To rightfully misquote one of Rick Ross’ earliest supporters, the Miami rapper has largely shed his initial caricature as a dope boy to become not simply a businessman, but a business [man]. In the process, he has ascended into Hip Hop’s top tier, a calculated move that comes deservedly given successful growth not only from a financial standpoint, but also as an artist. God Forgives, I Don’t reflects this progress, in a manner that only Rozay could provide.
One couldn’t speak of his latest effort without first mentioning “Sixteen,” an eight-minute escapade that features the elusive yet incomparable presence of Andre 3000. Over smooth, melodic synths, Ross reveals bars of a better life while Three Stacks serves up three verses worth of contemplation that will have your head on a lyrical swivel. Intricately ignoring the standards of a formulaic Rap record, it’s a riveting performance that would make even the biggest Ross skeptic give an approving nod. A man who’s known for great excess, “Presidential” focuses on his penchant for self-worth and the women who benefit from it. With Pharrell Williams lending his signature Neptunes sound and Elijah Blake handling falsetto duties admirably, Ross is on cloud nine as he glides through the opulent production with a girl in one hand and a rack in the other. Still, even as Ross builds his stock portfolio brick by brick, he’s comfortable and (more importantly) sincere enough to revisit his past with clarity. On the soulfully somber cut “Ashamed,” he raps;
“Went from walking on gravel, now I’m riding on vogues / 50 M’s in the bank, I get me 200, I’m gone / Still so close to the hood, I’m ashamed to say / All the money in the world can’t take this pain away / It’s just another story at the campfire / Court side seats with the franchise / I think about my niggas doing 25 / Shining bright, who am I for you to criticize?”
Highlights aside, Rozay’s most dependable assets on God Forgives, I Don’t fittingly become his Maybach Music Group cohorts. Whether it’s Wale partnering on the sexually connotative yet provocative “Diced Pineapples,” or Omarion’s bellowing hook throughout the distant “Ice Cold,” their unique approach compliment Ross’ grandiose style. With that said, by no means are these records made in the same vein as the Self Made compilations, as Ross firmly takes the reins in each instance. Such is the case with “So Sophisticated,” which sounds like a beat tailor-made for Meek Mill’s shout-first delivery, and he boastfully delivers accordingly. However, his verse pales in comparison to Ross’ as he verbally rips on foes who could only dream of his stature (“You wanna be the hottest, but that shit get complicated / I pull your card, I know you’re pussy by your conversation / Show you the safe you’ll have to kill me for the combination / Made another two milli just off the compilation”).
For those following Ross’ career since his earlier days, the “Maybach Music” series has been a staple for flashy features met with prolific production, a combination no self-respecting Rap fan could resist. Flipping the script this time around, Ross tackles the fourth installment solo (with Ne-Yo as his hook wingman), meddling with J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s marvelous backdrop like it was his birthright. Ironically, the go-to track for star power on God Forgives, I Don’t turns out to be impressive in name only rather than in execution. Aptly titled “3 Kings,” Ross, Jay-Z and Dr. Dre churn out arrogant verses that feel carelessly put together, with Hov needlessly rambling about his daughter at the end of the record (any guesses as to who wrote Dre’s?). Alas, Jake One’s magnificent production goes unfulfilled. Things hit a wall sonically on “Hold Me Back” and “911.” The first detraction is the vast similarities in the sound of the production; “911” essentially comes off as a stripped-down version of its predecessor, which wasn’t impressive in the first place. Next up is the lyricism, with pompous lines like, “How we rose from the sewers / Funny now I’m the shit” and “If I die tonight I know I’m coming back nigga / Reincarnated, big black fat nigga” awkwardly settling in, as if he’s actually impressed by his wittiness. Ross definitely stepped up his rhymes for this album, but these records would have you think otherwise.
Bold and indulgent, God Forgives, I Don’t embodies why Rick Ross has become a fixture that listeners can depend on, as well as an executive who can strategize success for not only himself but others around him. “It takes a boss to know a boss,” L.A. Reid states at the end of “Maybach Music IV.” Five albums in, there’s no disagreement here.