Circa this time last year, the future was uncertain for Rick Ross, who was bouncing back from a health scare.
Fast forward to the present day and the Biggest Bawse is in full gear once again, recently delivering his 10th studio album Port Of Miami 2.
Like we do from time to time, the HipHopDX review crew likes to allow readers into the rating process. Below is the conversation spawned from Rozay’s latest.
Cherise Johnson (4-Year HipHopDX Contributor): I think Port Of Miami 2 is an elevated, high luxury version of Port Of Miami. The original was so street with Miami vibes and fun … this is more like Tony Montana at his big mansion at the pinnacle of his success.
Trent Clark (HipHopDX Editor-In-Chief): How is that any different from any other Ross project?
Ural Garrett (5-Year HipHopDX Contributor): Save for a few examples, normally it seems like a rapper has run out of ideas when they decide to go the sequel route. Despite being named after his debut, the original Port Of Miami is nowhere near as revered as his albums Deeper Than Rap or Teflon Don. So, to create a sequel based around that seems like Rick Ross is creatively hustling backward and the sounds of Port Of Miami 2 proves just that.
Trent: It has a handful of dope azz records though, Ural. On “White Lines,” his flow is liquid cocaine; “Act A Fool” and “BIG TYME” inject some well-needed adrenaline in Hip Hop and hearing him and Gunplay go back and forth on “Nobody’s Favorite” was muah!
Ural: That Gunplay joint is fire. I wish Ross would have gotten a little more left-field with the production choices or even the lyrical themes.
What’s really the difference between this and the last three or so Ross albums?
Justin Ivey (HipHopDX Senior Writer & Editor): Like Ural said, I also don’t think there’s any reverence for the original Port Of Miami. That album was solid but unspectacular. His later work is what made him respected and turned him into a top MC.
As a sequel, I think this did a good job in the aspect of faring well compared to the original. But like I said, the original wasn’t the gem. It was just the beginning, and he put out his best work later in his career.
Overall, it’s in the 3.5/5 type of range for me. A serviceable album that probably won’t be remembered as one of his essentials. 20 years from now, it’s a project for Ross completionists as opposed to people trying to hear him at his very best.
Cherise: Could Rick Ross have switched it and rapped about something else you think? I think this album is what fans expected. Critics — I know we push for growth, but it’s not always about us.
Rozay has found a formula that people love. Drake and Ross have never missed on a collab. “Gold Roses” can be added to the stack of good songs they’ve created together but not as memorable as “Diced Pineapples” or “Stay Schemin.” “Summer Reign” is great but is reminiscent of “Aston Martin Music” but not as good.
He definitely played it safe. I appreciate Port Of Miami 2 for what it is.
Justin: For me, Port Of Miami 2 got stronger in its latter half. I found the first portion to be fairly boring except for the guests. Gunplay, Meek Mill and Nipsey really were the lifeblood for me as I felt a general malaise toward the album about halfway into it.
Scott Glaysher (3-Year HipHopDX Contributor): I would urge the praise to be higher – for a few reasons.
Is Ross one dimensional? Sure. But that one dimension is one of the best dimensions in the game today. I understand the “generic” or “not creative” labels for Ross’ albums, but I’m a sucker for consistency and there is no denying his consistency here. He delivers 15 tracks here that are fluent — not only in their boss talk but in their ability to evoke feelings of grandeur … and the occasional grunt. Plus, the beats and rhymes are top-notch.
There are some skips — that’s why I don’t want to say its a classic, album of the year or even Ross’ best. He tends to lean on the “gangsta gospel” verses with the generic R&B chorus on tracks like “White Lines” and “Summer Reign.” Those have been done before but better on other Ross albums.
Justin: That soulful beat on “Fascinated” really hooked me and regained my interest. Then, Ross finally started opening up and talking about some real-life on songs like “Pray” and “Vegas Residency.” This was what I wanted to hear. Ross himself, as opposed to just the guests and beats, finally captivated me at this point. The new “Maybach Music” entry was really good, but I did get that feeling like it was incomplete without Pusha T. Still, I would’ve rathered that song close the album because “Gold Roses” was a bit of a downer for me. Fine track, but to me, it didn’t work well as the end to an album.
I’m disillusioned by Ross. He’s obviously made some great music, but the whole persona has never connected with me. With Port Of Miami 2, I felt like I was hearing him paint by the numbers for the most part. He’s hit higher marks on previous albums. This LP mainly just stayed the course.
Ural: I think the album works more in line of playing things safe as Cherise said. The features really help a lot in keeping things from getting boring because at this point, Ross literally has run out of ideas outside of the more revealing moments of “I Still Pray” and “Vegas Residency” like Justin said.
Thankfully, one thing’s for sure, Ross still has that golden ear for beats ’cause “BIG TYME” is a banger with the instrumental alone. It’s just that he doesn’t know what to exactly do with them.
Scott: “Turnpike Ike” is the album’s best track for me. Simply because Ross is alone doing what he does best … dishing descriptive lifestyle lines over a theatrical Jake One beat.
I don’t think it’s hard to see and hear that this 66 minutes sounds like another soundtrack in the lavish, criminal saga that is Ross’ catalog.
Trent: So why aren’t you criticizing it harder?
Scott: My only real criticism other than the few skips that I feel I’ve heard done better before is the fact it’s not mixed very well. It sounds alright in headphones, but the vocals and beat sound separated when played loud in a car or on speakers. This doesn’t bode great for re-listenability as I’d like to blare “BIG TYME” at ignorant levels.
Perhaps it was the sheer excitement of this album and my admiration for “Gold Roses,” but I have it at a 4.2 – 4.3.
Justin: C’mon, man! Is it another chapter in the saga or simply a repeat of a chapter that’s already been written? This is where I push back. Your rating is over a 4. That’s calling it a truly great album. A 3.5 is not a harsh rating. That’s a solid album. I don’t think anyone is claiming this is “bad” music. But we’re analyzing it as an album and as someone with a very clear, established track record.
If Ross can absolutely do not wrong, of course this album satisfies such a listener’s needs. But what does the album, from front to back, accomplish? Is this something you’d really view as an essential listen in his discography? Again, I’m talking this entire album, not just pick and choosing certain songs. In some respects, he’s a victim of his own success. He set a standard. In my eyes, he just created lesser versions of his crowning achievements. Those two deviations from the formula are part of what makes it good and frustrating.
Scott: I see what you’re saying Justin, and I would agree with you if we were talking about Black Market or Hood Billionaire a couple years ago. I think those were indeed “repeats of chapters that have already been written,” but Ross is rapping better here. The beats are better here. The music is more exciting and will live longer than the past few albums.
“I see you prayin’, testifyin’, forgotten the time/Bottom line, your cars should get shot up like it were mine 20 round but the voodoo, let no harm be allowed My voodoo, they all know the spirits when I be aroused.”
He cascades through those four bars with such evil elegance.
Justin: So, in your eyes, is the rapping and production on par with let’s say his Top 3 albums (whichever ones you believe to be deserving of that ranking)? To me, that would need to be the argument to say this is a great album. And what feels fresh on this besides the two songs where he dropped the gimmick for a few minutes? You champion the consistency but is it actually complacency?
Scott: I think there are enough quality songs on this album for it to be essential Hip Hop listening in 2019. I would say that no one in the game today is rapping like Ross. Is there another artist or album that did this style better? Other than Pop Smoke I can’t think of anyone who really embodies a growly gangster better than Ross.
I would say this is Ross’ third-best album. It goes God Forgives, I Don’t -> Teflon Don -> Port Of Miami 2. Could maybe make the argument for Trilla and Deeper Than Rap as well.
Also, we get a peek into Ross’ vulnerabilities for the first time in a while on “Still I Pray.” If my Rick Ross scholarship is correct, this is the first time he’s gone into vivid details about the seizures.
Justin: I think it’s important to reiterate no one’s making the case for this being a bad album. This is a good album. Something between a 3 and 4 out of 5 is not negative. The majority of what’s being said is it’s just another one. It’s not essential Ross. And it’s not a project that will likely be identified with 2019. It’s just a solid, serviceable piece of art. It’s enjoyable for what it is. But if you’re not a Ross acolyte, it’s not really something you gotta hear. That’s the difference in my book. When you give something a 4 or above, you’re telling our readers that whatever their opinion of the artist may be, they owe it to themselves as Hip Hop heads to check this project out because there’s a certain level of quality.
I think the second half of the album is really good. The sequence from “Fascinated” to “Maybach Music VI” is dope. I think A Boogie was kinda out of place, but all the other guests, especially Denzel Curry and Ball Greezy, killed it.
For me, this was the part of the album where Ross himself was at his most compelling. I thought his content on “I Still Pray” and “Vegas Residency” was so refreshing. Felt like I was listening to an actual human being with feelings instead of the drug lord living in opulence persona.
To my ears, the first half didn’t connect except for the other players involved in it.
Scott: Can I also speak on the features?! Drake had a great verse and Gunplay dropped his greatest verse and musical contribution since “Cartoons & Cereal.”
Justin: Gunplay’s guest spot was awesome. Meek shined on Bogus Charms and the beat was cold, but I didn’t like the singer and Ross was just fine. Hearing Nipsey again was great. Jake One’s production on “Turnpike Ike” was top notch. It seemed like Ross and Summer Walker didn’t have any chemistry as collaborators. I didn’t think the singles were that good either. “Act A Fool” was bland to me. Love Just Blaze, but “BIG TYME” felt a little too familiar. I’m not into Swizz as the hype man either. The song is cool and all, just not the top of the line from those guys. I think the album was too long for its own good. If he trimmed it down to something under an hour, maybe in the 50-minute range, it would’ve been more potent.
Ural: Also where does “Maybach Music VI” stand within the series? I don’t think it tops “II” or “III” at all.
Is it time to retire it? I mean the actual Maybach brand hasn’t been active in years.
Justin: I don’t think you need to retire it when your label is Maybach Music Group. But, it also doesn’t need to continue either.
It just depends on how he views it. If the idea is simply “lush showcase with J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League,” might as well keep it going as long as they’re working together. But if it’s something meant to be very special, they might want to hold off on doing a seventh until they’ve got a great idea/inspiration for it.
Cherise: And if he’s gonna come with a Port Of Miami 2 he should have really BROUGHT IT. I still listen to Port Of Miami and I don’t think I’m doing that with part two.
Trent: Bring what? Port Of Miami isn’t classic.
Cherise: I didn’t call it a classic. Port Of Miami is just better than Port Of Miami 2.
That’s why I say it’s a full circle album and gave the comparison of Port Of Miami to Tony Montana coming from Cuba to America and being rough around the edges, enjoying this new world and going hard until he got everything he wanted. Whereas Port Of Miami 2 is Tony Montana who already has it all and it’s like … OK, so what’s next?
And I love the contrasting views on the album.
Trent: Back to your point about making albums for critics, Cherise: no, rappers shouldn’t make albums for us (although it wouldn’t steer them wrong), but these discussions are ours and fall within the lines of our parameters.
Port Of Miami 2 simply has no theme and when an album has no theme, it’s only strong as the records. And what we saw in this discussion is how the various attributes Rozay possesses can gravitate to particular listeners. And there aren’t enough bangers for Ural to ride out to or ruminative material for Justin to vibe out to all the same. I feel “Summer Reign” is a lazy R&B jack while “Vegas Residency” is a cinematic dream. Artists still need to streamline their albums and understand how song successions matter in the grand scheme of things.
I still think Rozay has a lot of room to climb these Top 50 lists if he would gravitate to straight storytelling more. This album is solid, not spectacular.
Justin: I respect Scott’s passion for this album, but it doesn’t change my assessment. I’ve got too many criticisms of the album as an entire body of work to be in favor of this project getting anything higher than a 3.5.
Think of it as a movie. Ross has a great cast, the right director, cool effects and a beautiful location. But the script isn’t up to par. So, the film is still really fun, but it’s lacking that backbone.
This album’s in the middle. It’s something that shouldn’t be regarded as offensive to ears or must listen. It’s satisfactory. It’s great if you need another fix of Ross. It’s completely fine to skip if you don’t.