Teflon Don, the fourth album from Miami rapper Rick Ross, is currently enjoying an elite 83 Metacritic score. That includes raves from the New York Times (“establishes him as one of rap’s most potent and creative forces. He’s a ferocious character, an impressive rapper and, as heard on this strong album, a clever and loose thinker, willing to try out new poses”), the LA Times (“the album is beautifully constructed a symphonic grandeur to match Ross’ elaborate delusions”) and EW (“every track feel[s] like an epic”). (Also a fan: us). There are vocal detractors, of course, but as far as this type of thing can be accurately gauged, the critical consensus is this — Rick Ross is one of the best rappers working right now. How the hell did that happen?
Travel back now to the far away land of the summer of 2006, when Ross’s first single “Hustlin’” was busy dominating the radio waves. (Has it been long enough? Are you ready to hear it again?) The latest wave of coke rap had hit the summer before, and the general critical point of view on Ross was that Def Jam was rushing out a quickie facsimile of its greatest coke-rap ambassador, Young Jeezy: another portly, stone-faced Southern rapper dedicated entirely to recounting his exploits in the drug trade. And besides, said the naysayers, the old lady from The Wedding Singer could have gone in over the Runner’s slick “Hustlin’” beat and it would’ve hit. Ross’s debut, Port of Miami, did not produce a successful second single and received largely middling reviews.
Ross returned in March of 2008 with Trilla, and more focused fast-life rap. Reviews were again unkind (Metacritic: 60) and lead single “Speedin’” didn’t touch the success of “Hustlin’”, even though both had titles that were G-free gerunds. Then, a few months later, came the big scandal: the Smoking Gun outed Rick Ross as a — gasp — former corrections officer. Generally speaking, not a bad thing; for a dude who spends almost every second of his discography talking about selling drugs, potentially career-destroying. Only, strangely, it wasn’t: chalk it up to rap fans not liking 50 Cent, who single handedly dragged “Officer Ricky-gate” on and on, that much in 2008, or rap fans’ underappreciated ability to discern the difference between a character and a real person. (For more on Ross’s strange identity issues, read this).
Either way, he bounced back nicely in 2009 with Deeper than Rap, and got his first groundswell of critical appreciation (Metacritic: 73). Those who couldn’t quite believe they were praising the music of Rick Ross tried to chalk it up to his beat selection, and it’s still a common mitigation tactic. (His beats are, in fact, almost always expensive sounding and great). But still — he was suddenly okay to like. And, finally, this week’s Teflon Don, and the complete critical bear-hug.
So as he actually gotten better at rapping? Probably a bit, yeah. But his slow-boiling critical approval most likely has more to do with his consistency and the basic satisfying elements of his grandiose on-record persona and the care with which he executes the delivery of that persona. That is — he hasn’t actually changed all that much since Miami. And yet, as unlikely as it would seem in 2006, Rick Ross is now a critically acclaimed rapper. Congrats, sir.
Now enjoy this video of Ross arriving at a strip club via helicopter: