It's difficult to remember how huge Rick Ross was in 2006. After years of presence under various names in the Miami hip-hop underground, the rapper born William Leonard Roberts III dropped "Hustlin'," his debut single and biggest hit, in March of that year. Overnight, it became a phenomenon, heard blasting from every car window in Miami for months. Movies, TV shows, and trailers would use the song extensively over the coming years, and its distinctive hook would also be reinterpreted in LMFAO's global hit "Party Rock Anthem." Katt Williams even created a standup routine around the song.
Ross quickly moved from the local label Slip-N-Slide Records into a bidding war between Def Jam and Bad Boy Entertainment. The former label won, released a video for "Hustlin'" featuring basically every member of Miami rap royalty — Pitbull, Trick Daddy, Trina, DJ Khaled — and, in August of that year, dropped Ross' debut album, Port of Miami. Drawing on the mythos of Miami as an epicenter for drug trafficking, Ross painted himself as a ruthless, hard-striving cocaine cowboy in the mold of Tony Montana with shooters in every corner of Dade County. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart.
Much has changed for Ross since then. First came the revelation he worked as a corrections officer, which deeply undermined his drug-kingpin image. Then came a lawsuit from his namesake — the actual convicted drug trafficker "Freeway" Ricky Ross, who alleged copyright infringement. (The rapper won the case on First Amendment grounds.) He's also weathered a fair number of controversies regarding women, most notable the infamous "date rape line" from his feature on Rocko's "U.O.E.N.O." that caused him to lose an endorsement deal with Reebok.
There have also been positives: his string of platinum-selling albums, his now-legendary appearances on Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (especially "Devil in a New Dress"), his shepherding of artists such as Meek Mill and French Montana on his Maybach Music Group label, and, of course, his side gig as a Wingstop franchisee.
But Ross has taken so many shots — both metaphorical and literal — that he now resembles something of a multiterm, scandal-prone congressman nobody can get rid of: a rap-game Clay Davis from The Wire (or, for that matter, any politician in Miami). And like any entrenched interest, either political or musical, he can't be bothered to improve anything and will coast off whatever fumes are left in his tank for as long as he can.
Case in point: Thirteen years after the original, Ross released a sequel to his debut album, naming his latest record Port of Miami 2. With a title like that, we might expect the rapper to deliver a proper followup to the record that made his name. What we get instead is an enormous missed opportunity. Port of Miami 2 is an intensely mediocre mainstream rap album with enough shreds pointing to what could have been to make it even more disappointing.
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For most of its duration, Ross engages in the kind of braggadocio that made the first Port of Miami fresh and exciting. But instead of replicating that album's brash production style and lyricism, he opts for a glamorous, R&B-esque style that deadens the record's impact. Three-quarters of the songs are celebratory — the kind of tunes a drug dealer might blast when he's on a champagne-and-strippers bender. But they aren't interesting, and it's clear no thought went into track sequencing or adding any king of narrative beyond "I'm rich." Ross may be from Miami, but this album isn't about the city — it's about Ross and Ross only.
It's hard to recall memorable beats or lines on Port of Miami 2, but a few do come to mind. "Big Tyme" features the best beat on the project, a Just Blaze heater that sounds imported straight from the Bling Era, but Ross botches it with lazy lyricism (he spends much of the song simply shouting the title) as well as a nonfeature from Swizz Beatz. "Turnpike Ike" and "Summer Reign" stand out for the wrong reasons with their cringe-worthy attempts to turn Ross into a sex symbol, the former in particular with its pre-verse "pillow talk" interstitials. He briefly gets serious on "I Still Pray," addressing his recent heart attack, but quickly loses sight of that theme and reverts to well-intentioned rap clichés. A posthumous verse from Nipsey Hussle, who, tragically, was murdered earlier this year, on the song "Rich Nigga Lifestyle" briefly made headlines before the album's release for a shot against Tekashi 6ix9ine, but the track isn't otherwise notable.
The lone standout feature — probably the best verse on the whole album — comes from Denzel Curry, the leading light of a new generation of Miami rappers, who delivers a typically blistering verse on "Running the Streets." However, you can tell he's not giving all he can, either because he knows his usual anime-referencing, late-millennial style is too forward-thinking for a Rick Ross album or because he heard the terrible beat and decided it wasn't worth much energy. (It's hard to blame him.)
After slogging through 67 minutes of Port of Miami 2, it's hard not to think of it as a tremendous missed opportunity at best and a massive con at worst. Ross could have releases a true successor to his semilegendary debut, but instead, either out of laziness or knowledge that name recognition would generate buzz in any case, he gave fans an unremarkable, barely put-together collection of 15 songs. There are signs of what could have been: "Nobody's Favorite" and "Born to Kill," the album's best, darkest tracks, find Ross playing to his ruthless, beset kingpin persona. They prove he is better off playing a villain, a rap-game antagonist. But he's too obsessed with making himself the hero of his own story to see it.