Featured, Music, Theory & Essay

Is Rick Ross A Good Rapper?

There are two ways to answer the question asked in the title.

1. He is a professional rapper, having been one for over a decade, and his professional rappings are quite proficient and popular. Compared to the average person — or, even better, compared to me when I attempt to rap (which often occurs when drunk and eating Thai-style fried rice) — he is great at putting sentences that happen to rhyme at the conclusion of each line together and rapping them in a coherent manner over a background musical accompaniment. The distance in quality between him rapping and you rapping is the distance between a Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwich and you attempting to make a spicy chicken sandwich by catching a live chicken and attempting to sandwich him between two slices of Wonder Bread. So yes, he is good at rapping. This is an objective and inarguable truth.

2. Objectively, Rick Ross’s level of goodness (or perhaps even greatness) is difficult to assess and quantify, because the answer is inextricably dependent on A) how you define quality in this context and B) how you personally feel about Rick Ross, the person who raps. That said, I will attempt to answer this as best I can. And the answer is I don’t know.

I’ve been listening to rap music for roughly 30 years now. The first cassette I owned was LL Cool J’s I’m Bad. The first record was Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. And in between those purchases and my latest download (Drake’s pretentiously kaleidoscopic More Life), I’ve listened to, studied, debated, and argued about every rap artist worth listening to, studying, debating, and arguing about. Which is why I have no reservations with saying that Rick Ross is one of the most gifted rappers ever. Not one of the five or 10 best (more on that later) but one of the five or 10 most talented. If a checklist existed listing every desirable quality a rapper could possess — a Zillow or Trulia for MCs — he’d fill every box.

It starts, of course, with his voice, which is one of hip-hop’s greatest and most recognizable. It’s deep and baritone and thunderous without being cacophonous and distracting. And syrupy without being saccharin. He wields it like an instrument; enunciating and resonating without seeming to need to put much effort into either. Even his ad-libs and grunts have meaning. Or, at least, seem to have meaning. He could say “I went to the store; got a bucket to eat” and grunt and leave you convinced that God just descended from the Heavens to order a two piece and a biscuit. He also comes equipped with an embarrassingly effortless flow that makes him impervious to suffocation. Even the best rappers occasionally get swallowed by good production. But aside from Biggie, Rozay is the only rapper who never seems to get overpowered by the beat. When he’s on a song, he makes it his. 

Perhaps the best example of this occurs on “Lord Knows” — which A) many people consider to be Drake’s best collection of verses ever (personally, I’d go with “6PM in New York”) and B) is one of the best and most ambitious tracks ever from Just Blaze, one of the best hip-hop producers ever. To his credit, Drake acquits himself quite well on the beat. But his verses are accompanied by a strain of insecurity. You listen to him and you know that he is trying very, very, very, very hard to kill it and not get killed by it. But when it’s Ross’s turn to spit, the difference in confidence and presence is palpable. It’s almost as if someone said “we need to get a grown-up on this song.” And then a grown-up showed up, and did in 45 seconds what Drake couldn’t do in three and a half minutes.

(Seriously, you listen to that song and start thinking the face Drake’s making on the album cover is the face he made after comparing his verse to Rozay’s.)

And, while Ross’s subject matter is infamous for lacking variation, there’s enough diversity and creativity within his writing and his concepts to make the same subjects — usually limited to Bentleys, kilos, bitches, bitch niggas, and regrets — remain entertaining. He’s consistent and reliable without being mundane and boring.

So why, when asking myself if he’s a good rapper, was my answer “I don’t know” instead of the clear resounding “Yes” it would seem to be? Well, the “I don’t know” stems from a factor I try to shy away from when judging and assessing rappers. But, in this context and with this particular rapper and this particular question, it’s too important to ignore: Record Sales.

In 11 years, Rick Ross has released nine solo and three collaborative albums. Of those, Port of Miami is the only one to reach platinum status, and that happened 10 years after it was released. Sales usually are not an effective rubric when assessing quality, as the only thing they measure is a very specific type of popularity and marketability. (Hi Nicki!) But his music is known for its lushness and luxuriousness; you listen to him, and not only do you believe he’s a billionaire, he makes you feel like you’re a billionaire too. When my Spotify playlist happened upon Rozay and I happened to be driving, my Charger morphed into a Maybach.

Also, each album is practically a who’s who of Niggas With Islands And Shit. And is released with the pomp and circumstance of a royal engagement party. Teflon Don alone featured John Legend, Jay Z, Cee-lo, T.I., Jadakiss, Erykah Badu, Diddy, Kanye, Ne-Yo, Trey Songz, Drake, Gucci Mane, Styles P, Chrisette Michele, and Raphael Saadiq. That’s a shitton of rich niggas with extensive Wikipedia pages. And he shamelessly shoehorns formulaic songs on these albums; tracks whose main objective is to hopefully give said albums the best possible chance at selling millions of copies. He has attempted, 12 times now, to create blockbusters, not masterpieces, and he’s failed each time. It’s Michael Bay’s sensibility with Wes Anderson’s box office.

And, it can not be ignored that while most trap rap offers at least a plausible fabrication of hood realities — you know that the person rapping probably doesn’t do what he raps about anymore but has at some point in the past — Rick Ross is transparently counterfeit. Not only did he not sell drugs, he detained people who sold them. Which, in a macro sense, isn’t a bad thing. It’s better to lock criminals up than to do crimes and shit, I guess. But in the micro world of rap music, perhaps this anti-meta lack of authenticity is an invisible albatross holding him back.

That said, I generally like his albums. Even sometimes more than albums I recognize as objectively better. (I’ve probably listened to God Forgives I Don’t three times as much as To Pimp A Butterfly, and I believe Rich Forever is the best mixtape ever.) So I remain tempted to answer “Yes! Definitely! Rick Ross is absolutely a great rapper!” even while knowing I might be wrong.

But just as I know that the 10th Rick Ross solo album, whenever it’s released, won’t be much different than the first, I know that some time this week, I’ll be riding around Pittsburgh listening to Rather You Than Me. And I’ll feel like a billionaire while doing it. And the answer to my question won’t matter.

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com and EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Great song maker. Great flow. Average bars.

  • Other_guy13

    I’m not going to read this…the answer is no. Plain and simple…no. He has good songs and is entertaining…but no.

    • HouseOfBonnets

      Big meech,larry hoover lmao

      • Other_guy13

        Anyone could do that

        • Roz

          BUT. CAN. THEY. GRUNT.???

          • Other_guy13

            Ugh

          • miss t-lee

            UGH!

      • Kat

        I do like this song..lol

      • Roz

        Ayeee…now I like this one!

      • DM.

        Anthem

  • Other_guy13

    Rick Ross Flow can be used by anyone https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M94ii6MVilw

  • cyanic

    No – How did this warrant a full post?

    • Kat

      LMBO…

  • Alessandro De Medici

    Ross picks out great beats, that could probably stand alone based on instrumentals.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Y15q1fgzys

    • Forgot to add this. He’s a fantastic beat picker. That is a legitimate skill. French Montana also excels at this.

  • Kat

    No but I fucks with him. He’s good riding music. And you know when you dream of cooking in the kitchen. White stuff and stuff.

    • BatmansExWife

      I always have a few of his albums ready to go when I’m traveling.

      • Kat

        He’s good for keeping you awake. I think it’s the beat and catchy hooks.

        • Phil GoBeGreat

          The guy makes good music. Cant deny that… but I listen to it with full understanding that he is telling a story (that aint his) and I’m ok with that

  • miss t-lee

    I love Ross’ beat selection more than this rapping.

    • Other_guy13

      A1

      • miss t-lee

        Good Southern rapper beat knock music.

    • He’s Rihanna. The singing/rapping isn’t there but he came come up with a good/catchy song due to production, personality, and ad libs.

      • miss t-lee

        At least on Anti I could actually stand to hear Rih Rih sing…she’s come leaps and bounds in that aspect…lol

        • True. Her vocal coach and sound engineers earn their coin.

          • miss t-lee

            Most definitely.

          • Val

            Lately I’ve been liking her voice.

            • Janelle Doe

              Could it be her many albums just got your ears comfortable with the sound?

              • Val

                I don;t think so because I don;t listen to her that much. I think she’s learning how to sing.

                • Janelle Doe

                  Ok

          • A.K.O.O.

            “…and sound engineers…”

            Yes they do.

          • kneelbeforetigers

            cackling. love riri but yeah.

        • KeyBrad

          Same here, That umbrella song threw me all the way off. I only began to listen to her when Anti came out.

          • miss t-lee

            Yeah, I’ve loved her dance tracks over the years, her ballads would send me running for the hills. “Needed Me” turned that corner for me.

            • pls

              and needed me was a throwaway drake song.

              • miss t-lee

                Yup!

        • FarbissinaPunim

          Ugh. When she sang “Needed Me” at some award show, I nearly died.

        • pls

          After hearing Anti I was impressed at how she has gotten much better over the years. Then this happened.

          http://disq.us/p/1h7lpzy

          She still can’t sing. I wish she would just be a model and give her songs to someone who cares.

      • Kylroy

        Singers are not required to be writers to earn respect – I’m not sure if Whitney Houston wrote any of her material, and nobody thought less of her for it. Rappers are a different story.

        • Val

          Rappers are supposed to be authentic though, right? Rap about your experiences and such.

        • I’m more than aware of this. I assume that Ross pens all of his material but I’m still not sure if he’s a good rapper the way that Ms. Fenty isn’t a good singer. They both are capable of putting out enjoyable music.

      • pls

        I was gonna post this! They have always been on the same level to me as far as being interesting and having undeniable hits, but the image is completely manufactured. I seen how Ross used to look at the end of my “All About The Benjamins” vhs.

    • Brown Rose

      I don’t understand him at all. He’s unintelligible despite the beats.

      • miss t-lee

        I understand him just fine…lol

        • Brown Rose

          *sigh* must be a southern thing…

          • miss t-lee

            Must be?

            • Kas loves Jamaican Breakfast

              Put the strap down. It’s barely Monday.

              • miss t-lee

                Hush mayne.

          • Mr. Mooggyy

            Ross is leaps and bounds above a lot of these southern rappers, as far as annunciation! ……never mind I’m south of the Mason Dixie Line!

            • Brown Rose

              Grew up on East and west coast. to me Southern rap is hard to understand period and I thought Patois was hard.

          • Hammster

            Kinda, sorta, not really. Ross is from Miami which is southern geographically but definitely not southern culturally.

  • Kat

    I’m still baffled every time I hear “Hustlin” though..that voice ain’t the same Rick Ross we know and love today.

  • I Came I Saw

    I dunno the hip hops. But Damon, if you cropped Ross’ moobies out of that photo, I thank you.

    • Roz

      “I dunno the hip hops”!. I’m dying here! LOL!

    • Brown Rose

      Given his size, moobs become goobs.

    • Ashbo85

      MOOBIES!!!!

    • MsCee

      Rolling!

    • #FreeTheNipple

      • I Came I Saw

        I’m here for this. Not my nips tho. They’re sensitive.

  • SoonToBeMrs

    He is good at grunting and eating.

    • HouseOfBonnets

      I mean he has a custom amazon echo that will send him wing stop orders when he says unhh.

      He living a dream tbh lol

      • SoonToBeMrs

        K.

      • miss t-lee

        I’m seriously not mad at this.

        • HouseOfBonnets

          Me either lol

      • Kat

        Doesn’t he own a few Wingstops? If so, I gots no problem with him. He love chicken. Breasts and all.

        • HouseOfBonnets

          Yup

        • Roz

          Breasts? like the chicken kind or…you know what? never mind.

          • Kat

            You know…

        • miss t-lee

          Yup he does.

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