Port of Miami
he most salient thing uttered on Rick Ross’s debut album, Def Jam’s much touted Port of Miami, is buried at the end of the remix to “Hustlin’”—after Ross stumbles through a re-hash of his original verse and Young Jeezy spirits away most of the song’s momentum. A complacent, pseudo-stately Jay-Z closes his verse with the line, “Ricky Ross, Young Jeezy we own the scene.”
Those last three words should immediately leap out. The “scene”—rap ala Mason-Dixon—is certainly something for the New York magnate to “own,” but how do Jeezy and Ross feel about being Def Jam’s ig’nant country chess pieces?
Jeezy probably doesn’t care that much—at each high point of his still fresh debut he painstakingly reminded us that he regards the rap game with as much gravity as he does a whiny trick: He’d rather listen to your instrumentals.
Ross, however, is a different beast.
For the whole of Port of Miami he walks with a slow gait, posing as a scion in the ursine, imposing mold (Kool G Rap, Scarface, Biggie Smalls, and, of more recent vintage, Sigel and Jeezy). He looks mostly awkward, grinding out attempted “trademarks”—whipping stuff hard, pronouncing Ross with a phantom “w”—and dabbling in Cliff Notes reductions of gangster tropes: “Pots & Pans,” “Boss,” “Where My Money (I Need That).”
Beyond his grating, gastropod flow, Ross is painstakingly packaged. He goes through a bloodless hustler’s checklist in most every song—“works pays off, I’m a boss you can tell.” Def Jam, perhaps more than Ross, has to bear responsibility for much of the mass-produced ‘hood monotony. “Cross the Line” is essentially Jeezy’s “Soul Survivor” redux: wailing Akon hook, fatalistic philosophy, and ascending melodramatic strings. Throughout Port you can almost see the Def Jam execs trawling the more successful southern rap albums—King, Thug Motivation, Thug Matrimony—for material to strip mine.
The delivery on each song congeals together. He chants out motivational blandness over a trite translation of the Scarface theme (“Push It”) exactly the way he whittles away at generic street pastorals (“Street Life”). He’s mealy-mouthed for most of Port. He can’t enunciate his line endings effectively. When he raps, “the world is yours, a hundred million and boy”—you can’t really tell if the last line is actually “boy.” Ross draws the “o” sounds out way, way too long and “boy” becomes a shout resembling “bwaaaahhhh” or “blaaaah” or something similarly indecipherable.
And for all of Def Jam’s money and over-the-moon push they’ve given Ross, the melodies are cheap, syrupy cymbals and lazy, numbing handclaps. Even the booming, spiritual four-part organ dance on “Hustlin’” gets rehashed on at least three other songs on the album. The guest appearances range from flabbergasting (Mario Winans?) to pointless—Dre, of production team Cool & Dre, may be the most flavorless producer-turned-MC this decade.
What this means is that not only does Ross wilt under the spotlight, but the entire album’s thrust—the city of Miami as gluttonous, deadly, sun-drenched metropolis—gets lost in the shuffle of concessions and expectations. One almost wishes for some dumb-ass skit to humanize Port of Miami and save the album from what it really is: an inhuman piece of en vogue rap served up by the people who really pull the strings.