by Shawn Setaro
Rick Ross' new album God Forgives, I Don't gets released this week, and much will be said about it, both positive and negative. But the true nature of the album will likely go largely unnoticed. It is, in fact, virtually a remake of Bruce Springsteen's 1975 classic Born to Run. Don't believe us? Read on for five indisputable pieces of evidence.
1. Let's Get It Started
Both albums have a thing for dramatic introductions. Instrumental ones in Bruce's case, a la the opening 27 seconds of "Jungleland". Ross, attempting to one-up his obvious inspiration, combines the instrumentals with spoken ad libs that lay out, sometimes maybe a bit too obviously, the theme of the song. See the first minute and a half of "Sixteen," which includes both an instrumental intro as well as a long monologue. Every song on Born to Run, and all but one of God Forgives' 15 tracks, have an intro. On both albums, they serve the same purpose. Not to introduce the song to come -- in some cases, they have little to do musically with what follows. Rather, on both albums they serve to introduce a tone and a mood, and to create anticipation for the song to come. If you have to wait for something, after all, it's probably going to be worth it.
2. Movies Is Magic
The Boss and The Bawse both have an intimate relationship to the movies. Ross has been very open about his cinematic ambitions. He told MTV that he "wanted to approach [this album] like Scorsese would have approached a film." In addition to Marty, Ross also mentioned Quentin Tarantino as a touchstone, comparing his album directly to the director's 2009 film Inglorious Basterds.
Born to Run also has strong cinematic ties, most directly through the album's iconic opening song. Thunder Road was the name of a 1958 Robert Mitchum movie. While the then grammar-school-aged Springsteen never actually saw the movie, the image on a poster for it he once saw in a theater lobby stayed with him, and inspired one of his most famous tunes.
3. "... of how it all got started, way back when"
Both records also go out of their way to pay homage to their musical forefathers. Bruce famously modeled Born to Run's sound on Phil Spector's noted "Wall of Sound" style, and name-checks perpetually heart-broken singer Roy Orbison on "Thunder Road." Ross, in turn, shouts out Eric B. and Rakim and The Pharcyde on the album-closing "Ten Jesus Pieces."
The similar deepens when you look at how the icons are used. For Ross, Eric B was an icon of untouchable cool, something he's expounded on in recent interviews. When the Bawse wants to talk about his swagger, he's "Eric B with mob ties." Springsteen used a pop icon in a similar way. Roy Orbison is the voice on the radio, singing to a mythical girl.
Bruce's famous line about this album is that he wanted to "make a record with words like Bob Dylan, that sounded like Phil Spector's productions, but most of all I wanted to sing like Roy Orbison."
4. Sweet Mother Mary
Both artists are also obsessed with religious imagery -- it's not for nothing that Born to Run's most famous female character, Mary, is described as "like a vision." The album is full of saviours, crosses, and churches. Ross begins his own record with a prayer, wears multiple Christs on his chest, and claims Jehovah as his running partner.
5. "I'm driving in my car, I turn on the radio"
Ross and the Boss are also obsessed with cars. Ross named his entire crew after the Maybach. Just in case we didn't get the point, the new album has what is now the fourth chapter in his "Maybach Music" series of songs, as well as an ode to his Porsche. The rest of the album finds him in a variety of rides, from a convertible to, um, a different kind of Porsche.
But Rozay knows who the real star is when it comes to automotive ballads. "Corvette so clean, you'll think Bruce Springsteen rid that," he recently rapped. And indeed, New Jersey's finest features cars as symbols of freedom and escape all throughout Born to Run. If he's not trading in wings for some wheels or offering redemption "beneath this dirty hood," he's making dirty talk about engines or having two small-time hoodlums stake their whole futures on getting a ride across state lines. On song after song, a character will remember being "huddled in our cars", while looking forward to the "chrome invaders" that awaits him on the weekend.
In addition to this indisputable evidence, the artists are at similar points in their careers. Springsteen in 1975 was still trying to get over the albatross of being one of the class of "new Dylans" (John Prine, Loudon Wainwright, and others were also saddled with the tag) who had recently come into the record industry. His first record featured suspiciously Dylan-esque words, which had disappeared by the follow-up. But, while his live shows were already epic affairs, his identity as an artist was not yet formed. This album, the suits at Columbia and his broke, hard-working bandmates at the time made clear, was his last chance to break big.
While Rick Ross has had more success than pre-BTR Bruce, he is not yet established as one of the greats. He has also not really created a personality or identity as an artist. Even XXL, a magazine not exactly known for their hard-hitting interviews, got on Ross' case recently for not being personal enough in his music. Many critics, as well as some rap icons, have made the case that Ross has not yet established who he is in his music, relying instead on whatever persona fits the song or the rhyme. This album, his fifth, is really his last chance to both move into the upper echelon of rappers and to create a full-fledged personality for his fans.
With all that said, will The Bawse succeed as well as The Boss? Only time will tell, but, given Born to Run's track record (national fanbase established, three million sold, inclusion on almost every list of best albums ever published), the odds are strongly in his favor.