When 50 Cent exposed Rick Ross as a former correctional officer, it seemed his career as a rapper was irreparably fucked. Instead of just taking the loss and picking up a new hustle (competitive eating?), Officer Ricky Rozay vacuum-sealed his echo chamber and took his delusions of grandeur to the next level. The rest is history.

He hit his peak with the 2012 release of Rich Forever (one of the greatest titles in recent rap history), where for the first time it seemed he was actually crazy enough to believe his own fantasies. While Rick Ross and his “untouchable” Maybach Music Empire have since taken more than a few stumbles, the only thing that has remained unscathed is Ross’s intense desire to be something in between El Chapo and Jay Z.

What makes his latest effort, Black Market, particularly interesting is a noticeable shift in narration. We finally get some insight on William Roberts: the man behind the cardboard Scarface mansion. The lush multimillion-dollar beats are present as usual, but Black Market isn’t another cookie-cutter mafia movie. Instead of the traitor in our midst, we get Mariah Carey on a surprisingly pop-y track (“Can’t Say No”) that Ross sounds right at home on. Instead of the wall of henchman blocking the head Bawse, we get a song where Roberts contemplates quitting promethazine cough syrup for the sake of his mother (“Smile Mama, Smile”). Hardly the thoughts and actions of a real kingpin, but that’s a good thing.

It seems in attempt to paper over the cracks in his façade, Black Market also hits some of the brightest peaks in Ross’s career from a technical perspective. “One of Us” sees Ross trade verses with Nas and actually keep up. When he says “You getting money, got a body? / Then you one of us” it’s easy to forget that the closest he has ever been to murderers is when he monitored them from the outside of a prison cell.

There’s also “Free Enterprise,” where Ross alternates between his classic luxury rap bars and outrageous threats. He likens “beefing with broke n****s” to pulling teeth just moments before addressing his dreams of assassinating Donald Trump “like Zimmerman” — A line so absurd, the first time I heard it I laughed loud enough for someone to come to my study carrel and tell me to quiet down.

The most infectious track on the album is “Crocodile Python” (no such animal or material exists, but again, we’ll let it slide), where Ross levitates over a beat made of yak’s wool and chinchilla fibers, or some other expensive sounding shit. Point being, this is Ross at his smoothest. “Rims on my whip got it lookin hypnotic / Stuffing money in my pockets as you n***s watchin,” is about as Rick Ross as it gets. He also compares the size of his chain to the girth of a python. Say what you will about his fraudulent persona and one-dimensional verses, but his ear for beats and steadfast commitment to character has to be considered admirable.

In a year that’s seen an increased focus on ghostwriters (I’m looking at you, Drake), Ross also opens up about his presence as a ghostwriter himself on “Ghostwriter:” “Fat boy behind all of your favorite flows, man.” For a guy who routinely lies about killing people and pushing enough cocaine to fill a Brinks truck, he takes great pride in having (allegedly) written all of his own rhymes. As if that feat alone warrants a victory lap, he spends the hook triumphantly shouting, “I be so lonely at the top!” for the bulk of the track.

Regardless of your preference for the more sinister-sounding Rick Ross from Rich Forever, this is about as good as a “Rick Ross album” can be. It’s filled start-to-finish with some of the best beats this year (featuring mandatory production assistance from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League), has some of his most memorable bars to date and is overall an aesthetically cohesive project.

Rick Ross is never going to make a life-changing album, and it would be stupid to expect him to; it’s simply not within him. The best he can do is make something that blows out your car speakers without you regretting how you blew them out, and that’s what he’s done here, again.

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