Once one blasphemously gives way to pleasure as the standard… once one has refused to comply with the law in music, there is no end to the insidious consequences – impudence, moral disintegration, the collapse of all social bonds.
When the beating of your heart echoes the phat beats dropped by philosopher and social commentator, William Leonard Roberts II (also known as Rick Ro$$), on Hood Billionaire, you know you’re embarking on something special. In his second concept album of 2014, Roberts II paints an intimate portrait of the neighbourhood in which his character, Rick Ross, was raised, and reflects on Rick’s rise to dizzying heights of financial success.
Hood Billionaire begins with a curiously unmusical introduction. Frustratingly enigmatic, this night time scene is a voyeuristic perspective on Ross and another man as they dig in the middle of the night. What they are digging for seems to be bags of drugs, but the listener is left scrambling for clues from their huffed speech. The track ends with one of them remarking, “Who the fuck that is over there lookin’ at us?” The track goes silent and then ends without an answer as the eponymous track, Hood Billionaire, begins. This opening is a more personal look into Rick’s psyche. If he projects his self through his very brash, forward and swag music, then the amusicality of this piece becomes the shedding of his shell. His insecurities come to light at the very end. Who was watching them? Was someone even there at all? Rick is clearly paranoid by what he sees as a panoptic world, one in which he always feels watched but never knows if he actually is. This paranoia is heightened by the night time, shown by the common trope of the sound of crickets, as well as his frequent urgings for his friend to hurry. In being the first track, our first introduction to this world, this is the frame through which we enter the rest of the narrative. The nuances of Rick’s psyche underscore the persona, the Rick Ro$$ to Rick Ross, that he builds.
Following this track with the brash Hood Billionaire, Roberts II begins his alignment with classical views on music. “Decadence starts with musical decadence,” Mladen Dolar reminds us, explaining ancient Greek views. This is the first sign of Rick’s descent in the narrative. While Rick seems thoroughly satisfied being your Neighborhood Drug Dealer with his Coke Like The 80s, Roberts II is hinting at the destruction of Rick’s entire social world. Clearly, Rick’s music demonstrates that he has “give[n] way to pleasure as the standard” by not following the very strict ancient Greek rules for engaging with particular modes and relationships between the word and the music. The culmination of such “impudence [and] moral disintegration” comes to the fore when the fade-out of Nickel Rock feat. Boosie Badazz is interrupted as it transitions into Burn by a knock on the door as a presumably irate police officer shouts “Get down!” multiple times. The extremely frequent repetition of the hook line that has by now become a hallmark of the album now takes the form of just one word: “Burn”. It’s repeated over and over throughout the song. As Rick’s treasured life almost literally burns down around him, the following songs take on a more sombre and introspective note. In Family Ties he urges the listener to “Look at me, look at me,” admitting that he has “Made so many mistakes”. It’s not about his money anymore – “Fuck a net worth when I’m just tryna maintain”. The interruption at the start of Burn is the point at which his world, his persona, has begun to crumble and Rick retreats within himself.
The album ends on Headache feat. French Montana, leaving the listener on a note of distress. Rick’s life of fame and riches has ended in misery, stress, incessant irritability. Accented by a slow, pounding, unrelenting beat, Ross and his collaborating friend, French Montana, endlessly lament that “small talk”, “fake bitches”, “a little money”, among many others, “give me a headache”.
Roberts II’s social commentary through his character Rick illuminates for us the highs and lows of a life fuelled by consuming and selling drugs. The album sheds light on the state of panoptic paranoia felt by himself and many like him, the persona that must be built to survive it and yet the inevitability of its eventual dissolution. So deftly and immersively has Roberts II crafted his character that many even believe they are one and the same.