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A battle between tracks: Mastermind album review

Ross' new album provides rightfully egocentric production, but little coherence

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The Spectrum

Album: Mastermind

Artist: Rick Ross

Label: Maybach Music Group

Release Date: March 3

Grade: C+

Rick Ross is the epitome of luxury gangster rap. His name conjures an image of the rapper molded into a leather couch with lobster and escargot butter running into his beard, wearing enough chains around his neck to cause some serious orthopedic problems later in life.

He has called his newest album "Mastermind." He's arrogant - we get it.

Ross is an artist epitomized by his image. It's an image that the press has consistently vilified, but that's the way it works when you rap about slipping Molly into someone's champagne.

It's hard to look past Ross' image - but he doesn't want you to.

Whether it's the criticism or the extravagant lifestyle, something has gotten in the middle of Ross and his music. The wordplay seems exhaustingly cheap from a rapper who is so well versed in the game.

Look at Ross' collaboration with Meek Mill, "Walkin' On Air," for example. The couplet, "I'm into fashion, n***a, John the Baptist / My loyalty respected all across the atlas," is a strong contender for the worst of the album.

While there's nothing to suggest that John the Baptist wasn't a fashion-forward trendsetter, it's reasonable to presume that it wasn't his most prevalent trait. It's a bad lyric that just doesn't show Ross at his best. And unfortunately, the album is full of these head-in-hands moments.

Despite its lyrical flaws, Mastermind isn't an album that totally flunks.

The track "Rich Is Gangsta" is produced to near perfection. Considering the album was produced by Black Metaphor, this doesn't come as much of a surprise. The heavy beat is broken by subtle trumpet sounds that reverberate in the background. Listening to Ross on this track, it's easy to imagine him in the studio getting excited about his music.

It's a song that can consume the listener, like it seems to consume the artist, which is rare.

But "Rich Is Gangsta" isn't the best song on the album. That title can only be appointed to one, and "Sanctified" is the surefire winner.

It's easy to argue that "Sanctified" would have felt more at home on Kanye's 2013 album "Yeezus" - its electric undertones set it apart and the gorgeous gospel sound that Betty Wright interjects into the track projects the song to new heights.

Featuring Kanye West, Betty Wright and Big Sean, the lyrics of "Sanctified" read like a play-by-play of each emcee's ever-strong ambitions in the rap game. Its lyrics give the listener a little bit more than any other track - it has more life, more realism.

Being on a track with the ever-egocentric Kanye and Rick Ross must be a daunting proposition, but Big Sean still manages to stand out. His intricate verse sets him apart from the others and his flow never fails to miss a beat. It's an incredibly strong show from an artist that rarely finds himself in his rightful limelight.

In fact, there are multiple musical elements of the album that stand out: stunning production, on-point background beats, backing singers who illuminate tracks and guest rappers galore. But nothing works together.

The album is ripe with potential, but it struggles to be whole. There's an internal battle between the tracks, and lack of cohesion from song to song makes the album hard to listen to.

Mastermind paints the picture of a bizarre A-list rap party - each guest fights for attention, while the host oversees the mayhem from his couch and lets the butter congeal in his beard. It's an enjoyable experience, but when it's all over you'll walk away not quite sure of what just happened.

email: arts@ubspectrum.com



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