There was no question in my mind that I was fortunate enough to share a moment in hiphop history where the Greats were at their Greatest, or as Jay-Z puts it: 'Jordan, GAME SIX'.
I drove up to the arena bumping Watch The Throne and several other earlier classics. This was pre-game revving up, however. Because in the weeks prior, I had one artist's music on repeat and it wasn't the WTT album. It wasn't even an album, it was a mixtape.
Rich Forever started the hiphop year off right, as the artist responsible himself states. For months, Rick Ross and anyone familiar with the follow up project, God Forgives, I Don't had been hyping up the coming album. Ross called Rich Forever an appatizer to it. Khaled told us it was an instant classic. So did anyone even remotely affiliated with MMG Music. Not that it needed hyping up. Rich Forever, to me, is the best mixtape in recent memory. It is also one of those rare introductions of a concept or creed that it is so strong and appealing, that even beyond music, you feel that it's importance will be a watershed for the frame hip hop culture was in, on par with statements like: 'Me Against The World' or 'Get Rich Or Die Trying'.
To claim that hiphop is in an alarming state is no longer valid in 2012. A diversification of taste and a availability of talents and styles to comply with that has brought forth an entire generation of artists who have quickly put a unique mark on their own sounds and brands. It feels like the mid nineties, when the difference in energy and substance brought along by Wu Tang, Nas and Notorious B.I.G. gave listeners the feeling that there was sonic gold everywhere you turned. From atypical, unlikely representatives who simultaneously transcend and improve what we would expect of their region, like Kendrick Lamar, to accessible main stream appealing, cross genre authentics such as Kid Cuddi, Wiz Khalifa and Big Sean, this period feels alive. No one in their right mind would name an album Hip Hop is Dead in 2012.
As iconic as Kanye and Jay-Z's run has been, even before Watch The Throne, there is no artist who can match Rick Ross' growth and consistency when it comes to the quality of albums. A three-peat of near classic albums, or at least albums which rank consistently among the best selling and most critically acclaimed albums of the year is almost unprecedented in hip hop. 2pac made Me Against The World, Alle Eyez on Me and The Don Killuminati, but All Eyez On Me thanks at least part of its legendary status to the relaxed standards applied to estimating double albums. Nas offered some great insights and timeless music on I Am, but the flaws in it painfully reminded the audience of the flaws in It Was Written. In comparison with Illmatic, no-one can seriously pick any of the latter two albums as their favorite. Perhaps both Kanye and Jay-Z would come closest, but Reasoble Doubt, Blueprint and Black Album in Jay-Z's case and Kanye's daring experimental temperament make for such peaks, that the coherency and feel of a three-peat streek seems to be missing.
So in achieving Triple Crown status, Ross would make the leap from challenger to legitimate claimant to the Throne, even if he didn't go platinum in his first week, as Lil Wayne or 50 Cent once did with their most anticipated albums. Everything seemed to point to the inevitability of Ross' album being a classic.
Then it came out, to decent first week sales and some critical acclaim. However, the expected impact was not felt. The landslide victory through a supreme product did not follow. God Forgives, I Don't underwhealmed. Since NaS made the unspoken rule of not getting murdered on your own shit a standard for features, rappers have to be vigilant about bringing their A game to the table. One thing that contributed to Ross' legend, was that, despite working with the hottest rappers in the game, his contribution to every album cut, especially his signature Maybach Music series, was epic. He had so many horses bitches called him polo. He shone brighter than the bitches on the other side and it was time to make a blind motherfucker recognize.
It is hard to tell what's missing on the album, without breaking off more than is fair. Ross was outshined on a track, for the first time ever. He was outshined by an absolute legend and one of the most creative and daring MC's of all time, but he was outshined. Andre3000 not only outrapped Ross, he connected better with the concept and subject matter of a song and personified what he was saying. All of Ross' strongest gifts. The man outRossed Ross on what was supposed to be Ross' most epic cut on his most epic album.
Three Kings offers three living legends and the absolute winners of the business competition that is hiphop, three CEO's, three talent breakers and legend makers, alongside eachother. However, Jay-Z works to hard at sounding effortless and is the least forgetful of all three collaborators.
The album lacks a 'Valley of Death' intimacy. It lacks the natural chemistry between R&B regulars John Legend and The-Dream in Ross' collabo's with Omarion and Usher.
Triple Beam Dreams and Rich Forever are supposed to be bonusses, but provide the needed assistance in keeping the album on the expected level. This is unfortunate. On Diced Pineapples, So Sophisticated and Presidential, Ross maintains a cool scoring title average. His Season High comes in the form of Ten Jesus Pieces. It allows us a peek at what this album could have been. Stalley spits the best verse of his career.
Ross' latest offering feels like the Obama presidency, Walking Dead issue #100 or the Lost series finale. We got good, when we expected great. What's missing are the surprises. The unexpected. The crossover and the fadaway.
For now, Ross remains a title holder and a contender. But he is not undisputed yet.