Rick Ross is at an impasse. The Miami rapper, 38, is still one of hip-hop's most commercially successful acts, with five No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200. But on Hood Billionaire, Ross' second LP this year, he's clinging to an increasingly charmless drug-kingpin kabuki act. It worked for a long time - his run from 2009 album Deeper Than Rap to 2012 mixtape Rich Forever is hard to deny. He now occupies the same stuffy 1 percent as mainstream rap royalty like Jay Z; where hip-hop purists once huffed when Hova jumped on Ross' "Hustlin' (Remix)" in 2004, the two now churn out milquetoast collaborative anthems on a regular basis. But booming Lex Luger-style beats have cycled out of fashion, and Ross' crab-leg-and-pinky-ring embellishments have lost much of their novelty.
And indeed, Hood Billionaire is instantly one of the tamest entries in Ross' discography. Like its predecessor, Mastermind, it's nostalgic, though he sets its Instagram filter on turn-of-the-century Southern trap classicism rather than mid-'90s Bad Boy worship this time around. Ross seems to be in the victory-lap phase of his career: Hood Billionaire lands in a dull gray area between feel-good retro rap (its first two singles are the Memphis homage "Elvis Presley Blvd" and the pleasant but forgettable jazz jangle of "Keep Doin' That [Rich Bitch]") and Rozay greatest-hits karaoke that tries and fails to recapture the impact of his bulletproof Teflon Don bombast. Album cut "Heavyweight" is a retread of his 2010 hit "B.M.F."; synthesizer/808 combination "Nickel Rock" packs a punch, but the narrative richness of Lil Boosie's guest verse makes Ross' paint-by-numbers hedonism seem empty.
Ross is still too big to fail, even if nothing sticks like it used to: Mastermind topped the Billboard 200 without a big single, and Hood Billionaire, which is also hit-less, will likely perform well too. But this is an album that has no real need to exist. Ross' reasoning for releasing two LPs in one year? "That's how bosses do it," he recently told WWPR New York. Fair enough, but a sharper leader probably would have streamlined Mastermind and Hood Billionaire into one solid album.