Album Review: Rick Ross, Teflon Don
Teflon Don is the perfect album title for Rick Ross. The man born William Leonard Roberts Jr. has dodged some of the biggest bullets in hip-hop’s history, from being exposed as a correctional officer while proclaiming to be a drug kingpin to wearing fake Louis Vuitton shades on the cover of XXL. Ross’s career trajectory is very much in the same vein as his new BFF Diddy, who’s triumphed where others (perhaps more credible) have miserably failed.
Ross’s fourth full-length album, Teflon Don, lives up to the hype for many reasons. His choice of R&B guests is superb (from Erykah Badu and Raphael Saadiq to Chrisette Michele), he’s stayed away from the obvious (deciding against recruiting current “family member” Nicki Minaj for a guest spot) and his ear for production is better than ever. More than anything though, Teflon Don sees Ross finally explore different subject matter, with real-life family issues, self-image struggles and more coming to light. Each track packs a punch in a natural progression from previous albums. Check my breakdown below:
“I’m Not A Star” (Produced by J.U.ST.I.C.E League)
Over J.U.S.T.I.C.E League’s made-for-a-blockbuster-movie production, Ross emphatically proclaims “I’m Not A Star” on the hook (no R&B chorus here) while his lyrics say otherwise: “Pull up to the club/I got a kilo in the car/Black card for the n***as/Spending c-notes at the bar” and “I’m a player, catching bitches like I’m T.O./Trunk full of work/Yeah this n***a think he Nino.” Heavy drug-kingpin references from the first track show that despite there being no evidence Ross has ever spent time on the streets pushing weight, he’s determined to stay in character.
“Free Mason” (Produced by The Inckredibles)
“I go to the grave before I be a bitch n***a/Better behave, you dealing with some rich n***as,” Ross proclaims as the beat kicks off. Not sure what one’s definition of a “bitch n***a” is; perhaps it’s a man who was found out to have previous employment as a correctional officer and lied about it until he had to come clean? Or maybe it’s a father who allegedly kept holding off paying child support for his namesake son? In any case, lines like “I won’t fail but a lot of men will/I’m iconic in the field like Solomon’s Seal” remind me of how Ross told me during an interview how he was picked on as a kid, and how his sheer determination has seen him through. Jay-Z‘s guest verse is on point—with an even tone he combats rumors of his being in the Illuminati, a devil worshiper, etc. John Legend contributes the hook, passionately singing “If I ever die/Never let it be said I didn’t win.”
“Tears Of Joy” (Produced by No I.D.)
This is possibly my favorite track on the album. Thanks in part to No I.D.’s epic production, Ross’s flow is introspective and Kanye-esque: “I wanna walk in the image of Christ/But that bitch Vivica nice/And I’m still swimming in ice/I’m just living my life.” The track starts with a sample from a speech about defending yourself against “pigs” [ironic?] from Black Panther leader Bobby Seale. Ross also speaks on the legacy he is upholding as an African-American man (“To keep it real I gotta represent for Emmett Till/All the dead souls in the field”) and Cee-Lo‘s rousing vocals take the song to church, sending the powerful messages home.
“Maybach Music III” (Produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E League)
Sweeping production again from Rick’s go-to producers, complimenting flossy guest verses from T.I. (“My bankroll is so well-endowed/Put bitches from MIA to ATL in style”) and Jadakiss (“I put a hurtin’ on ‘em/I got the curtains drawn/Whoever ain’t gettin’ sh*tted on/I’m squirtin’ on.”). Erykah Badu continues her interesting relationship with Ross by providing the lilting hook. Ross himself hits the track with gusto after a dramatic musical breakdown, demanding “Cigar please” before ripping his verse.
“Live Fast, Die Young” (Produced by Kanye West and No I.D.)
Oh, Kanye. This song makes me simultaneously miss hearing you make “g.o.o.d.” hip-hop and feel comfort in knowing you’ve still got it. “Live Fast, Die Young” is about every aspiring rapper’s dream lifestyle where men are living to the fullest—cars, women, clothes, money. Another tough verse from Kanye, who basically claims the track for himself (“I’m back by unpopular demand/Least we still poppin’ in Japan/Shoppin’ in Milan/Hoppin’ out the van/Screams from the fans/’Yeezy we always knew you’d be on top again.”). Rick holds his own though, contributing lines like “Look at Haiti/Children dying ’round the clock n***a/I sent a hundred grand but that’s a decent watch n***a.”
“Super High” (Produced by Clark Kent & The Remedy)
The mellow choice for the album’s lead buzz single featuring Ne-Yo on the hook. There’s also an incredible quiet-storm comeback from the legendary DJ Clark Kent as a producer. The big-budget video, starring Stacey Dash and directed by F. Gary Gray, provided the first real dose of hype for the Teflon Don project.
“No. 1″ (Produced by Danja)
Arguably the weakest cut on the album, “No. 1″ debuts yet another moniker for this ever-evolving industry crew—Bugatti Boys—and features pretty boys Trey Songz and Diddy handing out egotistical lines like, “I’m number one in this bitch/Now they understand why I’m running this sh*t.” A swan song for all three males involved, it clearly shows listeners no one strokes your ego better than you do.
“MC Hammer” (Produced by Lex Luger)
Lex Luger provides one of the hardest beats on the album with “MC Hammer,” the album’s first real street single. The South is represented with an average guest verse from Gucci Mane. Classic lines from Ross like, “She thinking Phillippe/I’m thinking Wing Stop” are being quoted (and given humorous remixes) all over Twitter, but his most telling line of the entire album also comes off this song: “You gotta judge a man by his principles/Teflon Don, I’m invincible.”
“B.M.F (Blowin’ Money Fast)” (Produced by Lex Luger)
The official hip-hop song of the summer. “I think I’m Big Meech, Larry Hoover…” is every red-blooded male’s (and some female’s) war cry in the club as soon as the track drops. Watch ‘em jump around the spot, chests puffed out and shoulders bouncing. Styles P provides (real) street cred to the song while Ross continues his role as rap’s biggest ghost kingpin.
“Aston Martin Music” (Produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E League)
“Aston Martin Music” is the champagne life personified, with Ross lazily depicting fancy nights with fancy women. Chrisette Michele features on the sexy-and-sweet hook and Drake also provides his spaced-out, sappy vocals. If you’ve heard Drake’s rap verse that was cut out (now called “Paris Morton Music“) you already know it would have been the song’s highlight.
“All The Money In The World” (Produced by The Olympicks)
“First time singing, so you gotta turn that bitch up” says Ross on “All The Money In The World.” The album’s final cut sees Ross being…human. He’s dusted the cape off, playfully singing alongside Raphael Saadiq and providing honest lyrics about his children and losing his father: “I can hear my daddy say lil n***a, go get ‘em/Passed in ’99, cancer all in his liver/Sh*t, the difference is he last saw his son a little richer/I’ll never rap again if I could tell him that I miss him.”
It’s hard to dislike Rick Ross. He’s extremely professional, well-spoken, charming and a student of the game. He’s a student, period. The question is, what happens when the student becomes the teacher? Ross has millions of fans waiting for his next directive, hanging on every word. Without forming their own opinions and their own voice, teachers are of no use to anyone. Especially those of us genuinely wanting to learn something new.