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Rick Ross / Busta Rhymes

Rick Ross has recalibrated for 2012 by honoring canceled tour dates and releasing an ambitious, doom-riddled mixtape "Rich Forever."

After a tumultuous 2011, marred by health problems and legal issues, Rick Ross has recalibrated for 2012 by honoring his canceled tour dates and releasing an ambitious, doom-riddled mixtape “Rich Forever.” For an artist who has long promoted his own mythology, “Rich Forever” takes things a step further by exploring the dark side of success– primarily the personal jealousies that opulence breeds. Ross is still his brazen, smack-talking self, but his words now carry a heightened sense of paranoia and general wariness.

Ross’ Friday evening performance at the Nokia Theatre was modestly attended, but nowhere near a sell-out. The upper rafters and balconies were almost entirely empty. Backed by a DJ and a few guest MCs, Ross quickly worked his way through most of his singles and a few mixtape tracks. Many of the songs were cut down into brief summary-versions clocking in at around two to three minutes. “9 Piece,” “Hustlin” and “Stay Schemin'” were all given workmanlike readings, the latter featuring a guest appearance by French Montana.

The intricately-layered studio production that supports nearly all of Ross’ tracks was compromised by an abundance of sub bass and a lackluster mix. The typically- transcendent “Aston Martin Music,” for example, was rendered virtually inert by a sonic presentation that dulled and thinned the song’s lush synth and drum machine textures.

Due to some odd pacing decisions, including lengthy intermissions between performers, Ross’ set was barely an hour in length. Overall, it was a fine if lukewarm airing of exemplary material that could have been executed with more effort and care.

Opener Busta Rhymes exhibited a wildly energetic approach to his set that vastly overshadowed Ross’ competent, if unspectacular performance. Rhymes dug into his back catalogue and performed a selection of hits that spanned the entirety of his quarter century career. His break-neck lyrical pacing and rhythmic inventiveness consistently ignited the audience, while his deft use of call-and-response segments allowed for an experience that was both engaging and communal.

Swizz Beatz joined him for a few verses on “Touch It,” but it was the guests who were to come that would bring the audience to a fever pitch. As the distended synth loops of “Look At Me Now” echoed through the theatre, Chris Brown made his way onto the stage, chuckled the song’s opening line and tore through the first two verses. Rhymes followed with a furious reading of the song’s mid-section, striking a stoic pose as Brown doubled his vocal.

After Brown left the stage the crowd was seemingly at an emotional apex, but Rhymes had one more ace in the hole and it came in the form of Snoop Dogg, who languidly took to the stage for an extended rendition of “I Wanna Rock.” Snoop’s verses were smooth and effortless and his presence adequately summarized the continued relevance of hip hop’s old guard. Perhaps Rick Ross was billed as the headliner, but this show belonged to Busta Rhymes through and through.

Rick Ross / Busta Rhymes

Nokia Theatre; 7,100 Capacity; $150 Top

Production: Presented by Tru Royalty Entertainment. Performers: Rick Ross, Busta Rhymes. Reviewed January 13, 2012.

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