ALBUM REVIEW: God Forgives I Don't

How and Why Wonder Books, the brainchild of Dr. Paul E. Blackwood, was an illustrated series published throughout the 1960's and 1970's. The 74 volume set explored a myriad of subjects ranging from atomic energy to oceanography. Had the series been fortunate enough to extend beyond the Nixon administration, rap music would have been a perfect candidate for Blackwood to profile. The hallmark of a transcendent rapper is the ability to garner at least one of those two inquiries. How? Why? The former is reserved for the genre's foremost technicians that stretch our imaginations to the brink of chasm and nudge emotions we never knew existed. The latter is lobbed at mere mortals that flourish with unorthodoxy. For nearly half a decade we've questioned the motives behind Rick Ross' increasingly bizarre artistry. Why do onlookers regularly mistake him for Big Daddy Conch? Why can't he hold back his bloodthirsty Haitian regime? Why does he insist on ballin' like Bo Diddley of all pop culture icons? Remarkably, Rozay has managed to grow more manaically hollow with each subsequent release. The supervillain character he's cultivated over the years doesn't feel remorse, evoke empathy, or adhere to the laws of karma. There's no consequence to the absurd measures he's willing to take while protecting his self-made fortune. Within the context of his delusional music, Rick Ross is indeed a merciless God of war.

Depth isn't a prerequisite for delivering great tunes, but longevity almost always hinges upon it. Sean Price ran out of self-deprecating wise cracks, Lil Wayne exhausted his wealth of cheesy defecation punchlines, and fans of Rick Ross will eventually satisfy their appetite for excess. But while Ross should be living on borrowed time, his fifth studio album somehow tops all his previous efforts with unmitigated audacity, despite an obvious decline in overall quality. God Forgives I Don't features a uncharacteristically tame Rick Ross, as he's no longer the primary vessel for ridiculousness. Instead he looms in the background swinging a baton, orchestrating chaos from a distance. On '3 Kings,' Jay-Z contributes what may be the most batshit verse of his entire career, performing his rendition of a BASED freestyle. Bearing production that's theatrical even by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League's standards, 'Maybach Music IV' finds L.A. Reid weaving around Ne-Yo's shrills, vouching for Rick Ross' greatness. It doesn't really matter that the former X-Factor host is no longer regarded as a credible gauge of talent. His appearance is so random and melodramatic that Ross effectively achieves the "big moment" he's so desperately reaching for. By the time he challenges Andre 3000 in a round of Guitar Hero on 'Sixteen', it's clear that Rick Ross is willing to go through grueling lengths to entertain his audience.

The songs anchored by Ross alone are a mixed bag. 'Pirates' and 'Ashamed' contain good ol' fashioned Deeper Than Rap era bars, but are unfortunately devoid of the engaging personality and farcical quotes that made it such an enjoyable record. Individually, these are decent gangster rap ballads, but come across mundane when wedged between such grandiose tomfoolery. During the brief BMF derivative leg of the tracklist, the two most mind-numbing songs he's ever recorded are sequenced back-to-back. But when Ross gets it right it's downright frightening. 'Amsterdam' and 'Presidential' are the only entries that showcase his true potential as an emcee, and are easily the best executed tracks on the album.

God Forgives I Don't is an uneven effort littered with peaks and valleys, but it's entirely unique to Rick Ross' prior seven full-length albums and mixtapes. Stubbornly one-dimensional, he inexplicably continues to find new ways to tread the same topics. More importantly, we still don't understand how.