UPDATE: Mastermind sold 179,000 copies in its first week, giving Ross his fifth No. 1 album in six tries. "Devil is a Lie" and "Sanctified" both also entered the Hot 100, giving Ross his first hits on that chart since the summer of 2012.
The Teflon Don first announced his sixth album over a year ago, revealing in a video posted to Worldstar Hip Hop that it would be called Mastermind. That was the start of a long, winding road marked by stillborn singles and false-start release dates. In October 2013, he said the album would be in stores on December 17, but in early December it was pushed back to its current date of March 4.
Earlier this year, Ross revealed that Diddy, whom he's worked with extensively, co-executive produced the album. In earlier interviews, Ross described the album as soulful, using the sound of luxurious tracks like his "Cigar Music" series as a jumping point.
Buckle up, because this is a lengthy trip.
Mastermind's first single came during the spring of 2013. Called "Box Chevy," it was another single in the vein of his twin street smashes "B.M.F. (Blowin' Money Fast)" and "MC Hammer." But like 2012's "Hold Me Back," "Box Chevy" failed to move the needle in any significant way and was forgotten rather quickly.
The next single to get a major push was "No Games," which dropped in September 2013 and worked off the same menacing template. This time, Ross and his team placed their bets on Future, who by that point in the year had already shepherded songs by mid-level rappers Rocko and Ace Hood into the Top 40. (Ross, not coincidentally, appears on both tracks.) But Future could not repeat the trick with "No Games," which barely made a dent at radio before being left to wither.
The third official attempt at sparking a prequel hit to Mastermind came with "The Devil is a Lie," a blustery, triumphant track featuring Jay Z that he told Fuse was "a lot to play with." Although "F--kWithMeYouKnowIGotIT"—his song with Jay on Hova's album—charted without any official promotion, this sequel barely got off the ground.
Though 2013 was a trying year commercially for Ross, he did appear on a number of hits from other artists: "Bugatti," "No New Friends" and "U.O.E.N.O." But even that chart success wasn't without trouble, since "U.O.E.N.O." got him in a lengthy controversy for the verse where he talks about drugging his date's drink.
The next single from Mastermind was "War Ready," a track with Jeezy—who Ross once had beef with—that's produced by Mike Will Made It, currently one of pop music's most in-demand producers. At this point, you may not be shocked to find out that the song (which at least made the final tracklist), does not appear to be making an impact on the wider world.
The latest single is "Nobody," a track based heavily on Notorious B.I.G's "You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)." Diddy, who produced the track, has aligned Ross with Biggie before (like on this remix of French Montana's "Shot Caller," where the beat switches up exactly as it does for Biggie's verse on "It's All About the Benjamins [Remix]"), but "Nobody" features the most illustrative writing on Mastermind, allowing Ross to transcend a legend's ghost.
If there's one thing Rick Ross albums always have—at least since his debut—it's an envious roster of guest artists. This one is no different. Aside from the aforementioned Jay Z and Jeezy, Mastermind has contributions from Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Big Sean, The Weeknd and Meek Mill. French Montana appears twice, Diddy shows up to talk smack all over "Nobody," and the fourth installment of Ross' "Maybach Music" series boasts dancehall superstars Sizzla and Mavado. It's likely that no other rap album this year will top that starpower, or perhaps even attempt to.
The list of producers is a bit less shiny, but far from conspicuous. For one, Mastermind features the first collaboration between DJ Mustard and Kanye West, who summoned Mustard to a studio in L.A. to work on tracks. There are also beats from Diddy and one-time mega-producer Scott Storch, who has slowly been rebuilding his career one album placement at a time. The LP's soulful center comes from a group of guys who have worked with Ross in the past: Bink!, Jake One and the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League.
Mastermind drops March 4.
2. Rich is Gangsta
3. Drug Dealers Dream
4. Shots Fired
5. Nobody ft. Diddy and French Montana
6. The Devil is a Lie ft. Jay Z
7. Mafia Music III ft. Sizzla and Movado
8. War Ready ft. Jeezy
9. What a Shame
11. BLK & WHT
12. Dope Bitch (skit)
13. In Vein ft. The Weeknd
14. Sanctified ft. Kanye West and Big Sean
15. Walkin' on Air ft. Meek Mill
16. Thug Cry ft. Lil Wayne