Review Summary: Imagine to listening to a more polished Reasonable Doubt or Cuban Linx with Rick Ross rapping over it: that's basically what you're getting. As it is, it's pretty good.
Rick Ross, or to some Officer Ricky, has been in quite a pickle as of late. Before his release of Deeper than Rap he was exposed as a phony, a guy making up a crime career to sell records. Recently, the real Freeway Ricky Ross is sueing him for use of his image, putting even more pressure on Rick Ross. Normal rappers would fall apart amongst these conditions. This is probably the most significant proof that Rick Ross isn’t your average rapper. If anything, his music has only gotten better since his discovery as a phony. His newest is only an improvement on before, but it still has intact regular Rick Ross flaws.
Despite his many overcomings, he is still not at all a great rapper when it comes to flow or lyrics. What he spits is rather plain a large majority of the time, other than a couple of off kilter punchlines that he repeats for the duration of the record (“Japanese blades on the car, call em Samurai’s”) , and the fact that he continues to list off mafia bosses by name is a bit perturbing. His voice, which is a gruff, bloating roar, doesn’t groove or flow with the music, rather than blares over it. He’s always been this way, and his writing has become infinitely more intricate since the second verse of “Hustling”, and he’s got the concept of pronouncing words now, but he’s still learning the job.
What is Rick Ross’s success as a rapper is covering these flaws up to perfection. His music is almost always celebratory, and his tone within the music is perfect. His consistent anthemic attitude, his inspiration at this point to at least attempt to write good songs is applaud-able. His growls on the booming trap anthems “MC Hammer” and “B.M.F.” manage to outshine both an uninspired Gucci Mane, and a hungry-as-hell Styles P. It’s amazing that Rick Ross has acheieved as much acclaim as he has recently for his abilities, but the realization is he makes everything he does sound like a triumphant victory.
It certainly helps, as well, that the music he raps over is epic. From the south he may be, Rick Ross’s ear for music has always been so Mafioso-era New York. Thick, bubbling bass, squealing strings, built in a cinematic manner, you know, the stuff that Cuban Linx started. Rick Ross even connects with old Jay-Z producer Clark Kent for a sweeping piece for main single “Super High”, a silky bedroom piece built in such a classical way that it sort of off-sets the commercialized nature of it, at least until Ne-Yo’s smooth chorus hits. Exceptions to this sound rule are, of course, the trapped out “MC Hammer” and “B.M.F.”, two tracks that flush the same dirty south ideas, pulsating synths and click-ity drums, but even they possess the same cinematic qualities of the rest of the album, sounding life-less and mobile all at once. For once, it seems Rick Ross has a feel for one of his albums, and that coherence helps this record out immensely,
That remark brings me to a flaw and success of this record: the guests that appear consistently. Most of them add to the proceedings, but some special mentions just seem to be there to steal the show from Rick Ross. T.I.’s ever cool verse and quotables (“Maybach triple white like I’m riding in a cloud”) just steal the show from Rick Ross despite the almost prog rock switch up towards the end for his verse. Another rabid Kanye West (“You can go 'head sneeze now, my presence done blessed you”) verse manages to steal the show on “Live Fast, Die Young”, and ultimately, even younger rappers like Gucci Mane, whose verse is wholly uninspired, shows gaps in Rick Ross’s rapping. I'll explain...
Nowadays, Rick Ross sounds like an old guy in the game, spitting over cinematic soundtracks that sounded cool in the 90s, getting called “The Biggie from the South”, hanging out with Diddy, ect. Ultimately Ross is stuck in the 90s now. However, who said that was a bad thing? Rick Ross’s revitalization in the 90s has made him realize that he can actually, you know, rap, and he sounds infinitely more inspired nowadays than he ever did “flippin chickens” on “Hustlin’”. Teflon Don is the sound of an artist continually evolving into something new, and it makes hearing Rick Ross, an artist who should’ve been whipped out by all his controversy, a new joy. He won’t be a rap legend, he just isn’t good enough, he doesn’t have the potential for it either, but if Teflon Don is any sign, he will get pretty damn close. History will at least recognize the man’s existence, which means Teflon Don lives forever in all of us.