Artist: Rick Ross
Album: God Forgives, I Don’t
Sounds Like: a series of one note brags by the Hip-Hop’s 1% that has beats folks can rock too…mostly (3 out of 5; worthy of copping on sale if you’re a die-hard fan or some mp3s here and there)
Reviewer: DJ Fusion
The mainstream Hip-Hop world here in the United States pretty much consists of 4 crews/cliques/labels that take up the majority of radio & video airplay as of late – Young Money/Cash Money, Roc Nation, G.O.O.D. Music and Maybach Music a.k.a MMG.
Love him or hate him, over the past 6 years, William Roberts II has taken on the rapper persona of Rick Ross and really ran with it.
The “Bawse” has shoved his brand of relatively nihilist Chocolate Scarface* consumerist MCing in everybody’s face through a mixture of sheer will, a booming voice, (mostly) tight catchy hooks & production. Even folks who might not be fans of Rick Ross probably can rattle off at least the hook of songs like “B.M.F.”, “Magnificent”, “Push It” or Hustlin’”.
Now on his 5th official album, “God Forgives, I Don’t”, Rick Ross doesn’t really push any boundaries with anything that he rhymes about. In fact, he goes even more basic with his topics of rhyme then ever.
Besides the regular “I’m a hardcore thug guy that may or may not have dealt drugs, got people f***ed up and have lots o’ money” steeze that people should be used to through his MMG brand by now, the only thing that sticks out topic wise about “GFID” is that Rick Ross has gotten exponentially more a** from the ladies than ever. Like, LOTS and LOTS of a**. Sexy times galore. Wingstop & Women.
The topics on almost every “GFID” song is literally:
1. I dealt mad drugs – like kilos and whatnot.
2. I got [product endorsement of rich folk items here]. I’m rolling in cash like that.
3. I gets mad heauxs & like f***ing ‘em. Did I mention I REALLY like f***ing pretty women & models who holler at me due to my money and trinkets? Poon, son. F***in’.
4. I or my crew shalt f*** up a hater.
Bonus Bar: Sometimes I pray about the wrongs I’ve done/will do to climb up, but am gonna do that s*** anyway. And I struggled sometimes.
Anyway, all of this would be fine [let's face it, if you're not with this type of thing, you're just not] if the rhymes weren’t so “Autopilot Bawse Is Slacking Off, Good God” MC mentality wasn’t so ridiculously blatant.
Over mostly fantastic production on deck from the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Rico Love, Jake One, Cool & Dre, Pharrell Williams, Cardiak and more that mixes up soulful vibes and southern bounce, it’s a shame that Rick Ross has gotten ultra lazy as an MC with this rhyming about opulence.
There’s not a lot of the hook heavy awesomeness that would make casual fans to hardcore Hip-Hop heads grudingly acknowledge dude has some skills. While always at most a merely competent lyricist, there was usually something – an outrageous line, solid flow, etc. – that would grab ears & make folks interested in Rick Ross.
Besides some yelling (over the horrid “Hold Me Back” and “911″ sonic foolery that will be a ratchet club’s theme near you before the fight starts at the photo area with the airbrushed sheet), you get some relatively smoothed out almost unemotional sounding bars on each track. In a weird way, I’d rather hear more fantasy gangster rhymes from Rick Ross than this laundry list of comfort that is “GFID”.
What makes this more of a mess is that the guest appearances from almost everyone on “God Forgives, I Don’t” basically take Rick Ross to school.
With the exception of Dr. Dre’s unnecessary Rick Ross lite guest spot on “The 3 Kings”** and Wale’s Def Poetry Jam “sexy” mack line bootleg opener on “Diced Pineapples”, folks like Jay-Z (who basically runs away with “The 3 Kings” on what sounds like an extended freestyle), Andre 3000 (“Sixteen”), Nas, Stalley, Meek Mill, Ne-Yo, Omarion (yes, HIM) and more do their tracks justice.
While Rick Ross may feel that “God Forgives, I Don’t” is a statement of his place in the music business and in the streets as a G, it may flip into what his past fans & current listeners may feel about his collection of musical mediocrity over 15 tracks (17 on a deluxe version).
This album is not a piece of crap, but even in it’s genre, this is pretty much only surviving on being remotely decent off of being able to cop the best beats money can buy.*** “GFID” is perfectly fine to ride to this summer, but this will not rate as the Bawse’s best or most memorable work. Time for Rick Ross to get hungry again.
* right up to “The World Is Yours” billboard moment before the s*** goes down when he’s getting the girl, money and whatnot from the drug game
** MAKE “DETOX” motherf***er instead of doing your 1,000,000th ghostwritten tough guy rhyme endorsing your headphones on a track. Seriously.
*** If the instrumentals get releases, it’s OVER.
Personal Favorite Tracks: Ten Jesus Pieces feat. Stalley, Sixteen feat. Andre 3000, Maybach Music IV feat. Ne-Yo
Music Video: Rick Ross feat. Andre 3000 – Sixteen
Music Video: Rick Ross feat. Ne-Yo – Maybach Music IV
Last week I found myself speechless after hearing two hip-hop tracks. The second one was ”Ill Mind of Hopsin 5”. The first was by Riz MC, and it was ”Sour Times”. But more about that later on….
Riz MC is one Riz Ahmed, London-born and of Pakistani lineage, who I thought of, until recently, as an actor. A good one, too. He has appeared in two of my favourite British films of recent years – ”Shifty”, and the terrorism satire ”Four Lions”. I’d heard he was an MC some time last year, but didn’t really pay attention; my inbuilt dismissal of most such crossovers being to blame. But then I heard the aforementioned tune last week, and I simply had to investigate further.
A little side note here, before I continue – I’d recommend taking some time to sample the output of the label responsible for this release, Tru Thoughts. They really do have some tremendous acts (Omar, Quantic (under numerous guises), Zed Bias, Hot 8 Brass Band, Mark de Clive Lowe).
Back to the album….musically, he bounces between various electronic styles, all of which are pretty unforgiving and cold. None of that is meant as a criticism. Quite the opposite, in fact, as it replicates and parodies urban life’s mechanical methodologies and propensity towards homogeneity. Within these click-clack robot grooves are glitches, circuit-breaks, disturbances in the pulsing ether, which stop the music becoming a drone. The music is harsh, it’s not an easy listen, and it is unforgiving. For those who know it, I’d suggest that – in fact – much of the roots of this sound are to be found in another UK genre, Grime (sometimes called Eski) – as practiced by both Wiley and Dizzee Rascal early on in their careers. There is no easy groove, no sultry slithering bass line, and no lithesome bongo rhythm. And then you get into the lyrics, and he’s equally as unforgiving: there isn’t much in the way of profanity, but there is much in the way of mordantly acerbic observation and pointed commentary. Riz received a scholarship, and was able to obtain a degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Oxford, and it is the intelligence he evidently has which he uses to add substance to what, in someone else’s hands, might come across as mere bitchiness, or even envy. He slates the London of gentrification (which I know well, having seen it happen around me twice in my lifetime already, and being a witness to it right now), the loss of an area’s identity as it becomes the clothing for a new breed of habitant. The falsehoods of being “hard”, the facade of the working class kid bravado, and the attendant backstabbing all come in for a good kicking. His voice is curious; there’s an emptiness to it, like he’s saying all of this from a place above his subjects, observing their actions from afar. It all adds to the layering, the coldness of this album might be too stark for some, but I found it bracing, a corrective. It’s city life unadorned and honestly rendered.
All of this is quite impressive. Not earth-shattering by any means, but well put together, intelligent, and a breath of fresh (though some may say fetid) air. His real pièce de résistance, however, comes at the very end, when he has built up the momentum, has piled scorn upon disdain and contempt. ”Sour Times” is a track to be reckoned with. Almost instantly, the difference – sonically – is marked. There is no rhythm track, no beat. The music is spare, and more classically “human”, comprising only of light guitar, and strings, with the merest of mournful vocals to back him on occasion. (Thinking about the song now, it’s obvious that the lyrics are supposed to be centre stage, the accompaniment mere ornamentation to the more devastating message he wishes to deliver.) In ”Sour Times”, Riz deconstructs the media- and politics-led narratives surrounding the 7/7 and 9/11 terrorist attacks, and around the Muslim monster myth, and asks the listener to confront truths that some might not wish to face. This is where he most utilises some of the knowledge his education made him privy to, allowing the wider view it gives him to shine light on the finer detail, to give some context behind the mind-set of those who might turn to murder, and to those who might simply feel let down. He humanises that which everything around us tries to dehumanise; those who are prepared to hear may find their understanding broadened, those who do not may simply disagree – either way it’s great to see someone like Riz MC in hip-hop, adding a unique, intelligent voice to a much-maligned music.
Video Sour Times:
Album: The Soul Sessions Vol. 2
Artist: Joss Stone
Sounds like: A sultry, funky journey that was disturbingly easy to forget once it was over.
What’s interesting to me about Joss Stone is that I know she’s awesome, but I kinda don’t care.
Now before all you Joss Stone stans get all bent out of shape, hear me out a bit. Because I’ve got nothing but love for Britain’s barefoot queen of soul – with her awesome curvy tresses, retro sensibilities, and all ten stories high of her smoky, sultry voice. But for all the verve and punch her performances and albums bring – there’s always this sense that they are tribute pieces. That she’s honoring the voices of the past with her talents, but never actually making a statement about herself.
First bursting on the scene as a teenager singing songs by Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston as if she’d somehow lived the heartbreak of the words herself between classes at grammar school –Stone introduced herself to the world in 2003 with a fantastic album called The Soul Sessions – where she brought new life to classic tracks by Betty Wright, Aretha Franklin, and Bettye Swann, as well as sexy new takes on songs by Waylon Jennings and the White Stripes.
What made Joss Stone exciting as an artist is that she provided a youthful face and energy to a sound that was already bristling within the music scene at the time. She was the star that might be able to elevate this sort of retro soul to the Top 40 where it belonged.
Think back to those days in the early 2000s — Where were you hearing Angie Stone’s music (before it seemed to disappear off the planet completely)? — Hip-hop radio. Urban Pop stations. American radio didn’t really know what to do with soul music at the time, so they just sort of threw it anywhere they could hoping that it would stick.
Even worse, the other acts in the states that were pursuing this sound (Nikka Costa, The Roots, Raphael Saadiq) were often relegated to college or independent radio play. Unlike in Britain, where soul music is cherished — the retro sound never really gained the foothold it deserved in the pop scene it was looking for.
Even Lenny Kravitz’s time as a hit-making pop artist seemed divided between a revival of classic soul and classic rock – and even then, that entire period was thought of as some sort of “artistic choice” on Kravitz’ part. Lenny Kravitz wasn’t a “soul artist” – he was a throwback who was simply channeling the looks and sound of the past into pop hits (much the same way people feel about bands like the Black Keys today).
People think that it’s a schtick — a gimmick of some kind.
For example, over the better part of a decade, Americans have fervently cheered on aspiring artists on American Idol – where fresh-faced hopefuls are frequently tested through rounds of singing soul classics to prove they have the chops to make it as a current pop star. Almost as if the ability to sing soul music were simply a measuring tool – but certainly not what we’d expect to hear from the eventual winner once he started his “real career.”
The irony being that American Idol is actually just a flashy repackaging of a British show called Pop Idol, which in many ways was an extension of a tradition of European musical competition shows like Top of the Pops or Star for a Night – which is where 13 year old Joss Stone first came on the scene.
She’s a powerhouse singer who thrives on recreation. Her voice and stage presence stirs memories of Janis Joplin, of the raw emotional power of Betty Wright or Aretha Franklin. It’s not hard at all to get swept up into the passion of a Joss Stone performance, especially live on stage.
But because she lives in this retro world – there’s often this lingering sense that Joss Stone is simply performing songs. Performing them well, but never really stepping out and making a statement. It’s as if she’s constantly making movies built on scenes from classic films of the past – where the main reason you enjoy it is because “Man they don’t make them like this anymore, do they?”
It’s this sort of displaced energy that makes it hard for me to ultimately connect with Joss Stone’s latest release The Soul Sessions Vol. 2. I loved listening to it the first time. The snaky funk of tracks like “Stoned Out of My Mind,” the bittersweet love that drives grooves like “While You’re Out Looking for Sugar” and “First Taste of Hurt” – and ballad after ballad that goes down like sweetened coffee. It’s a fantastic album of classic sounds and crackling production, all driven by what seem to be a rejuvenated kick in Stone’s voice.
But then something weird happens. You finish the last song and you’re ok with it ending. Almost like a concert where you decide to duck out before the encore so you can beat the traffic. Yeah I loved the way it sounds, but in the end it was just a show. 15 tracks that were great to spend time with, but that I didn’t love enough to take home and put on repeat.
Die-hard fans might not agree, but what the album seems to lack more than anything is a moment of personal connection. There’s never a feeling that Stone is reaching out beyond these classic tracks to tell us something about herself. Don’t get me wrong — I love the way she brings these classic sounds to life. But in the end that’s all it feels like – a musical revue, or a clip show.
It makes for a great hour of listening, but I honestly haven’t been back to it since.
See what you think, here’s “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to The People”