'Mastermind:' How Rick Ross's Sixth Studio Album Showed the Resiliency Of A Boss

The album was released on Def Jam five years ago.

Back in 2013, Rick Ross, the “biggest boss” in hip-hop, faced a crossroads. He was coming off of a career-solidifying three year run that started with his 2009 album Deeper Than Rap and carried him through 2012’s God Forgives, I Don’t.

He transformed into a legitimate star, label boss, and one of hip-hop’s biggest stars and most prominent voices. In what should have been a victory lap for Ross, one where he enjoyed the rewards of being at the top of the game, he found himself with more questions surrounding his career than answers in 2013.

In early January 2013, Ross was the target of a drive-by shooting while in his Rolls Royce during birthday festivities in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; he dodged the bullets but crashed into a nearby apartment complex. The event came right after rumors of him circulated that he was being extorted by the Gangster Disciples, who threatened harm against Ross if he didn’t pay for the use of their name and imagery in his music videos. And while Ross’ life outside of the studio seemed to be in turmoil, his verses were raising even more red flags.

In April 2013, his controversial verse on Rocko’s “UOENO,” which featured the lyrics, “Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it,” lost him a partnership with Reebok. He issued a public apology for the verse. Suddenly, all of the success Ross spent the previous three years building—and the larger than life persona he grew into—were on shaky grounds. He looked off balance, bordering on squandering it all, and Mastermind, his sixth studio album, was a defining moment for the MC.

Mastermind serves as arguably the most important album in Ross’ discography. On the intro track, “Rich Is Gangsta,” he raps: “They want me face down in the pavement / Gang members claiming I need to make a payment / It’s hard to be a young black executive, can’t you see we all fucking relatives?” Almost immediately on the album, Ross addresses the biggest story surrounding him at the time. But beyond his comfort in confronting rumors, Mastermind showcases a man who, has always been comfortable in his skin, but steps outside of his comfort zone; the album takes multiple twists and turns, playing out like one of the most cinematic movies in hip-hop.

With the help of Diddy on “Nobody,” which features an interpolation of the Notorious B.I.G.’s “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody kills You),” Ross pays homage to Biggie. “When I first recorded the record, before I even took it to Puff, I went and played it for D-Rock which is BIG’s right hand man,” Ross told The Breakfast Club in March 2014. “Unfortunately he was in the car with BIG when he passed away, so when D-Rock gave me love and the go ahead, that’s when I went over to Puff.”

There are familiar faces on Mastermind; Lil Wayne on “Thug Cry” and Meek Mill makes an appearance on “Walkin On Air,” two standout tracks off the album. “Devil Is A Lie” plays off the chemistry that Ross and JAY-Z spent the previous eight years perfecting over various collabs. As Ross says on the track, “You couldn’t stop me if you tried,” it’s clear he hears the whispers of his demise, he sees the writing on the wall, but he just bounces back and keeps pushing through—the epitome of a boss, the biggest one, at that. On Mastermind, Ross seems stronger than ever, allowing him to double down on the luxurious raps that made him a star on songs like “Sanctified.” But he pushes himself further on tracks outside of his repetoire like “Mafia Music III” featuring Mavado and Sizzla, and “In Vein” with The Weeknd.

However, the biggest shock on Mastermind comes on “War Ready,” which features a surprising guest verse from Jeezy. The relationship between the two MCs went downhill in 2010 when Ross released his song “B.M.F” which referenced the Black Mafia Family and Big Meech, who Jeezy was once known to be affiliated with. Jeezy would release his own version of “B.M.F.” called “Death B4 Dishonor” with the lyrics “How you blowin' money fast and you ain’t part of the crew? Oh you part of the fam, shit I never knew.” The beef turned violent after the two and their crews got into a brawl at the 2012 BET Hip-Hop Awards. To see both Ross and Jeezy come together on this album quickly became one of the biggest hip-hop moments of the year.

“We bossed up, we both bossed up,” Ross Ross told HOT 107.9 Atlanta. “It’s bigger than Rick Ross and it’s bigger than Young Jeezy, and at the end of the day, this is a culture that we’re representing, and we never stepped on each other’s toes. It was a lot of confusion, it was a lot of street talk. But at the end of the day we had never personally, besides a little run-in at the BET Awards, had a problem with each other. It wasn’t no spilled blood, it wasn’t no money lost so let’s handle our business.”

With his back against the wall, his personal life in tailspin, and endorsement deals fleeting, Ross stepped up to the plate and hit a home run with Mastermind. He pulled out all of the stops and responded in the only way he knew how: through the music. Ross not only had big name features on the album, but the production was expansive and lavish due to the help from Mike Will Made It, Scott Storch, Kanye West, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, and Diddy. Ross was intent on making a statement—he wanted to remind his critics why he was such a respected voice and that his time at the top wasn’t over just yet. Mastermind serves as a seminal album in Ross' discography, the one that answered the question of whether the untouchable Maybach Music Empire was on the verge of collapse with a resounding no. If anything, he only got stronger.

Buy Mastermind on 2LP vinyl in the Urban Legends store now.