The headline of Rozay’s latest album reads: “The Untouchable Maybach Music Empire Presents,” which indicates a lofty statement that exemplifies the fictitious wealth of Rick Ross as a character and is the first instance of self-aggrandizing labels that hold no weight in reality. Ross has managed to lodge himself firmly in the rap game by assuming the role of a super-wealthy, Miami-based drug lord based on his own fictitious origin story. He’s somehow managed to get in good with the entire Young Money family, constantly found alongside Wayne and Drake, teaming up with all-star DJ Khaled line-ups, and even nestled in the beginning of Kanye West smash hits. As far as Maybach Music goes, Ross is implementing the same Junior M.A.F.I.A. -style rap gang but with the low-budget counterpart like that of GOOD Music and Young Money, some members of which are even found on this album. God Forgives, I Don’t sparks many questions, but the most increasingly difficult to answer is, “Why should I care?”
Straight from the beginning prayer on the record, Ross is back in the lavish lifestyle that he somehow earned from slinging keys of coke in Miami. He offers nothing stylistically in his vocals, aside from his patented husky delivery that makes brand names seem even more validating. In fact, the largest contribution to hip-hop that Ross has made can be found simply in his signature grunt, (#RickRossGrunt). On this record, Ross is only concerned with promoting the concept that crime pays well, and that he knows firsthand; he claims to do nothing but indulge in sex, luxury, and vast quantities of food all day. But he’s not at fault, really. His role as a rapper has always been along the vein of gluttonous satisfaction and empty threats, so why should he reinvent himself as anything more or less? He doesn’t need to rely on traditional hip-hop storytelling because he doesn’t need to explain himself or his character beyond the fact that he’s rich as hell from imaginary drug-dealing. Ross only ever really raps about living amidst gratuitous wealth and never about the struggle he faced to get there. His whole shtick completely dissolves after the first three tracks and Ross is left sounding like a wondrous child, bragging about an unreal life to anyone who will listen.
The guests on the record should have been outstanding; pairing Ross with Jay-Z, Nas, and even the untouchable André 3000 should be amazing. The real gamble comes from whether or not the guests perform to their highest caliber and, for the most part, they fall short of spectacular. Dr. Dre spends much of his time making the same delusional claims as Ross, stating that he’s owned rap for the past 20 years, and signs off by plugging the headphone brand that everyone is already well aware of. Jay-Z, while nimbly toying with lines that convey vague mafia undertones, ultimately surrenders to the fact that he’s extremely wealthy (and a new father). Maybach Music’s Wale is given his billionth chance for redemption (after dropping one incredible mixtape and nothing great since) but blows it by rapping off-kilter about nothing. Even the talented John Legend feels unwarranted, especially after Omarion, Usher, Drake, Ne-Yo, and Elijah Blake. I don’t mean to diminish their contributions, but their overwhelming presence might make this one of the most solid R&B records to drop this year.
In fact, the only guest that lives up to any sort of expectation is André 3000 on “Sixteen,” where Ross finds himself unable to rap about his life in simply sixteen bars but, oh wait, it’s Rick Ross and that’s preposterous. If Ross had any inkling of authenticity, I’m sure he would have alluded to it before now, halfway through his fifth album. However, sweet-talking vagrants like André, who has an incredibly long history making his raps malleable, are totally justified in needing more rhyming space. In fact, André is one of the best guests, second only to the Maybach Music girl, whose incessantly repetitive voice might even reach higher acclaim than Ross himself.
God Forgives, I Don’t is overall lukewarm and touches on concepts that Ross has already driven into the ground. If Ross appeals to you as a symbol of unprecedented success or his voice encapsulates the raw feeling of a hustler, you are not alone. In many ways, his recent success comes from his ability to become Rick Ross, an alter ego whose specialty is being nothing more than a given guest spot on the next Lil’ Wayne single produced by Lex Luger. While the literal sound of his voice is unique to the genre, this record offers nothing beyond cosmetically crisp production quality and all the Rick Ross grunts you can handle.