Published Mar 04, 2014It feels like it was eons ago, since then up-and-coming rapper Rick Ross dropped his first hit single, "Hustlin." For almost a decade, Ross has been at the top of the rap heap, doling out celebratory club bangers about pushing cocaine and dealing "eight balls" to his connects. While many of his contemporaries have come and gone, Ross has always had the uncanny ability to endure. And endure he has. Whether taking shots literally and figuratively from his opponents, or backlash over his stint as a correctional officer, he's remained unscathed. His musical body of work is also well fortified, with five successful albums under his belt and countless collaborations with some of music's biggest artists. Despite these accolades, the rapper's stock has wavered in the last couple of months. Suffering from several low-charting singles, album pushbacks, and losing his Reebok deal over his infamous "molly" line, the Teflon Don has never appeared more vulnerable. Motivated to hold his title as a hip-hop heavyweight, Ross returns with his sixth album, Mastermind. Executively produced by Sean "Diddy" Combs, the album is filled with soulful cuts that act as a backdrop against the rapper's usual gangster retrospectives and thinly veiled threats. Exclaim! caught up with Rozay to talk about the new album, working with Diddy, and capturing the soulful sounds of the '90s.
On Twitter you mentioned the first time you heard yourself on the radio was "Something's Going On" with Trick Daddy. How do you compare that with now being on your sixth album?
There's nothing really like that first time, but just remaining consistent means the most to me and I think is the biggest difference. The first time I heard myself it was just about me and [being] on the radio. But now it's [grown] and become more about reaching the fans who support me.
You talk about how you approach songs from a writer's perspective. Which song on Mastermind challenged you the most as a writer?
"Nobody" was definitely one of the more challenging ones and I was really passionate [about that song]. As a lyricist, it's not about putting the words together a lot of the times, but it's about catching those moments that mean the most to you and translating that and putting it on record. Also "Black & White" was another difficult one — that took a couple months.
Talk a bit more about "Black & White." What is that song about?
"Black & White," I'm really just talking about a young brother who's in the streets and dependent on narcotics — cocaine — to survive. I talk about the highs and lows, the growth and the rise [of dealing drugs] and at the same time I let you know there's life [sentence] waiting for you if you do this.
How did the collaboration between you and the Weeknd happen?
I've wanted to collaborate with the Weeknd for a minute now. It was just timing. We got together and we spoke about the collaboration and then he was on tour and I went on tour, but we stayed in touch. We spoke over the phone several times and we just talked about doing something that was a little slower-paced, a little more intricate where it almost felt 3D and that's when I saw the homie's pen game; he may be one of the best writers in the game. It's just a powerful record.
You talked about wanting to take the sounds of the record back to the '90s. Why was it important to capture that era?
I feel like the mid-'90s was my favourite era of rap music, It's just what I grew up listening to. I had some of my best memories during that time and Puff Daddy was most definitely the dude to make that happen. And he's family so it was all good.
You're already a recognizable presence, but of course Diddy has that wealth of experience in production. How did he push you musically?
Most definitely, I mean he sold over 75 million records, so he knows what he's doing and brought that experience to the table. So when we were in the studio after the songs we're complete [Diddy] worked his magic during post- production; bringing in guitarists and other musicians so the music would reach its full potential.
For me personally, I think "Presidential" off your last album, God Forgives, I Don't, sonically is one of your best songs. Will we have tracks on this album that have that same soulful yet grandiose punch to it?
Most definitely. When I think of "Presidential" I can't help but think of this one record, "Supreme," because it's in the same vibe and I wanted to do something different and splash an older feeling of just going back [again] to that '90s vibe.
Do you see yourself making more music in that style and moving away from the trap sounds you've helped launch to popularity?
I just create whatever it is I feel. Whatever zone I'm in, whatever vibe I'm in, if that's the music I want to make, that's what I make.
You said once, "My passion for art and being successful supersedes yours." Speak on those words a little bit.
What it means is this: I love making music, I love where I'm at, I love being in the studio, and I love when I see other artists being successful, I just love it. And I think there are some people who really need to read that and get it and it repeat it to themselves because it's the truth.