Music Review: God Forgives, I Don’t

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     When old pictures of Rick Ross working as a corrections officer leaked to the internet, it didn’t really matter. It’s the same reason wrestling fans don’t care that it’s all pretty much fake; high drama is high drama, plain and simple. Rick Ross has carved out a him-shaped space in modern hip-hop by way of his radical self-aggrandizing and reinvention, his drug kingpin persona buffeted along with a bullying flow you might expect to hear coming out of a cartoon anthropomorphic blunt. And with 2009’s Deeper Than Rap and 2010’s excellent Teflon Don, he owned it. Now, with the oft-delayed God Forgives I Don’t, the Bawse is back, and doing what he does best; it gets soggy and exhausting under the weight of the glossy beats and opulence, compared to the relatively tight and exhilarating Teflon Don, but B- Rick Ross is still a ways more entertaining than similar work from most other acts on his level of fame and success.


     Conspicuously consuming, a dusting of existential angst, dropping car and watch brands every other line, Ross (“Berry Gordy to the streets”) is front and center here. There are some high-profile guests which provide moments that range from mildly interesting and entertaining (“3 Kings” where Jay-Z pops in to remind us how much in the one percent he’s situated, and Dr. Dre reminds us to buy his headphones) to upstagingly brilliant (“Sixteen” where Andre 3000 reels off endless, confounding rhymes, culminating in an absolutely terrible guitar solo), and Pharrell Williams produces one cut, but this is Ross’ show. And like the persona he’s welded and reinforced around him, this is a rock-solid affair, musically. The expected J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League beats are typically smothered in strings and keyboards, like James Bond themes underlaid with 808 patterns, and while this reaches giddy heights on “Maybach Music IV,” it starts to exhaust after a while.

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That’s God Forgives, I Don’t’s Achilles, right there; for all of Ross’ public health scares and whirlwind rise to the top, he rarely resists mining the reliable lyrical vein he’s given us so many times before, albeit clever but ultimately repetitive ways of telling us how shockingly rich he can live. It feels like he should be wearing a crushed velvet blazer and burnt orange turtleneck and swirling a cognac snifter on a yacht; the gooey almost-Hamlisch gloss of the beats doesn’t help the 1970s comparisons. And while that’s fun to watch for a time, it doesn’t land because it doesn’t have any edges to catch. It’s when Ross deviates from this that God Forgives lets his for-lack-of-a-better-word-brilliance shine through. On “Ashamed,” by far the album’s best, Ross drops gleeful lines describing his financial survivor’s guilt over a nervy Wilson Pickett sample, and it’s simultaneously slick and messy in perfect proportion.

On his guest verse on Nas’ latest album, Ross felt completely out of place next to Nas’ troubled, complex verses about gang violence, but it worked; borne on the strength of Ross’ own charisma, a line like “seated in foreign cars, constantly getting weeded” didn’t feel tired, and when Ross closed his verse with the title of his then-upcoming album, it didn’t feel hollow. Ross is not deeper than rap. But he is the Teflon Don; somehow, none of this absurdity and cognitive dissonance sticks to him. God Forgives, I Don’t may demonstrate that fame and comfort tend to sand down some of the more intriguing edges of a rapper’s outsized persona. But Ross is big enough so that he can take a hit like that and still bulldoze forward like a Bawse.

 

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