Harold Stallworth is a stark advocate of Rick Ross’ three-point plan.
The notion of “lost tapes” isn’t exclusive to rap music. Curating previously unreleased works of recorded media is a concept long adopted by everyone from John Lennon to Animal Planet to NASA scientists. But in hip-hop, the benchmark for such an endeavor will always be Nas’ 2004 retail compilation,The Lost Tapes. Its title is a bit misleading; songs featured on the album were never technically misplaced or inaccessible. Most of the records were spread across New York City’s rejuvenated mixtape circuit around the turn of the century. The rest made its rounds several years beforehand on a bootleg of an ill-fated double album that eventually splintered into I Am and Nastradamus. Widely regarded as a cult classic, The Lost Tapes has inspired many of Nas’ peers to take a stab at compiling their own hoardings. The latest example is a collaborative effort from the gaudiest moguls this side of Don King: Rick Ross and Bryan “Birdman” Williams.
As legend has it, they barricaded themselves inside a Miami-Dade County studio in late 2008 and recorded nearly 40 songs within a 72-hour span. The project was entitled H, which could stand for either “heroin” or “hustling,” depending to what degree the duo care to incriminate themselves. Unlike Nas’ labor of love, the majority of H never departed the cutting room floor. The album provides insight into a significant crossroads of Ross’ career. In the interim between 2008’s Trilla and 2009’s Deeper Than Rap, he made an unprecedented leap in skill set — so much so that ghostwriting accusations haunted him for years to follow. These performances make it easier to reconcile his abrupt transition from underboss to overlord. It’s as if Ross experienced an epiphany mid-session and realized that tripling up vocals, à la 2Pac, doesn’t do a shred of justice to his lulling baritone.
On paper, Birdman certainly isn’t the ideal pairing for an artist like Ross, who has a tendency to play to his competition. But their alliance works surprisingly well here. Despite its production leaning decisively toward the Maybach aesthetic, the album is chocked with Birdman’s trademark subdued absurdities. And to Ross’ credit, he manages to consistently one-up his cohort’s outlandishness. Nowhere is this more apparent than on their respective interludes. The former half of “Flashy Cars Movie Stars” finds Birdman delivering a garbled street sermon over melodramatic orchestration.
“Every day we wake up before our muthafuckin’ eyes close,” Birdman insists. “We eat while we sleep,” he says before backpedaling into an even more outrageous claim. “We eat while we don’t even eat.”
Ross ups the ante considerably on “Homies and Hoes.” Assisted by Ace Spectrum’s 1974 breakup balled, “I Don’t Want To Play Around,” he wins over a young vixen, who sounds suspiciously like Teedra Moses, with a hysterical pimp spiel. He dangles the finest trinkets a mid-tier Def Jam budget can afford: convertible vehicles; $100 Greek salads; and, of course, Birdman’s discontinued line of Falcon Lugz. His ability to remain the primary vessel for ridiculousness, even when standing opposite of a guy with a five point star tattooed atop his skull, hints toward the transcending artist he was on the verge of becoming. The type of artist willing to traffic narcotics from the comfort of his iPhone, personify MC Hammer, and douse an unsuspecting woman’s drink with molly-powder in the name of entertainment.
As the gracious host, DJ Khaled’s main function is to promote Maybach Music Group’s pending business ventures. This results in numerous chronological miscues. While Ross urges listeners to invest in Trilla, Khaled plugs his forthcoming full-length album, Mastermind. The booming voiceovers make it difficult to appreciate the nostalgic appeal of the project, though that’s only a minor quibble. H isn’t a career defining work in the vein of Nas’ Lost Tapes, but it serves as a notable addendum to Deeper Than Rap. It marks the inception of Ross’ three-point plan for prosperity: delusion fuels ambition; ambition begets success; and success seeds even grander delusion.