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Review: Rick Ross aims for a remodel at Club Nokia

August 15, 2013|By Mikael Wood

Rick Ross built his career rapping about his exploits as an above-the-law drug kingpin, a front he kept up even after it was famously revealed that in a previous life the Miami MC had once worked as a Dade County corrections officer.

The news might reasonably have killed his ascent. But having survived the intrusion of reality, Ross doubled down on artifice, and since then his tales of a lavish and dangerous lifestyle have made him one of hip-hop's most successful stars.

When he took the stage Wednesday night at Club Nokia, Ross was clearly hoping to control his image once again in the wake of yet another damaging episode.

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In April, he sparked widespread criticism with a guest verse in a song by another artist in which Ross appears to recount drugging a woman's drink with MDMA, also known as molly, and having sex with her without her knowledge.

The shoemaker Reebok eventually severed an endorsement deal with the rapper, who after a series of prevarications issued a written apology for "suggest[ing] in any way that harm and violation be brought to a woman."

Ross has since kept a relatively low profile, at least until Wednesday's gig, billed as "An Evening With Rick Ross and the 1500 or Nothin' Band" and heavily promoted in advance on social media.

The goal for the show appeared to be a kind of inversion of his previous makeover: Here was Ross seeking to shed some of the grit he'd worked so hard only a few years ago to cultivate.

That hankering for respectability came through in everything from his outfit, a classic black-and-white tuxedo, to the images of chandeliers and manicured gardens that flashed across the enormous video screen positioned above the stage.

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And you could sense that Ross, backed by a group of esteemed live musicians, was attempting to elevate the mood in some of his banter, as when he introduced his song "Rich Forever" by revealing one of the secrets of his success: "I realized at a young age that I never had a problem being around someone with more than me," he said.

Yet the performance itself failed to live up to its setting; it didn't do nearly enough to achieve the rebranding Ross was after.

That was partly a musical problem. Though the eight-piece 1500 or Nothin' Band -- which included a guitarist and three horn players -- added a bit of dazzle to "Magnificent" and "Amsterdam" (the latter with live vocals by R&B singer Teedra Moses), the group often sounded as if it were merely punching up prerecorded tracks, especially during cuts featuring guests who weren't in the building: "Aston Martin Music" with Drake, for instance, or "Rich Forever" with John Legend.

At no point did Ross uncover new depths in his music -- depths that almost certainly exist -- the way Jay Z did in his 2001 collaboration with the Roots on MTV's "Unplugged."

But even more than the uninspired arrangements, Ross' flat delivery dulled the effect of Wednesday's show as he lumbered through "Tears of Joy" and "Super High," the video for which found him playing yet another role: the leader of a motorcycle gang. In the clip, he was gregarious; onstage, though, his heart -- such as it is -- didn't appear to be in the work required to rebuild his character.

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Things improved somewhat in theĀ  second set, after an intermission during which Ross changed out of his tuxedo into a black T-shirt with floral-print sleeves.

Grunting his way through throbbing, streetwise hits such as "I'm Not a Star" and "B.M.F. (Blowin' Money Fast)," Ross summoned some of his familiar top-dog energy; the crowd surged when French Montana and Diddy appeared to perform Montana's "Ain't Worried About Nothin'."

But demonstrating that he still has powerful friends in his corner was a risk.

Near the end of the concert, Ross brought out protege Meek Mill, who ripped into his hit "Ima Boss" with a ferocity that made Wednesday's headliner seem even more chastened than he probably was.


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Twitter: @mikaelwood


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