Rick Ross

"Deeper Than Rap" (Maybach Music Group) -- 2.5 STARS

Miami rapper Rick Ross’s highly anticipated third album, “Deeper than Rap,” is, frankly, not that deep at all. In fact, in today’s pool of rap material, the CD would sit right on the surface. While Ross is generally entertaining and enjoyable, listeners who scrutinize each song will be unsuccessful in their searcch for what sets the album apart. Laden with trends such as predictable guest cameos and treble-heavy synthesized tunes, Ross’s album may as well be titled “Rap.”

Ross was propelled into the spotlight in 2006 with the success of “Port of Miami” and its sales-driving hit singles, such as “Hustlin’,” “Push It,” and “Blow,” all of which unabashedly illustrate the rapper’s rise from lowly cocaine slinger to “Rick Ross, Boss,” the high profile trafficker with a successful rap career.

On “Deeper than Rap,” Ross continues to tell this customary story of the gangster’s American dream, employing his signature overt metaphors and clever lyrical innuendos to demonstrate his experiences and successes in the drug trade and the rap game. Certainly, the album’s unoriginality is indicative of the times in hip-hop. Though Ross’s album features a variety of appearances—from tenured authorities such as Nas to some leading next-generation artists such as Kanye West, Lil Wayne, The-Dream, and Ne-Yo—the all-star cast mainly provides gentle, melodious hooks laid over the upbeat electronic tunes that have infiltrated hip-hop full force as of late.

As a result, “Deeper than Rap” has a softer overall sound than Ross’ first two albums. Better suited for the six-CD changer of a white Lexus on a sunny Saturday than the dusty tape deck of a black Impala on a dreary Monday, “Deeper than Rap” gives listeners the feeling that Ross is getting used to his new lifestyle. The “I made it” attitude, as opposed to “This is how I made it” or “This is how it was before I made it,” seems to take the front seat, as has happened with superstar rappers such as Jay-Z and 50 Cent over the course of their careers. In “Usual Suspects” (feat. Nas), the hook boasts “We the usual suspects / the real definition of success / throwin’ money ’cause I can and I love it / from nothing to something.”

In the more frankly titled “Rich off Cocaine,” Ross finally attempts to get “deeper.” He becomes critical of his lifestyle and material obsession: “Vacation to Haiti / It nearly broke my heart / Seein’ kids starve, I thought about my Audemar / Sellin’ dope ain’t right / I put it on my life.” Still, no unique message is conveyed.

While “Deeper than Rap” meets all current requirements for a decent hip-hop album, it still leaves much to be desired. One song in particular is exemplary of the fact that listeners will find what they expect to find, but nothing more. “Maybach Music 2” provides an accurate summary of what seems to be the only correct recipe, give or take an artist, for popular remixes and song sequels over the past two years: an Auto-Tuned chorus from T-Pain, lyrics about basking in gratuitous luxuries, and 16 bars from Weezy or Yeezy. “Maybach Music 2” has every such ingredient.

Listeners who have grown weary of the Auto-Tune gang (Kanye, T-Pain, The-Dream, etc.) and pop rappers taking over their local radio stations can find consolation in songs such as “Mafia Music,” the album’s opening track, and “In Cold Blood,” the album’s closing track. Both tracks are darker and more contemplative than most of the others. On “Mafia Music,” Ross interestingly positions himself with icons in black history: “Martin had a dream, Bob got high / I still do both but somehow I got by.”

On “In Cold Blood,” Ross employs jazz trumpets and orchestral sounds, as he proclaims, “God wanna see you niggas in the Bentley!” These bookends provide memorable first and last impressions, as they encapsulate the MTV-ready middle portion of the album.

Regardless, very little about “Deeper than Rap” conveys any sense of lyrical or compositional originality. From the recycled analogies and familiar “hip-pop” melodies to the clichéd Scarface-esque album cover, “Deeper than Rap” does not stand out. Ross does little more than reference the themes of ascent, extravagance, and egocentric introspection that are ordinary in mainstream hip-hop today. While it is undoubtedly a good listen full of catchy tunes and everyone’s favorite personalities, “Deeper than Rap” does not live up to its ambitious title.