ‘Apple of My Eye’ (feat. Raphael Saadiq), ‘Idols Become Rivals’, ‘Powers That Be’ (feat. Nas), ‘Lamborghini Doors’ (feat. Meek Mill & Anthony Hamilton)
Skippable: ‘Dead Presidents’ (feat. Jeezy, Future, & Yo Gotti), ‘She On My D**k’ (feat. Gucci Mane)
By Scott Evans