In many ways Rick Ross’ career trajectory has been completely atypical of what the nineties and early noughties succession of prodigious rappers had made us accustomed to.
Traditionally, most superstar rappers (the 50 Cents, the Snoops, the DMXes and the Ems) began their careers in a careers in a blaze of glory, flying out of the blocks with classic debut albums and then slowly fading away from Hip Hop’s limelight. A turn of fortunes that is usually brought about due to a combination of changing tastes, a loss of artistic hunger and the brutally fickle nature of the Hip Hop world’s attention span.
Rick Ross’ career did not follow this path, with the rapper’s earliest days amounting to little more than brief flirtations with mediocrity. His first two albums, Port of Miami and Trilla marked him out as little more than a somewhat generic gangsta rapper, with his clunky lyrics and lack of any discernible artistic identity meaning that his career was initially left firmly in the shadow of his fellow Southern compatriots Young Jeezy and T.I.
Like Lil’ Wayne shortly before him, Rick Ross reached his artistic pinnacle at the mid point of his career. Eventually, the considerable improvements tohis pen game, the development of a coherent artistic narrative and his ear for grandiose production meant that by the beginning of the 2010s, the momentum he had begun to build up with the release of 2009’s Deeper Than Rap, had become undeniable.
Ross’ rise to the top of Hip Hop mountain top was no more apparent, than on this very week four years ago, when he dropped his classic mixtape Rich Forever. Rich Forever proved to be the cherry on top on what was a phenomenal run of stellar releases from the Miami raised rapper. Through a pair of excellent LPs (2009’s Deeper Than Rap and 2010’s Teflon Don) and a series of breathtaking guest verses for Kanye West, Diddy, Erykah Badu and others, Ross was able to carve out a niche for himself as the primary progenitor of ‘luxury rap’.
During this period Ross continuously and effortlessly crafted intricate and intoxicating larger than life narratives of his (most likely completely fabricated) life as a drug kingpin. He did this over songs that were awash with lush and cinematic production, transporting listeners into an opulent fantasy world, providing much needed escapism from a reality that was very much in the grip of a particularly bleak global recession at the time.
Rich Forever, however, saw Ross inject this fantasy world with more depth and a dose of gritty realism. While the opulence that has characterised Ross’ previous output was still present on tracks such as Keys To The Crib and the magnificent John Legend assisted titular track, much of the tape was typified by a sense of urgency and ferocity that we had rarely seen from the man.
If Ross’s previous work up until the mixtape was to be seen as a tapestry celebrating the trappings of the luxurious life of a drug kingpin, then Rich Forever was a warts and all treatise. A treatise in which Ross finally began to explore the darker realities that presumably come with the territory of success in such a lucrative, yet illicit profession, in addition to its ability to enable him to experience the finer things in life.
Rich Forever was a mixtape which saw Rick Ross constantly doling out threats to his numerous enemies, where the spectre of apprehension by law enforcement and his own mortality hung heavy in the air and where his rags to riches story was not solely typified by a celebration of his new found wealth, but also by the pressing fear of returning to the poverty and desolation of his former life.
This aggressive mindset was also reflected reflected in the mixtape sonically. While the cinematic production of past albums was still present in places, much of its production was more reminiscent of the blaring Trap sound that has now become ubiquitous in the contemporary Hip Hop landscape, lending the project a more ragged and adrenaline pumping feel. Ross’ delivery was also altered by this mindset, with songs such as Holy Ghost seeing him switch up his usual smooth, baritone vocals for a harsher, almost animalistic delivery, in which he pushed his voice to its weeziest extremities, as if to reflect his newfound sense of urgency.
Unfortunately for Rick Ross, his career trajectory after Rich Forever did ultimately follow the traditional pathway. Hip Hop is a fiercely competitive arena and A-List rappers rarely ever enjoy more than a few years of popular success before unceremoniously fading out of the limelight. Despite the enormous success of Rich Forever, Ross’ subsequent releases have failed to match the critical and popular acclaim of his 2009 to 2012 output, with his most recent album Black Market, selling a paltry 54,000 copies in its first week, in comparison to the 218,000 units moved by God Forgives I Don’t just four years earlier.
Much of this decline can be chalked to Ross’ inability to evolve his subject matter for an audience that inevitably began to lose interest in the world he had created. But despite this decline, for three brief and brilliant years, Rick Ross was able to convince fans the world over, that they too could be Rich Forever, and for that he deserves the highest of praise.