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Sequel albums have become a staple of rap, but recent history has shown just how tricky they are to get right. Lean too hard into the nostalgia, you get dated clunkers that sound like old album throwaways — or that actually are. But if you get too progressive with it, you lose the feeling of nostalgia you tried to evoke resulting in a mishmash of clashing styles or themes.
Then there’s Rick Ross, who finds a way to ride the narrow line of perfection in between on his latest album, Port Of Miami 2, by doing mostly what he’s always done. Since Ross’ musical palette has swung between Lex Luger-esque bass bombing trap and lush, orchestral luxury rap since almost his start, by simply keeping the trend going, he nails the concept easily — even if this sequel has more in common with his sophomore album, Trilla, than it does his debut.
The original Port Of Miami was a much more straightforward rap album for its time. Released in the mid-aughts, the production trended naturally toward the proto-trap of the era that can be heard on other Southern-based artists’ similar projects like Ludacris’ Release Therapy, T.I.’s King, and Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter II: Lots of organ, synthesized horn sections, and handclaps. The true standout was “Hustlin’,” the introductory single that launched The Runnerz as a production team and became the subject of a still-funny Katt Williams bit, marking its status as a cultural shifting point.
But the Ross of that era was a Ross working to redefine himself in the public eye. He’d shed the Teflon Don moniker that marked his earliest forays into “real hip-hop” alongside New York veteran Erick Sermon (on the latter’s underrated Def Squad Presents: Erick Onasis), but had yet to distinguish himself as a separate entity from the dozens of down-bottom hustler rappers of the 2000s. He had a great rap voice, but other than that, seemed as though he’d simply fade into obscurity along with Gorilla Zoe, Yung Joc, and the members of Boyz N Da Hood not named Jeezy.
The Ross we all know and love really came into being on 2008’s Trilla during the Jay-Z-featuring album cut “Maybach Music.” How this song never became a single is truly a mystery, but its impact on both Rick Ross’ career and hip-hop as a whole is truly undeniable. It was on this song that “luxury rap” truly became a thing; rappers had always flossed their expensive designer goods and name brand tastes but never before had it sounded quite so elegant, like the score of a 007 film set in a marble-floored hotel in Monaco. This is where the Maybach Music moniker — and its now-ubiquitous vocal tag, coined by model Jessica Gomes — was born and where Port Of Miami 2 finds its true inspiration.
Now, Ross is on the sixth incarnation of the illustrious “Maybach Music” series, returning to the well of inspiration as its second iteration. Lil Wayne appears here in top form alongside John Legend singing the chorus. The song caused a furor online when Ross revealed that he intended to put both Wayne and Wayne’s longtime rival Pusha T on it, but the final version disappointingly only features Wayne. The leaked Pusha T verse reveals why: Rather than rapping about cocaine as usual, Push leans into his other favorite topic — tweaking Drake. Your feelings may vary depending on your views on both, but it’s still a letdown knowing Ross tried to use his clout to bring the sides together in some small way only for one to sabotage his efforts.
Fortunately, Ross’ labors turn out to be fruitful elsewhere on Port Of Miami 2, such as the Jeezy reunion “Born To Kill,” which represents a more successful stab at reconciliation between the former rivals. “Big Tyme” fulfills the “boisterous lead single” requirement established by “Hustlin’” 13 years ago, but expands on the big organs and screwed-up hook by bringing in Swizz Beatz as a hype man to ad-lib over Just Blaze’s monstrous live horns. Where the original Port Of Miami’s “ladies” track, “Get Away” with Mario Winans, was a bit cheesy, Rick demonstrates the wisdom of the intervening 13 years by actually getting a woman on the sultry “Summer Reign,” which features Summer Walker and sounds sexier thanks to moody, low-tempo production.
“Rich N—a Lifestyle” is another standout, thanks to its Nipsey Hussle feature and embellished Rudy Love sample. Nipsey and Ross were close friends in life and Nipsey sounds as vibrant and vivid here as he has on any verse since his death. The soulful production uplifts his and Rick’s performances without sounding like a commentary on his passing as other guest verses have — no gospel choirs or melancholy, stripped-down instrumental required. It’s also nice to hear Rick reunite with Maybach Music Group stalwarts like Meek Mill and Gunplay on “Bogus Charms” and “Nobody’s Favorite,” respectively. The full-circle nature of these songs is balanced by the addition of “Gold Roses” featuring Drake, who was still acting on Degrassi when Port Of Miami hit in ‘06, but has become an indispensable piece of the Rick Ross legend since.
That ability to pull from the past, while pushing the narrative forward is Port Of Miami 2’s greatest strength. It helps that Rick Ross has been consistent in his presentation and his evolution for most of the last decade, making his latest more of a spiritual successor to his more recent output than his debut. However, as a capstone on his first 13 years of real rap success, it works as a moment for him to look back and reflect on how far he’s come and as a blueprint for extended longevity in the dog-eat-dog world of rap.
Port Of Miami 2 is out now via Epic Records. Get it here.