“Time to Make a Blind Mothafu**a Recognize…”
Please indulge me while I nerd-out for a second…
Let’s keep it a buck here: Being a cocaine rapper isn’t exactly the most original or progressive concept we’ve seen in rap. Although I couldn’t tell you the exact figures, I can say with confidence that rap is severely over-saturated with them. But in a game where the drug dealer archetype comes a dime a dozen, Rick Ross somehow figured out a way to set himself apart from his contemporaries. How he was successful in doing this can be attributed to his “Maybach Music” series, production provided by the incredible J.U.S.T.I.C.E (Just Undeniably Some of The Illest Composers Ever) League.
Regardless of your feelings towards Ross an emcee, the “Maybach Music” song series is special. Like the German Luxury Sedan, there is a grand, lush, heightened energy to these gems that only the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League can orchestrate: the cinematic string arrangements, the whistling saxophones, the lush clarinet, the crunchy distorted guitar, the intricate chord progressions, the unpredictable key changes, the beat switches, the breakdowns. Ross and JL do a terrific job of incorporating sounds and arrangements that are not typical of our idea of the traditional “hip hop” boom-bap or 808 sound. In fact, you can listen to the way the drums are mixed/engineered and tell that Ross didn’t want these songs to sound like the typical hip hop knock. They are modest and effective where they need to be but certainly not the star of the show.
This is all by design. Like the car, the Maybach Music series sonically exemplifies a sense of elegance, and Ross’ deep, gravelly, baritone laid back cadence over these tracks is the epitome of the title he’s been claiming his entire career: the biggest boss you’ve seen thus far. But not like a boss for a 9 to 5 office job or a retail manager, but more like the unseen mastermind of a Cartel living out his lavish life on top, while sending orders to mid-level soldiers on the streets carrying out his dirty work. Whether or not he’s lived this life is for another discussion. I’m simply referring to the picture he so vividly paints on these songs. To travel in a Maybach automobile means you exude a sense of poise, refinement, finesse and most of all: power. And Ross exudes this image and sound extremely well.
Also like the German Sedan, Rozay drops a new model every few years – six out of ten albums, only his models are not discontinued like the automobile at the moment. Think of each song as a different car model: similar in style, same feel, same vibe – but still vastly different from the last.
With that said, it is my pleasure to rate and rank Ross’ Maybach Music series thus far. Fasten your seatbelts…
“Maybach Music” feat Jay Z: I get why this was the beat chosen because of the Friends of Distinction sample (“And I Love Him”), but I always felt like “Luxury Tax” should’ve been “Maybach Music” beat off of this album (Trilla). There was more of a wow factor to “Luxury Tax” that the later Maybach songs have. Being that this was the first of its kind – the beat, though still dope and certainly hot at the time, is one the weakest of the series, which is a great sign. As far as the verses – Ross isn’t rapping at a high level here – this is early in his career so it’s mostly his voice, not flow or cadence, that makes this enjoyable. Jay’s verse was cool, certainly not his greatest feature but he did what he was supposed to do – although “Life’s a bitch, so the whole world is mine!” could go down as one of Jay’s laziest bars right behind “The fire I spit burn down Happyland…”…but I digress. While this version isn’t flawless and doesn’t age as well as the others – what this one does well is give glimpses of the greatness to come.
“Maybach Music 2” feat. T-Pain, Kanye West and Lil Wayne: Lord Jesus this song is so special. It makes you instantly forget the Jay Z version. This is the version that set the bar on a production level: the extended lush intro, the strings, the saxophone, the perfectly placed drum fills, the percussion. THIS is the sound we’ve come to associate with Ross and it feels damn good. This was also T-Pain, Ye, and Wayne in their prime, murdering everything that moved. This is by far the best hook out of the entire series and Ye delivering one of the best cameos. “Martin Louie the King Junior/ Startin’ all that stuntin’ is goin’ ruin ya…” Ye didn’t overthink this one, he simply did what vintage Ye does best: sell the charm and personality, while also addressing his fashion choices which, although are looked at a cultural norms today, were met with heavy criticism from the hip hop community at the time. The ranking of the verses are pretty much in order of appearance. Wayne’s energy is great, but cmon man – “All black Maybach, I’m sittin’ in the asshole”? Naaaaah, b. That ain’t it chief. But that’s nit picky. It’s also worth noting that this song aged quite well – one of the better ones.
“Maybach Music III” feat. Erykah Badu, TI and Jadakiss: As if the intro couldn’t get any better, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League proved they could do it again, no sweat. The choice to not start with the hook and to go straight into TI’s verse was a great arrangement decision. TI went ahead and threw some grime, grit and grease on this sophisticated track but managed to keep the charisma the song needs. The outcome was him delivering another one of the series’ best cameos: “And for the record kid – my final question is how yo bitch gone feel in that when you two pull up next to this?” – DOPE closing line. Jada however, always seemed out of place on this. Jada’s MY GUY btw, but he always seemed just a little tooooooo gutter for this joint. Not that he doesn’t deserve a ride in the Maybach, but I imagine Jada more jumping out of a black van, black ski mask pulling out a black automatic weapon and opening fire. Maybe that’s just me. Basically, I needed a little more allure to balance out the street, similar to how TI did. Also, the hook is also a little underwhelming. Admittedly, I was expecting a lot seeing how it was sung by hip hop’s favorite b-girl, Ms. E. Badu. She sounds dope as usual, but “Everybody knows how the story goes…” – that’s some lazy writing, b. Also – Lol @ Rick Ross “CIGAR PLEASE”…definitely Ross’ best verse in this series…this was Teflon Don Ross and by this time he came into his own. Love his energy on this one.
“Maybach Music IV” feat. Neyo: This is probably the most important track of the series. At this point, Ross is in his career prime and has established the sound, but it’s difficult to imagine how to keep this series of songs going without sounding too repetitive. One false step and he may as well dead it. There was also a lot of anticipation to this album God Forgives, I Don’t. The strength of this song should be credited more to the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League than Ross, admittedly. This is hands down the best beat of the series. If there was a song that captured the feel of riding in a luxury sedan, this is it. The intro gives you Earth, Wind and Fire vibes. The bass line is meeeeaaaan. The beat switches, the outro…J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League showed their ass on this joint! Let’s not forget they added one more element to the equation: background vocal arrangements. I would’ve loved to be fly on the wall in this session with Neyo. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how to feel about Neyo’s voice on the lead vocals. I would’ve wanted to hear someone with a stronger and more soulful tone, but I’m still not mad – he made it do what it do. What’s crazy is that this is the first joint with no cameos! I can’t lie, I miss the cameos. Crazy enough, 50 Cent would’ve sounded GREAT over this track, if he used the “Hustler’s Ambition” laid back flow/tone. Maybe Scarface, Nas or throw a female on it to switch it up even more: Remy, Nicki, whoever. Or bring your team along for the ride – Wale and Meek? I needed a cameo on this. But back to the beat – did I mention this beat is stooooooooopiddddd?
“Maybach Music V” feat. Dej Loaf: I’m not all the way mad at Ross on this one. I see where he was going. I applaud the attempt to switch it up drastically – beat wise and vibe wise. I liked that he switched it up and threw a female on it. I will say that Dej Loaf’s voice sounds great on it but I checked-out attention wise because I didn’t care about what she was talking about. Sorry, just being honest here. I think that the key with this series is the content. It’s the content that glue these songs together and give it a through-line. You can switch the beat up, switch the arrangements, but the content has to be very specific in order for this to make sense in relation to the others. Frankly, I wasn’t ready to hear a love story on this. That works for “Ashton Martin Music”, but not “Maybach Music”. I needed that VIBE. Of the six, this one definitely feels like the black sheep. Not the strongest, but I understand the move. Honestly I expected him to make this move on “Maybach Music IV”, which I’m glad he didn’t. At this point, he’s knocked it out the park so many times I can forgive him for this one. Shout out to Dej Loaf too. This one is definitely the weakest, but not terrible.
“Maybach Music VI” feat. John Legend and Lil Wayne. Ahhh yes, and we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming! It feels long overdue having John Legend on the hook. He belongs on tracks like this – he never misses. Whether it’s Ross’ “Rich Forever” or DJ Khalid’s “Victory” with Nas or Nipsey “Higher” – these are the soulful tracks we need John Legend on. Writing and performance wise this is the second best hook after T-Pain’s. I’m PISSED that Pusha’s verse was cut, seeing how he had the best cameo in the entire damn series. Why’d he leave him off???? I just…man….sigh…I dunno, b – that’s a head scratcher. Wayne having two cameos seems a little lazy, especially when this verse was subpar in comparison to not only Pusha’s but his previous verse from “Maybach Music 2”. As far as the track, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League does not disappoint but if I’m being nit-picky – one thing I always wished from these songs was that Ross take the vocal arrangements to the next level. These songs lend itself to much more intricate arrangements: think Kanye “Never Let Me Down”, “Bring Me Down” or “We Major”…extremely detailed vocal work that only adds texture to an already superb track. I think that could have set this one apart a little more from the other ones. But again, that’s nit-picky. This track is bananas and the strummed guitar on the outro is a nice touch. J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League deserves to be in the conversation when it comes to the best producers the game has seen. Those guys are extremely underrated.
So all that said here’s my ranking:
- Maybach Music 2
- Maybach Music IV
- Maybach Music III
- Maybach Music VI
- Maybach Music I
- Maybach Music V
Ok I’m done nerding out. Shout out to Ross and congratulations on Port of Miami 2. You may not like him as a rapper, but to make it ten years deep in this fickle rap game is a huge feat. Shout out to the Bawse!