Rick Ross: This Generation’s 50 Cent?
I remember when I heard Power of the Dollar. I thought 50 Cent was pretty dope. I anticipated his album. I remember when was shot and subsequently dropped from Columbia. I remember hearing “Get Rich or Die Tryin’”. I thought to myself “50 Cent is this generation’s DMX”.
Well, now I listen to Rick Ross and feel that he’s this new generation’s 50 Cent.
50 was an emcee who relied on great beats, simple, catchy rhymes and an angle. There wasn’t much depth to it, but there didn’t have to be. It was just good music on a topic we were all fascinated with – being a gangster. The album, a majority of which was produced by the legendary Dr. Dre, was filled with amazing beats. The hooks were extremely catchy. The rhymes were raw. And he was co-signed by rap’s biggest star at the time Eminem. It was the perfect storm. A great project.
I always doubted whether that great project would equal a great career. But let me take it back a bit first.
I remember being blown away by DMX’s first album. I mean, the beats, the energy, the message – everything was amazing. But as a writer, I couldn’t help but notice his rhyme patterns and melodies were fairly simple and a slight bit repetitive. By the second album, the reuse of his rhymes started to bother me. Sure, the songs were still dope, but it felt like a continuation of “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot” instead of a new project. He used a lot of the same rhyming words, many of the same rhyme schemes. I really doubted how long he could survive being a one trick pony.
It really seemed to catch up with him by album three. The hype and impact of the first album had carried him, but that always fizzles out.
50 Cent went down a similar path. Sure, Get Rich – as a standalone project – was amazing. But it was more about amazing songs than it was about 50 Cent’s talents. See, an executive producer/A&R/label’s job is to maximize an artist’s talent and create a project that surpasses an artist’s talent level. For those who have followed my career, I’ll use “Sorry I’m Late” as an example. John Regan is a very talented, yet inexperienced, artist. As the Executive Producer of the album and manager of the artist, my job was to create an album that exceeds his talent, which I feel we achieved with Sorry I’m Late. I took his lyrics, which were great, and his voice, and created songs that were beyond his years. SIL was the type of album he should’ve made when he was 30. The music was intricate, the subject matter relatable and wise, and the choruses and song structure was professional. A 24 year old making his first album isn’t supposed to create that type of album.
I did my job, just like he did his.
To use Joe Buddens as an example again, he’s a person who’s talent far exceeds his work. As a rapper, Joe is among the most talented that our generation has every seen. But his projects have been extremely underwhelming.
Enter Rick Ross.
I get it – every generation has their artists and people from prior generations aren’t supposed to understand. I think that, as a rapper, Rick Ross sucks. Just like my parents thought NaS sucked. And my grandparents thought that Prince sucked, and so on. But whatever my opinion on his talent, there is no denying that he’s found an impressive formula that works. He picks great songs. He doesn’t write many songs (I’ve actually heard many of “his” hits before they were his – everything from the beat, hook and bridges are completely written. He literally just lays his rap verses on the song and it becomes “his”), but that’s just logistics. The only thing that really matters is what gets delivered to the public. And Ross has a nearly flawless record when it comes to delivering good music. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Sure, you can knock him for not writing the most intricate lyrics, but music is entertainment. And if his songs entertain millions of people, then he’s done his job. Does it really matter that he walked into an office and picked out a song, wrote a couple of subpar verses and wound up with a hit? Does it matter that he isn’t really doing drug deals with with Noreaga – the real Noreaga? He’s a performer. An entertainer. Joe Buddens, for example, “keeps it real”. He releases his inner-most thoughts into his music and says things in a way that most people can only aspire to do – but does so without actually making good music.
So what’s better? Making “real” music that has lyrics that are sincere and well put together, but in a shitty package or making great music that is lyrically lacking? Well, that’s an individual’s personal choice. Fortunately, we all have the option of choosing what we listen to. Sales, radio and almost every other tangible measure say that many more people would choose good music over good lyrics.
But wait, I’m off track. Back to my comparison.
50 Cent made a great album. He had a knack for good hooks and good beats. He had Dr. Dre giving up Detox records for his debut. It worked. Unfortunately, 50 Cent had extremely limited range. He had an inferior vocabulary, so he kept repeating the same rhymes over and over. Still does. His hooks were catchy the first time around. But unlike Drake, who also sings many of his hooks, 50 Cent isn’t a great writer. See, Drake can write different melodies, in different keys, and keep things fresh. 50 Cent kept recycling the same ideas and using the same type of hooks. They eventually got tired.
Here was the biggest pitfall for 50 – he got too proud of himself. He started believing that his success was due to him as a rapper and not him and his team as a musical entity. Album after album, he began lessening the input of Dr. Dre and Eminem – who were the reasons behind his success. He believed that he could accomplish the same results with an album that didn’t have to use half it’s budget on Dr. Dre production. He began using anonymous producers to keep costs down and maximize revenues. Unfortunately, 50 wasn’t a good enough artist to carry an album by himself.
Rick Ross hasn’t made that mistake. He seems to realize his limitations. He uses top producers. He also, unlike 50 Cent, seems to be able to tell the difference between a good beat and a not good beat, even if it’s a lesser known producer. He is, however, in danger of letting his success fool him into thinking he is a great rapper. He has a very distinctive voice and has created a character that people seem to enjoy hearing. He, like 50, has started his own label with a couple of rappers. 50 took a rapper who was more talented lyrically, but not as commercially viable, just as Ross did (Lloyd Banks/Wale). They both took an artist who was much simpler and not as well known (Tony Yayo/Meek Mills).
One thing that separates the two artists is 50 Cent has a classic album. Though “Teflon Don” was dope, it was far from genre-defining. Rick Ross didn’t have nearly the impact on hip-hop that 50 did, just as 50 didn’t have nearly the impact on hip-hop that Tupac did. 50 always talked about being the new Tupac, but Pac had substance. 50 was just Baltimore Love Thing was a great example of a failed attempted. He came off as not smart enough to pull it off.
Well, Ross doesn’t even attempt to show more substance. I’ve listened to Teflon Don numerous times, and while the music is good, I can’t say that I’ve ever listened to an album and learned less about an artist. It was completely generic with no even an attempt at giving a glimpse into his real life (unless you believe that his real life involved taking trips to do drug deals with Noreaga — the real Noreaga — while taking sick days during his days as a correctional officer). 50 Cent had the story. Everybody knew he had been shot. It made the album appear like a biography. Problem is, like his one-trick-pony buddy DMX, eventually you have to dig a little deeper than one incident. Rick Ross’ claims of having billions of dollars is already wearing thin. That seems evident by the extremely lackluster response to his Maybach Music compilation album “Self Made”.
Will Rick Ross follow a similar path as 50 Cent, who followed a similar path as DMX? Only time will tell. But Rick Ross is much more 50 than he is Jay-Z. He isn’t a game changer. He’s another “artist of the moment”. AOTMs can do very well for themselves and have a nice career. DMX’s first album was so good that it took another two or three before people started losing interest. Same with 50. Take away “Get Rich” and judge those next couple of albums on their own merit and you’ll find a very lackluster response, I’m sure.
By the way – for those who are going to bring up 50 Cent going diamond —- please realize that this is a completely different era. Album sales aren’t even close to comparable, so let’s keep that argument out of it.
Thanks. I REALLY want to hear your points, arguing for or against, on this topic. Please let below in the comment area. Follow me at @culturevi for more opinions 🙂