Harold Stallworth shares a beeper with Ray Liotta.
Rick Ross’s seventh retail album, Hood Billionaire, was one of my favorite releases of 2014. It’s partly because Ross is on a shortlist of contemporary acts who still make music steeped in the tradition of east coast mafioso rap of the mid-1990s. “Phone Tap,” something of a spiritual sequel to The Firm’s 1997 single of the same name, is probably the most glaring example of Scorcesian grandeur to be found on Hood Billionaire. Its production, courtesy of Ben “Billion$” Diehl, can be summed up in one word: Suspenseful. And Ross, with his masterful use of space, works to shape that suspense into a particularly toxic strain of paranoia.
He’s Henry Hill, high out of his mind, craning his neck out the window of his box Chevy, trying to gauge the helicopters buzzing overhead. Ross has made this song before, of course, but rarely with such a commitment to narrative. “Phone Tap” is more screenplay than picture book. Sadly, its belated video fails to capture any of its neurotic charm. There’s a reason why rap’s greatest storytelling tracks, by in large, were relegated to deep cuts; the adaptation seldom lives up to the screenplay. But, if nothing else, its a great excuse to revisit one of the more cinematic tracks in Ross’s discography.