Thirteen years ago Rick Ross exploded onto the scene with the earth-shattering street anthem ‘Hustlin’’. The former protege of Miami rap legend Trick Daddy went from selling drugs to selling out shows before then becoming one of the most bankable artists in hip-hop. But it all started with his debut album ‘Port of Miami’. Playing like the soundtrack to the black Godfather, if it wasn’t the Scarface-sampling ’Push It’, or the Lloyd-assisted ‘Street Life’, then it was ‘Where My Money (I Need That)’ that had trunks all over America rattling.
Now, a much more refined artist, Ross is arguably one of the most consistent rappers in the game. Applauded for his top notch beat selection, his ability to spot talent — Meek Mill, Wale, Gunplay — his ‘Maybach Music’ series, and the endless list of hip-hop anthems he features on, there’s no denying the Bawse’s status as certified rap titan. Here he returns with his 10th studio album, ‘Port of Miami 2’, the sequel to his 2006 debut.
A master of mafioso rap, Ross has always been cut from the same cloth as the Raekwons and Kool G Raps when it comes to telling tales of criminal enterprises and the exquisite life they afford. On ‘Port of Miami 2’, he’s less lawbreaker and more the ultimate purveyor of expensive taste. Over the gorgeous keys of ‘Turnpike Ike’, one of the rapper’s “bad bitches” explains that they’re sitting on 20 houses, driving 50 cars, and that Ross makes her feel priceless.
Continuing to celebrate the good life, a posthumous Nipsey Hussle verse on ‘Rich N***a Lifestyle’ proves ultimately bittersweet; you’re happy to hear it, but sad that he’s gone. Even when he’s bragging, he still manages to offer some words of wisdom: “I can’t name a fake n***a that was not exposed / How y’all n***as so surprised that Tekashi told?/ Ain’t a real street n***a ‘less you got a code/ Mine’s one comma, n***a, followed by a lot of O’s.”
‘BIG TYME’ hears Ross and Just Blaze connect in the same way they did on Drake’s ‘Lord Knows’, where thundering drums, chopped up synths and elaborate piano runs dominate the soundscape. Inspired by Biggie’s ’10 Crack Commandments’, ‘Bogus Charms’ hears Ross start off by spitting: “Rule number one is you can never rat.” But it’s not a breakdown of street rules, and it’s certainly not his show. Instead, Meek Mill takes the wheel and offers an introspective look at the past couple of years of his life, as well as what he goes through day to day, all shared over the haunting yet empowering production.
Last year, Ross previewed a handful of tracks from ‘Port of Miami 2’ at an exclusive playback event in London. Of all of the tracks he played not a single one of them made the final cut. The reason for this is not yet known, but one record played was a version of Meek Mill’s genre-shaking think piece ‘What’s Free’ – although neither Meek or Jay-Z were on it at that point.
While Rozay’s own health regime seems to now be going well (on ‘Vegas Residency‘ he raps: “I lost some weight, and now designers wanna get to know me“), his album could do with cutting away some unwanted fat. For someone held in such high regard when it comes to creating full bodies of work, Ross well and truly missed the mark opening the album with ‘Act a Fool’. Banal from the rapper’s first signature grunt, not only does it sound like 10 other MMG records that have been made over the past decade, it wastes what is usually an un-fuck-with-able Ross and Wale collaboration. Where’s the grand cinematic intro that appeared on ‘God Forgives, I Don’t’, or the motivational first track that helped ‘Black Market’ open for business?
‘White Lines’ proves forgettable, but the most disappointing moment comes when Ross and one-time nemesis Jeezy team up on ‘Born to Kill’. Moments like this are supposed to be exciting, even electrifying, not boringly underwhelming. Regardless of the fact that the pair already kissed and made up on ‘War Ready’ back in 2014, this is Rick Ross and Young Jeezy we’re talking about. Rap titans. Power players. They shouldn’t be vanishing into a backdrop of generic tones that any Soundcloud rapper with a Lil in front of their name could have jumped on. It’s sad to say, but it seems like the honeymoon period for Rozay and the Snowman might be over.
Often, it’s not how you start a race but how you finish it, and this is definitely the case for ‘Port of Miami 2’. While the beginning of the album struggles, you’ll be hard pushed to find a five-song stretch as flawless as the close out tracks on Ross’ 10th studio album. This stretch begins with ‘I Still Pray’, which hears Ross recount waking up in hospital after suffering one of the two seizures he endured in 2011; he navigates his faith through a sea of crying guitar strings that would feel right at home on Thug Life’s 1994 self-titled album.
Over sorrowful keys, ‘Running the Streets’ highlights the challenges hustlers face striving for a better work/life balance, while ‘Vegas Residency’ stands out as the finest moment on the entire album. Produced by the highly lauded J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Ross’ brain goes into overdrive over the stunning live instrumentation brought to life by Rook Flair and Colione — surely it’s about time JL produce an entire Rick Ross album. Followed by ‘Maybach Music VI’ and the Drake-featured single ‘Gold Roses’, ‘Port of Miami 2’ ends on a much better note than it started on.