Yesterday (July 20) was the fifth anniversary of the release of Rick Ross’s stellar fourth solo LP, Teflon Don. So, to celebrate, I dedicated the day to Rozay. I played “B.M.F.” at levels loud enough to set off car alarms. Grunted at the slothful cats sleeping on the steps of my Brooklyn brownstone. Kept a pair of shades straddling my nose for the entirety of the day — even wore them in the shower to prove a point to literally no one. It was great.
I texted the homie Eric D. to reflect on the epicness of the undisputed best Ross album of his catalog. His reply, that Ross’s best album is “debatable,” was shocking. A few quick texts to some other music heads in my Galaxy Note produced varied results on Ross’s G.O.A.T. album, including Deeper Than Rap, Mastermind and God Forgives, I Don’t. Basically every Rick Ross album came up. Except Hood Billionaire. Because just no.
I trolled some rap forums and it finally hit me that this is actually a dispute, which is a testament to Ross’s relatively sterling discography. But still, Teflon Don is easily the most untouchable body of work he’s compiled. Walk with me.
After the solid Def Jam debut Port of Miami, Rick Ross continued to refine his sound and upgrade his lyricism through his next two albums, Trilla and Deeper Than Rap. The latter, with its breezy orchestral sounds, unabashed wealth and criminal content essentially salvaged his career, which took a haymaker to the jaw after The Smoking Gun outed him as a former corrections officer, the antithesis of everything he’d rapped about. By 2010, when Teflon Don was approaching, Rozay existed at the center of street music. He was the barometer, mostly thanks to an up-and-coming producer named Lex Luger, who’d just began making noise with Waka Flocka Flame.
It was Lex Luger who provided the music for Teflon Don’s double wammy of “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)” and “MC Hammer.” If for no other reason, these two songs justify Teflon as Ross’s best LP. They laid the foundation for the sound that would trickle down to the MMG underclassmen. These monstrous tracks thumped so hard that even Northerners like Kanye West, Jay Z, Wiz Khalifa and Fabolous came calling for their own raucous beats in the months that followed. Before electronic music jacked its name, Ross had sculpted and shaped the sound of trap music. Teflon Don found him at his most influential. Once Lil Wayne came home from eight months in jail in November 2010, he repurposed the album’s brash opener “I’m Not a Star” for his own “John,” which didn’t quite match the rugged aggression of the original.
There are shining guest appearances on the album, but you never get the feeling that Ross is a casualty on his own song (not even as he hosts a vintage Jay Z verse on “Free Mason”). T.I. and Jadakiss completely murder “Maybach Music III” before the lush J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League instrumental dramatically shifts, evoking Biggie’s spotlight moment on “It’s All About the Benjamins.” As an MC, Rick can’t hold an incense stick to the Notorious One, but here he shows off a similar confidence and presence on the microphone.
As Ross has shown throughout his career, he’s got a true ear for music and melody. Peep his “La-la-la-la” riffs on the Raphael Saadiq-featuring closer “All the Money in the World”; they’re somehow not laughable. Check out the soulful guest spots by Erykah Badu (“Maybach Music III”), Ne-Yo (“Super High”) and CeeLo Green (“Tears of Joy”), all of which help smooth out the album’s harder edges. He even nods to LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” on “Aston Martin Music,” softened by Drake’s light-skinned falsetto and Chrisette Michelle angelic coos. From vocals to instrumentals, the sweet and street sounds form a cohesive, tight tapestry.
What makes Teflon Don stand out from its sonic siblings though is its brevity. For an MC who so often returns to the same well for source material (gangster name drops, luxury raps, white lies, etc.) 11 songs is the perfect length. And even in that tight 50-minute runtime, there’s room for substance and introspection. After Kanye blacks out on his verse in “Live Fast, Die Young,” Rozay reflects on the devastation that befell Haiti following an earthquake earlier that year and how that experience is a stark contrast to witnessing his own fleet of expensive cars. “Tears of Joy” find the bawse of all bosses at his most humble, wondering how he emerged from the slums to massive success. Then on “All the Money in the World,” he eulogizes his parents, realizing family is worth far more than finances. Maybe this album should’ve been called Deeper Than Rap.
Not that Teflon Don is perfect. The sole blemish is the Danga-produced “No. 1,” a Puff Daddy and Trey Songz collaboration that sounds so out of place that it’s distracting. This one should’ve been plucked and reserved for Dirty Money’s Last Train to Paris, where it belongs.
But still, the album overall finds Ross at his best in every regard. No where else in his catalog does he possess records that are both commanding on the street and radio-ready. Port of Miami and Trilla are limited in their lyricism. Deeper Than Rap lacks the stratospheric high moments of Teflon. GFID is overloaded and suffers confused artistic direction, while Mastermind is similarly a bit all over the place, despite housing some great songs. Hood Billionaire should’ve never happened.
Five years after Teflon Don first torched hip hop, it remains Rick Ross’s strongest and most cohesive album to date. Just cue it up and give it a spin. You’ll be imagining yourself as Big Meech and Larry Hoover in no time.
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(Photo: The Island Def Jam Music Group)