God Forgives is full of varied arrangements and glossy accents (perhaps all that time with Kanye rubbed off on him) that often forgo the 808s-and-snares formula. On the soulful “Ashamed,” for instance, Wilson Pickett‘s “Shameless” is molded into a thumping beat layered with slap bass, strings and yearning oohs. You can envision Ross performing it on Late Night with The Roots behind him.
In fact, much of the album would seem to translate well to a full-band arrangement. The guitar squalls, brass and rolling percussion of “Maybach Music IV” and “Presidential” exude a chilled-out Miami Vice sheen, if that show had been directed by Hype Williams. “Amsterdam” is fittingly hazy and replicates the understated grit of early ’90s hip-hop. It’s also one of several songs to swap out the drum machine for an actual kit. Even the slightly underwhelming album closer “Ten Jesus Pieces” is oddly intriguing because of the indulgent use of melodramatic strings and saxes.
But nowhere does Rozay take a bigger (and more rewarding) detour than on the epic “Sixteen.” This album’s answer to Frank Ocean‘s “Pyramids” finds Ross lamenting the narrative constraints of the 16-bar verse (hence the song’s 8:18 runtime). But the real star of the track (and reason for its length) is Andre 3000. The Outkast vet turns out a marathon verse that starts unremarkably before becoming a massive cartoon snowball tumbling down a mountain. Better yet, to close out the song Andre picks up the ax for an out-of-tune, completely flaccid but weirdly on-point guitar solo. (With that Hendrix biopic filming, let’s just hope he’s had more time to practice.)
Of course, Andre 3000 is but one name on the record’s jaw-dropping guest list. It’s somewhat unbelievable that after all this time, Rozay turned out to be the one with enough clout to get Jay-Z and Dr. Dre on the same track. But, believe it, “the biggest collaboration in hip-hop” is here with “3 Kings,” and it delivers. Jake One‘s beat is a bouncing Caddy that never jostles the song’s real stars. Jay spouts an uncharacteristically free-form verse, though lyrically sticks to the Throne script (now with more mentions of his daughter!). Meanwhile, in between a couple plugs for his Beats, Dre comes out of hiding with a chip on his shoulder — less a reassertion of his dominance and more like “the MC doth protest too much.”
Some of the album’s biggest guests are relegated to sex jams. On “Touch ‘N You,” Usher is given an aimless hook and “fuckin’ you” whispers. (Dare we say Omarion shows up Ursh with his turn on “Ice Cold”?) The song is built on a dystopic Drake-esque beat that uses a few depth charges of bass to great effect.
Instead of letting Drake rap on said beat, Ross gave the Canadian star singing duties on the filthy oral sex treatise “Diced Pineapples.” We applaud the come-on for its strange inspiration (something about Ross’ post-seizure pineapple diet), and for Wale‘s opening bit of erotic wordplay (sample line: “the better my effort, the wetter her treasure”). Alas, these stray chunks are greater than the sum pineapple.
When Ross ditches his pals, the results are hit or miss. The alpha dog anthem “Hold Me Back” is neutered by the song’s utter laziness, as Ross barks “these niggas won’t hold me back” a thousand times, give or take. (There’s a problem with repetition on other songs as well, such as Elijah Blake‘s wordless, ceaseless “da-da da-da” hook on the otherwise enjoyable “Presidential.”) Once the broken record “Hold Me Back” ends, it essentially begins again as “911,” wherein Ross comes dangerously close to sounding like Master P. These two songs demonstrate that at its worst, Bawse Mode is just a new iteration of the gold-plated rap of the late ’90s (the album’s cover even resembles those old No Limit gems). But at its best, the rib-rattling recipe begets “So Sophisticated,” an assault of video game synths and seismic bass, with Meek Mill snatching the mic and sprinting through his verse like a dog off the chain.
On this album, Ross’ ability to enliven his thudding tendencies is impressive, but the true achievement of God Forgives, I Don’t is its scope. Rozay tosses his old habits aside in favor of effervescent Miami sounds, woozy orchestras or head-bobbing soul. It’s his most fully realized album, and that means it’ll sound great whether you’re blasting it with the windows down or cushioned between some cans— Beats by Dre, of course.
The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: Since just about every song was leaked or released before today, we’ll just point out the most interesting cut: “Sixteen.”
Pops Like: If post-2009 Kanye worked with pre-2002 No Limit.
Best Listened To: While sweating. Doesn’t matter the activity, as long as there’s moisture.
Full Disclosure: Each time that ubiquitous female voice declares “Maybach Music!” this reviewer shudders. Look, we know whose music this is. It’s not Rolls Royce or Mercedes Music. WE GET IT.
Idolator Rating: 3/5
— Carl Williott