So you have Diddy at the reins as an executive producer, 70+ minutes of cocaine-clad lyrics with mentions of nefarious activity in between, a heavy set dude with a distinct voice spitting those gangsta lyrics, and BAM! You have a Notorious B.I.G. album ready to set the music world on fire, right? False! Ricky Rozay’s “Mastermind” is far from a “Ready to Die,” faintly reminiscent of a time in rap when Coogi sweaters ruled and car phones made you that guy.
Let us not get caught up with Biggie comparisons, though. Instead, let’s hold the Teflon Don’s latest LP up against his own body of work. 2012’s “God Forgives, I Don’t” showed us a side of Rick Ross that promised a departure from the surface-level gangster conveyed in Rozay’s first four albums and a progression into the actual psychology of the crime kingpin Ross paints himself as. However, while more introspective rhymes could have established Rozay as a lyricist capable of giving you something to digest, “Mastermind” lurches back to his Big Meech-Larry Hoover persona, imploring you to roll the windows down and obnoxiously bump the tales of this studio gangsta.
With that said, “Mastermind” is going to tickle the fancy of his entire following, who seem to have an insatiable desire for gaudy, Capone-esque entertainment. Mentions of his cutting-edge designer threads (Balmain) and uber-exclusive car game (Rolls Royce Wraith) have metamorphosed simultaneously with his net worth and legacy, while the assortment of referenced armory would impress the most conservative NRA member. It’s a wonder that the album case isn’t lined in gold.
The slew of features don’t ease any of the album’s bougie, gun-touting nature either. Kanye, Jay-Z, and Diddy all appear as concentrated versions of their most egotistical selves. Yeezy questions his savior for God’s sake! The thing about it is, hopping on a song with Rick Ross demands high levels of Black grandiosity to match his illusoriness. If the Dade County Don’s sixth LP had to have a thesis statement chosen to pinpoint its message, the “Devil is a Lie” hook would do so perfectly.
Religion emerges as the biggest boss’s newest mantra on the album. A multitude of mediocre ecclesiastical allusions imply he’s been spending more than a few hours watching religious specials on the History Channel. “Fiends linin’ up like we having communion. This my daily bread and you niggas consumers,” a religious Rozay posits on “Walkin’ on Air,” preceding a meaningless list of bible books and holy figures. Throughout the album, the holy references do nothing but rhyme and deceive the average listener into thinking the last four bars of a verse weren’t wasted.
On top of missing the ministerial mark, Rozay fails to build on that Jay Z-like swagger he stumbled upon in GFID, meaning finding that perfect balance between crack music and songs in the key of life. The move away from the live instrumentation that made a performance with 1500 or Nothin’ masterful further ruined Ross’s chance to become one who spits the “real,” instead of a theatrical figure with superficial significance. Attempts to comprise a thematic project failed as skits and song titles do the album’s title no justice. By reverting to his old style though, his “Mastermind” shows by resorting back to the ignorance we love to love. Perhaps, Diddy pointed him in the right direction in that respect. And though that Biggie sample of “Your Nobody” was “Dead Wrong,” the album is full of the hip-hop essence that established Bad Boy records almost 20 years ago.
ONLY RECOMMENDED IF: You are excited for an aural recital of a contemporary urban gangster Broadway play.