Last week, Crossfade contributor Arielle Castillo reported on Rick Ross's Self-Made: Maybach Music Vol. 1 and "Tupac Back," the record's lead single featuring North Philly rookie Meek Mill.
The song is OK. (Well, maybe good. But definitely not great.) And while Ross is actually in stellar form, I couldn't really get into Mill. But even though I thought that "Tupac Back" was just alright, I couldn't get the track out of my head.
I knew it had something to do with Tupac. But what?
Ross supplies "Tupac Back" with a heavy "B.M.F"-style mantra for the chorus. Unfortunately, Meek Mill's verses don't venture beyond basic trap rap tropes except to invoke the song's main theme -- riffing on Tupac-related lyrics and titles. Plus, his cadence is a little too amateurishly shouted. So like a lot of hip-hop piggyback pairings, the Boss's hook is the only reason you're listening.
Well, the Boss and Tupac. Although Ross claiming to be some kind of aesthetic descendent of Pac seems strange to me. The '90s gangsta icon's output can be lumped into two broad categories: socially conscious and psychologically ruminating. For the former, we have to look no further than "Brenda's Got A Baby."
And as his career progressed, Tupac retained a socio-political slant. But his music became darker and more psychologically tortured. For example, "Hail Mary."
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Ross's last two albums have seen him explore the paranoia and self-doubt of a man at the top. But that overlap still doesn't really seem to be enough to qualify him as the heir to the Thug Life throne. Plus, Rick Ross certainly doesn't possess the conscience of Tupac. So who's the truer influence on the Teflon Don?
Rick Ross, the smooth talking Mafioso who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, would not exist if it weren't for the Notorious B.I.G. Yeah, there are essential differences related to context: Biggie is the quintessential '90s gangsta narrator whose grittily eloquent tales are set to Golden Age hip-hop sampling production while Rick Ross is a bombastic crime-lord pastiche backed up by tinny Southern synthesizers, thunderous beats and smooth R&B instrumentals. But despite aesthetic specificities, both play equivalent roles for their eras: The Boss.