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Moí Cars, Moí Hoes, Moí Clothes, Moí--Sigh, Time To Sell The Drugs

DAILY GRIND: Hustlin' is just hard work for Rick Ross.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 8/23/2006

Pay no attention to the money shit still whippiní them Benzes. Forget about hustlers getting rich off the Yayo down in the M-I-A-yo. For all the surface sheen, Rick Rossí working-class ghosts are right there in his major-label debutís title. Like almost every other up-and-coming rapper these days, Ross spits cocaine rap. But while Ross rhymes about those drug-slinging staples--money, women, clothes--the name Port of Miami (Def Jam) brings to mind container cars and longshoremen, not the sun glistening off shiny superfast cars, the bare skin of leggy bikini-clad women, or the cityís posh, neon-lit, art deco nightlife. His songs explore the proverbial grind as just that--a job, with all the headaches and stress that go along with it.

Rossí casual delivery and his albumís languid, matte production suits such a curious subject matter. He raps in a sleepy sibilance, elongating the final "s" of his name--and words that end in a similar snarl, such as "boss" or "house"--into a drawn-out hiss. He also likes to bark "s"-beginning words, turning "suckers" and "soldiers" into blunt ear jabs.

This style makes for a distinctive presence but not for a very agile rapper. Ross raps, regardless of the beat, like a big boat cutting through a smaller vesselís wake. He laments that he didnít have any "Polos until I started bagging it," before a mentor "showed me how to parlay a Z" to get into the life, but he chews both at such a taffy pace that they become a mumble thatís uninterested in the backing pulse. Throughout, Ross sounds like he couldnít stick to a simple meter if he was staring at a metronome.

Itís not that the production is that particularly sophisticated or rhythmically ambitious, either. Port of Miamiís producers--Jazze Pha, Cool and Dre, the Runners--lay down an easygoing speaker rattle behind Rossí big voice, neither bombastic nor adventurous. Sonically, Miami is somewhere between Houston gully heaviness and Atlanta party music, not as aggressive as the former or as flamboyant as the latter. Ephemeral keys and synth lines provide most of the texture atop the simple, strolling bass lines. It gives Ross a modest mood to work in and around, complementing his workingmanís vibe.

And when Rossí style, lyrics, and beats are in cahoots, it makes for strangely compelling rap music. The brassy theme from the 1970s TV cop show S.W.A.T. underscores "Iím Bad," the usual parable about what it costs to be the boss. But after the boasting first verse, Ross settles into a slang-laden enumeration of the attitude it takes to stay there, promising "Iím bad, Iím back/ Iím mad, Iím strapped" and sounding like heís sweating such top-dog living. Itís a lifestyle maintained through laborís sweat--"ĎBí for the bullets and the niggas who gotta die/ ĎAí for the addicts and junkies who getting high/ ĎDí for the dope distributed at the dock"--and itís tiring, exhausting work.

"Iím Bad" is followed by the ephemeral "Boss," a buoyant, fuzzy bass beat laced with background "la la" chants that go through all the perks that come with being the titular kingpin. The song feels like a dream, though, as if Ross is imagining the good life that supposedly comes from all his hard work but which he never quite gets to enjoy. A few songs later, Ross practically sighs, "Iím 24-7 like IHOP," turning clichť braggadocio into a hair shirt.

Nowhere does the grind of work weigh heavier than in Rossí current monster single, "Hustliní." The song, the first to mark 1 million ringtone downloads before the albumís release, is built around a skeletal drum kick and click-track flutter, over which Ross turns a cocaine-rap anthem into a Willy Loman monologue. He runs through the usual ego-inflating claims--"the real Noriega owes me a hundred favors," "Ya want the pretty things, Iím the one ya need to ask"--and then, slowly, he starts repeating the same words, as if heís too tired to come up with new ideas:

Donít tote no twenty-twos, Magnum cost me twenty-twoSat it on them twenty-twos, birds go for twenty-twoLilí mama superthick, she say she twenty-twoShe seen them twenty-twos, we in room two twenty-two.

Arthur Miller used recurring phrases--"He is not just liked, but well-liked," "Isnít that a remarkable thing"--as leitmotifs whose meanings changed with each utterance in Death of a Salesman, but they also telegraph mental weariness. That weariness is omnipresent in the entire syrupy chorus of "Hustliní," where the repeated "Every day Iím hustliní" turns the final word itself into a three-syllable sigh.

Although not approaching the sanguine maturity of Scarfaceís A-game, "Hustliní" and Portís framing device--its skits are news flashes about a drug bust and arrest, the thorn in every dealerís side--suggest that Ross might be aiming for that sort of gravity. He doesnít quite succeed in sketching a fully nuanced picture of the life of an urban drug dealer--and the ill-advised foray into Dirty South balladry, "Hit U From the Back," almost ruins everything here thanks to lines as atrocious as "Now Iím like a ghost in the white Phantom/ Take her home, fuck her in a wife manner"--but give the man some credit for even trying out cocaine ennui. Port of Miami is nobodyís idea of a good hip-hop album, but its lyrical tentativeness makes it a fascinating, if ultimately merely average, journey.

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