We may be living in times of great uncertainty but here's one thing that I know for sure: Rick Ross is very rich. He and his (also very wealthy) friends, including Diddy, Jay-Z, and Kanye West, reinforce this fact incessantly across the 11 sprawling tracks on Teflon Don. I guess I should give Rick credit for sticking to his narrative thread, but enough already, I get it...he's rolling in dough, he has lots of stuff, he's very very well off.
Don't get me wrong, this is a blazing hot record that I am sure many hip hop fans will instantly slot in as their summer 2010 soundtrack. Like his last album, 2009's Deeper Than Rap, the production values here are simply off the charts. Not since Dr. Dre's early 90's G-Funk has anyone so cinematically captured the essence of what sunny, laid back gangsta music is supposed to sounds like.
Teflon Don is a big, opulent and celebratory toast to Rick Ross's apparently hard won success. The luxurious, multi-layered arrangements are handled with care by a team comprised of A-List (Kanye West, No I.D.) and relatively up-and-coming (The Inkredibles, Lex Luger) producers. The music is expertly crafted to offend no ears and disrupt no vibes. It will sound equally good at a house party or a gala art auction. It's remarkable how profane lyrics are able to go down with ease when paired with soulful grooves, especially when the likes of John Legend, Raphael Saadiq and Ne-Yo sing sweet hooks in the background.
This album will also work nicely as a treat for the state-of-the-art audio system in your new Lexus. But most of all, listening to it makes me want to fire up the grill and invite all of my friends over for an elegant backyard soiree (thugs are welcome, as long as they are dressed in all white linen).
Standout tracks include "Tears Of Joy" featuring the gospel tinged vocals of Cee-Lo and "MC Hammer", backed by a hard, relentless beat from Lex Luger. Jay-Z dazzles on "Free Mason", shutting down the conspiracy theorists who think he's some sort of devil worshiper with the line "I said was amazin' / not that I'm a Mason". And if you liked the first two installments of "Maybach Music", then you'll love version 3. This one is sun-kissed and ethereal (picture white curtains blowing softly in an empty room at a beach house). T.I. and Jadakiss offer magnificent verses while Erykah Badu serenades us in the distance.
Yet, despite all of this goodness, I can't help but come away feeling a bit disappointed. My main wish is that Rick would change the subject every once in a while. It's like from his vantage point on his South Beach yacht, he can't see that it's harder than ever out here for a pimp. The recession, soaring unemployment, two wars and that damn oil spill have us all feeling uneasy. In Rick's world however, the party never ends - the view is stunning, the women are beautiful, the sun never sets and the champagne flows endlessly. Pleasantville for hip hop impresarios.
I suppose this all wouldn't be so tiresome if Rick were a more capable emcee. Like his subject matter, his delivery style never changes. He only knows one speed...slow. His plodding, monotonous rhymes are consistently overshadowed by his more inventive collaborators. It's his mediocre skills that make the imagery seem so cliched.
In the end, I have to ask my self "What If?" What if Jadakiss or Drake or Lupe Fiasco or even J. Cole were rapping over all of this wonderful production. And what if they presented a more complete picture of what life is like in the real world circa July 2010? How good could this record have been if that were the case?