rickross_deluxeKyle Ellison owns 17 Koo Koo Roo’s. 

When Rozay released Rich Forever two years ago it felt like almost anything that he laid his mollusk-moisturized hands on could be a certified hit. Maybe those anti-austerity anthems struck a cathartic chord in the heart of the economic crash, or maybe we all just enjoy something we can grunt along to. Most likely both of these things are true. But now that the fortune cookies in which Ross found his best hooks have gone stale, he’s been left trawling the taglines of 90s Al Pacino movies for generic non-phrases like the “The Devil is a Lie.”

With the Maybach tank running on empty, it feels like only a Meek Mill album or dose of controversy can reignite the spark – except we know how that ended last time and the label boss now pays for his own Reeboks. The latest in a line of diminishing Ross-related shitstorms followed a reference to Trayvon Martin nestled into the D-Rich produced Mastermind cut “BLK & WHT.” “Trayvon Martin, I’m never missing my target,” he raps on the song, in what at first glance seems to be a dumb, misjudged line in the same poor taste as Lil Wayne’s Emmett Till gaffe from “Karate Chop.” The song provides no particular context or any strong recurring theme, it’s an isolated line surrounded by typical auto-generated boasts of Rozayvian extravagance.

Ross moved quickly this time to explain the lyric; presumably in the fear of being stripped of any more sponsored clothing. The statement he issued to Vibe stressed the importance of remembering the Trayvon tragedy, commenting, “I’m never going to let the world forget that [Trayvon’s] name”. In fairness, his argument is not completely without rationale, and by my count this is at least the third time he’s mentioned Trayvon on record (following his feature on Usher’s “Lemme See” and a tribute song of sorts “I Wonder Why”). The execution is disastrously clumsy of course, but nobody is suggesting that Ross doesn’t care about Trayvon – why, then, is he reduced to a vague throwaway punchline on a Mastermind space filler?

The problem Ross has is that he’s written himself into a caricature, and like Snoop Dogg or Bronsolino – few people really know him as a man. Hearing Rick Ross rap about things that actually matter is like inviting Marvin the Martian or Count Duckula to chair a political debate, only much less entertaining. The bawse persona turned Ross into a headline rapper against all the odds, and even as the ratings are falling before his eyes he’s afraid to turn his back on it. For the sake of his longevity, though, Ross needs to show more of himself. If indeed he does think that there’s more to life than Swiss bank accounts and bad bitches, then it’s time to break character and tell us something new.

Last week also saw the release of the Rich Kidz video ‘Trayvon’, taken from their excellent late 2013 tape ‘A West Side Story’. Essentially their message is the same as Ross’ – that Trayvon is symbolic of the struggles faced everyday by America’s young black men, and they could easily have suffered the same sad fate had they not stumbled across success.

Aside from being a vastly superior song to ‘BLK & WHT’ (the beat alone is more exciting than anything on Mastermind), ‘Trayvon’ is the kind of tribute we can believe in. As a standalone hook “Trayvon with a bankroll” is almost as vague as the line “Trayvon Martin, I’m never missing my target”, but it’s not a reference thrown into fit a rhyme scheme and the song attempts to translate what the Zimmerman verdict means for the black community. “Young nigga can’t roll to the store” croons Skooley, while Kaelub raps “Got cuz locked up, got Boosie locked up – why the fuck Zimmer out here doing what he want?”

Of course, if Ross reconnects with his hit-making formula he may not need to adapt to shift units, but it’s unlikely his one-dimensional Mafioso shtick is going to keep him in Versace loafers forever. For better or worse, today’s biggest rappers aren’t afraid to present themselves as emotional wrecks – from Kanye’s very public breakdowns to Future’s honesty and Drake’s faux-sensitivity – Ross has something to learn from all these guys.

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