In the hours after Rick Ross dropped his Rich Forever mixtape on Friday afternoon, my Twitter timeline could talk about nothing else. And it wasn’t just that self-selecting sample, either. “#RUH,” Ross’s trademark triumphant grunt, became an honest-to-god trending topic, as did various other Rich Forever-related word combinations. When Drake lobbed a couple of subliminal jabs at Common on his “Stay Schemin'” verse, Common took a couple of days to record and release his own ineffectual response, over the same track, since it was that important that he attempt to control the story immediately. That sense of immediate excitement, when everyone is talking about the same piece of music at the same time, really only happens with mixtapes anymore; even big album leaks don’t have that same all-at-once impact. And the complete conversational dominance of Rich Forever was a clear sign that Rick Ross is, this exact moment, running this rap shit.
Ross is an A-list rapper coming off of a couple of great years, but Rich Forever wouldn’t have maintained that stranglehold on my Twitter feed if it was the sort of lazy, ineffectual piece of music that you can usually expect when A-list rappers release music for free. It’s a sweeping, expansive piece of work, an hour-plus of diamond-hard bass explosions and kingly proclamations. Ross had successfully invented himself as a larger-than-life character before he got around to releasing his first album, and he’s grown into that character, both in terms of skill and persona. Rich Forever finds him riding a cresting tidal-wave of confidence, cranking his fat-guy rasp up to 11 and using it to detail the sort of absurd luxury in which he’s apparently living an the violent measures he’ll take to protect it: “Roll up and inhale / I live next to Denzel / Alonzo, my condo cost four mil; this shit real.” And more importantly, he’s spent enough money making it that it sounds amazing. Forget about mixtapes; few major-label albums have mastering jobs this rich.
Musically, the tape leans hard on the sort of monolithic monster-stomps that Ross has always favored, but there’s enough variation in there that it stays interesting throughout. “MMG Untouchable” has a gut-churn sandworm bassline that reminds me of Jay-Z’s almighty “Snoopy Track.” “Rich Forever,” with its creamy John Legend assist, is aspirational soul-rap that smells like fresh silk. The “New Bugatti” beat is disgustingly hard goth-rap that had me doing the this-is-awesome face-squish before the hi-hats even kicked in. Rick Ross has long displayed a better ear for beats than anyone else in rap music, and Rich Forever has 18 different beats on it. Like the British guy says on that one skit, you do the math.
And the guests here mostly do great work keeping up with Ross, too. Nas is in fine street-prophet form, sounding energized on “Triple Beam Dreams.” Diddy, of all people, has spent the past couple of years turning into a pretty amazing rap snarler, and he handily steals “Holy Ghost” and “New Bugatti.” Wale, who’s been thrashing around in search of an identity since we first met him, does pretty well as a wild syllable-spraying foil to Ross’s slow-growling mob boss. Drake is cockier than ever on “Stay Schemin,” and French Montana’s marbled, unflappable crime talk is perfectly at home here. For whatever reason, Ross tends to draw great things out of his collaborators, and that’s nearly as important a factor as his own rapping and beat selection.
And so Rich Forever resonates and echoes as 2012’s first honest-to-god rap event, one that sets a crazy-high bar for the rest of the year. Nearly a week later, I still don’t feel like listening to much else. I wish it was this easy to pick a Mixtape Of The Week every week.
Download Rich Forever for free here.