Maybach Music Group/Def Jam
Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)
Rick Ross' rap career should have ended two years ago when the website The Smoking Gun released a photo of the portly MC working as a Florida correctional officer, as big of a hip-hop no-no as one can fathom, especially for a rapper who crafted a larger-than-life drug kingpin persona. But Ross ignored the backlash (without confirming or denying the the photo's authenticity), focusing so much on his lyrical craft that he morphed into one of rap's most formidable MCs.
Teflon Don, his fourth album, isn't the exact culmination of Ross' ascension but it's undoubtedly another stellar notch in his ginormous belt. The key is its slim 11-song tracklist, a deft move that shows Ross values pacing and song selection.
After an opening shot of J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League-produced adrenaline ("I'm Not a Star"), the record's arc swells and builds on elegance (the shimmering, Erykah Badu-crooned "Maybach Music III"), complex reflection ("Tears of Joy," featuring Cee-Lo) and grandiose stunting ("Live Fast, Die Young," with an appropriate guest verse from the song's producer, Kanye West).
Ross, who has dropped some of the year's finest guest verses (the Diddy-Dirty Money "Angels" remix comes to mind), delivers sleek, too-often shallow verses throughout the album. He sounds best when dealing with the classic dilemma of a rags-to-riches artist: "Seems like we're getting money for the wrong things ... / Look at Haiti, children dying around the clock, n---- / I'd send a $100-grand but that's a decent watch, n----."
Teflon Don has two obvious missteps: the out-of-place "No. 1" features Trey Songz and an unneeded Diddy verse, and the album closes with a whimper (the Raphael Saadiq-assisted "All the Money in the World"). But the other tracks stand so strongly on their own, the mistakes are merely small hiccups.
"B.M.F. (Blowin' Money Fast)," a current street behemoth, could be the album's most telling cut. Over a menacing Lex Luger beat, Ross name-checks his modern-day heroes: "I think I'm Big Meech, Larry Hoover / Whippin' work, hallelujah!" For a former correctional officer to compare himself to a convicted murderer and major drug trafficker, with no sense of irony, there's a message not to be missed. With songs as potent as these, the public can believe what it wants.