Rick Ross: God Forgives, I Don't | Album Reviews | Pitchfork
God Forgives, I Don't doesn't feel good enough, or big enough, to be what it is: The victory lap crowning Rick Ross' four-year rise to dominance, beginning with 2009's Deeper Than Rap. Part of what made Ross' Big Leap possible, now that it's over, was the fact that he was allowed to do it on his own bizarre terms: Deeper Than Rap's street single, "Mafia Music", swatted 50 Cent, unprovoked, at the exact moment that Ross' own reputation was most fragile. It had no chorus, just four minutes of Ross huffing about Bob Marley, Whitney Houston, and how the dope in his trunk made the car "smell like blue cheese." The album itself was overstuffed for a summer-radio takeover that Ross was in no position to reasonably expect. Teflon Don, just one year later, shortened its running time to an equally absurd 11 songs, as if Ross felt the next logical move was to remind rap fans of Illmatic. Both succeeded because they were fired by the flames of Ross' outrageous self-belief. He built a self-contained, no-reality-allowed planet, and spending time there was good for the soul.
God Forgives, I Don’t, by comparison, feels depressingly earthbound. The entire rap industry now worships Ross: At last May's Maybach Music Group conference, Lyor Cohen, Diddy, Swizz Beatz, and others showed up to shower ridiculous accolades on Ross (Diddy: "I think Rick Ross will go down in history as one of the great record men." Lyor: "Having a conversation with Ross is like having a conversation with Nas or Hova." Swizz Beatz: "Rick is also a painter, an artist; he understands Basquiat"). He is no longer the former punchline defying gravity: He is the center of gravity, and God Forgives is the first project of his to bend under the weight of rap-industry expectation.
In fact, L.A.Reid himself shows up on "Maybach Music IV", muttering about how "it takes a boss to recognize a boss." Reid's presence is unforgivable, not even by God: It's like having your party crashed by your high school principal. The moment may be more viscerally unappealing than picturing Ross taking advantage of the $24,000 toilet he brags about on "Hold Me Back". The only other guest on "Maybach Music IV", the latest installment of a series that has featured guest appearances by Jay-Z, Kanye West, T.I., and Erykah Badu, is... Ne-Yo, i.e., The Guy Who Sings On Your Def Jam Album When You No Longer Have Any Control Over Your Own Commercial Destiny. Even the beat is a tired jazz-fusion retread of "Maybach Music III".
God Forgives is an unsteady vehicle like that, the kind of misfortune-plagued summer blockbuster with visible seams: All that money invested, and they didn't fix that one shot where the spaceship looks like a sticker? How did a song called "Diced Pineapples" end up on the album still called "Diced Pineapples", and why did they let Wale kick it off telling a woman he intends to figure out how deep her birth canal is? When Ross shows up on "Hold Me Back", he is painfully, jarringly out of time with the track, panting after the beat like a winded fat uncle trying, and failing, to tag his 10-year-old nephew "it." You can almost see him bent over, his hands resting on his knees, while the downbeat speeds away from him.
The "biggest" moments, like "Maybach Music IV", are the most leaden: "3 Kings" is the big-event track, with verses from Dr. Dre and Jay-Z. All three verses can be summed up in a single line. For Dre, it is "YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO THIS BEAT THROUGH MY HEADPHONES!" For Jay, it is "niccas couldn't walk in my daughters' socks/ Banksy, !!es, Basquiats." For Ross, it is the clanging, charmless "Come and suck a !! for a millionaire!" All three bring their C game, and the result is lethal. The beat bears the name of Jake One, a producer who usually graces his music with analog warmth, but Dre's surgical-gloves mixing vacuums out every trace of humanity. Deep into his Detox oblivion, Dre's production has come to sound the way George Lucas' Star Wars prequels look-- sterilized, molded-plastic, and soulless.
There is still some great music on God Forgives, but it is somewhat overshadowed by these higher-profile misfires. "Sixteen" brings André 3000 into Ross' orbit, and Three Stacks obliges, like he does every few years, with a casually mind-melting verse. The Cool- and Dre-produced "Ashamed" is built on a great Wilson Pickett sample; "Ashamed" is a solid example of Ross' plush luxury rap done well. "Ten Jesus Pieces", the rare "reflective Bawse" moment, finds Ross barking about pulling prayers from his "archive" (even the guy's prayers are stored somewhere expensive-sounding) over Jeffrey Osborne's lovestruck "Baby". "911" sounds like it was recorded during the same time as the far-superior material on last winter's Rich Forever, and is therefore excellent. The project is too big to completely fail, and it doesn't. But Planet Boss just became a much less fun place to visit.