For his sixth studio album, Florida rapper Rick Ross is aiming for a "soulful vibe".
That's one way to describe it. Sure, Mastermind is peppered with soul samples, but it's as rooted in his hard-nut streets as any of his previous albums, with gunshots far outweighing Philly strings. That's to be expected – this time last year, Ross was recovering from the after-effects of a drive-by shooting, and it preys on his mind.
"[Bang] Your window shattered like it never mattered," goes the lithe electro production of Blk & Wht as Ross relives the horror, but he's bullish. He shouts out to the "teachers I despised" as he hails his elevated status, a mood recaptured on Walkin' On Air as he proudly announces "I study well" to highlight his self-improvement.
Even if he's shackled to a gruff monotone, Ross is a compelling rapper, mixing dicey situations and political comment on Mafia Music II ("A lotta yellow tape – where's that Obamacare?") and couching threat in a joke on Sanctified ("They say I'm too aggressive – Really? Me? Too aggressive?") The latter features a guest turn from Kanye West, whose typically wry turn lifts Ross to witty lyrical heights ("I'm the fresh David Koresh"), but it's Jay Z's appearance on The Devil Is A Lie trumps his pal Yeezy in thrilling style.
Still, Ross holds his own in illustrious company, letting the cameos bring the light as he paints his terrifying but conscious pictures. Mastermind confirms he belongs to the big-time.