Image: Dustin Cohen
Guess it’s time for me to show love to you cheapskates. Here’s my Rozay cover story from the latest issue of RESPECT. You’re all welcome. Ha! Got to Respect-Mag.com for exclusive photos from our phenomenal shoot.
A cop? The King of Hip-Hop? Rick Ross has withstood character assassination that would’ve crippled a lesser man. Instead, he’s overcome all the hate and made greater music. Success sure does silence critics.
Words: ELLIOTT WILSON
Rick Ross is lost in the music. Grooving to the sounds of his own voice, the man who gave himself the nickname “Rozay” is out to prove he is indeed a photographer’s dream. With toke after toke from his Swisher blunt and sips from a red cup filled with Ciroc and lemonade, Ross is reveling in all the surroundings behind his RESPECT cover shoot.
Days later, we would spend his 35th birthday at his sports-memorabilia-filled Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, home as one of hip-hop’s most polarizing characters played gracious host. Who woulda thunk it? William Leonard Roberts II withstood the confirmation of his correctional officer past and personal melodramatic theatrics from rival 50 Cent in 2009 to emerge today as one of rap’s top artists in the game—a fact that’s not lost on him. He waited a very long time to get here. And he has no plans of stepping down.
So he’ll answer the tough questions with tougher music. Turn on the charm ’til all the haters are disarmed. And persevere until his name his mentioned in the same breath with fellow rap peers Kanye West and Lil Wayne. Mock if you must. But I wouldn’t bet against him.
RESPECT: Do you feel like you’re in some kind of crazy creative zone right now?
RICK ROSS: Honestly, I don’t feel like I’m in the zone. I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, and that’s just making doper-ass music. That’s all the drive I need. Competing to be the best—number one.
Teflon Don—some people had it at number one for 2010. You came right back with the mixtape, Ashes to Ashes. Why was it important to give people another project after you’d already given them a really strong album?
My expectations for myself may be higher than the usual standards. And I thought it was cool. My core audience really enjoyed Teflon Don, and they want to know what’s next. And when you give them a project like Ashes to Ashes, it’s always cool to let them in on the inside.
You’re giving people A-level material for free.
A lot of people feel like Ashes to Ashes should’ve been sold, but there’s a time and place for everything, and I think the time was to put the music out now, coming into the New Year. At the New Year, a lot of people want to know who they can expect to be on top of their A-game, and I think, coming from this MMG camp, you know what time it is. We made that clear.
But if you feel like you’re on your A-game, number-one level, why agree to be an opening act on Wayne’s “I Am Music 2” tour?
I still have a lot of room to grow. This tour is definitely a great opportunity, if you’re on top of your game. Wayne’s an icon of this generation, and just being a part of that shit and touching that crowd is going to help your brand. And also that’s my fam. So I’m not only excited from a business and a financial standpoint, I’m also excited because I know how we all work. Me and Birdman, we got maybe 30 to 40 records we did together. Me and Wayne, the new record we got on Tha Carter IV, uhhh…you know.
It’s gonna hurt somebody [laughs]? It’s a homicide?
That’s the record that I’m most excited about being a part of in 2011. It’s that mixtape Wayne! It’s that shit, it’s that talk that them street niggas love, you know?
Do you think your movement in some ways has also helped inspire him? In his absence, you’ve hit the streets hard.
It’s a good possibility. Because at the end of the day, we all respect and admire each other’s music, and we show that admiration for each other. That’s what I love most about this generation of entrepreneurs, niggas working with each other. It’s always about that unity. Doing business in New York, with some New York street niggas, doing some business in L.A., in Chicago, in Atlanta. That’s what I’m most eager about—doing business around the globe with real street dudes. That’s what translates into longevity.
Speaking of New York, the other day you celebrated your birthday there. Being such a student of the game, how special was—
Of course it was. I’m getting love from the Dominicans. The Dominicans brought me up there to Washington Heights. It was pink Champagne everywhere, smoke was in abundance, people sending me gifts, bottles, and I’m getting bags of cologne, cakes and gifts from street niggas. This is a type of appreciation that you can really appreciate at the end of the night. Give a shout-out to all my homies in New York City, caliber niggas, and what we really wanna see, and what we want to come from all this. We want a union before we want a standoff.
You speak often in the code of the streets, but no artist has taken more attacks on their credibility than you.
That’s why I’m still here, stronger than ever, richer than ever, bigger than ever. I’m going to call the shots as long as I want to. That’s the difference between [me and] other niggas who talk about it. Who really be about it? Who really bringing money to the table for niggas? Who really bawsed it up, who really putting their egos to the side and wanna see their partners win? Who really wanna see their lil’ homies have a good Christmas? That’s what really separates the true bosses, you know what I mean?
How does the music on the next album connect to the title of God Forgives, I Don’t?
It’s not even necessarily about me personally—it’s more about life. A lot of times I think life can be really unforgiving. On Christmas Eve, I buried one of my closest friends ever. He was slain in front of his three little kids in a home invasion. So I think life can be really unforgiving. Sometimes you really just gotta look that shit in the eyes and suck it up for what it is, you know what I’m saying? So it’s appropriate for where I’m going with the music. I think it’s going to help everybody absorb what’s happening.
So it’s bigger than you?
Of course. The music is always bigger than you. I’m just telling the story. I’m telling the first-hand story from real niggas. But like when we did the photo shoot, I was talking to one of my homies in federal prison, and this is one of my closest friends ever, and it’s unfortunate. But at the same time, I’m here to tell a story for a lot of things I’ve witnessed—and a lot of niggas doing time right now. So hopefully when somebody hears my music, I’m pretty sure they hear that uncut, true shit. It only comes from seeing that shit straight up and down.
“MC Hammer” and “BMF”—where did those songs come from? Talk to me about the creation. Do you remember the process of either one of them?
I was in L.A., man, I was smoking this miracle marijuana, I’ll never forget, from the Gourmet Green Room. We was just riding around Cali—I love to be in the hills, you know, Miami’s so flat—and I turn the music up, let the windows down, and I’m smoking this shit. I just start the “I’m MC Hammer, I got thirty cars.” You know, FYI, I got more than 30 cars [laughs]. I actually start chanting the chorus then, and Spiff pulled out his BlackBerry and just started jotting it down. It went on for 30 minutes, just riding through Cali.
Just the idea of that success…
Just the idea…
Of how big he did it. The nigga was on cartoons, you know what I’m saying? Big-ups to him, because he really, really inspired me on that level.
With the 50 battle, some people forget you jabbed him first, right? With the “Mafia Music” joint—you kind of tapped him.
Because you just didn’t like his energy?
It boiled down to what really was going on. It wasn’t nothing at the time that was personal against 50 Cent, but he was attacking people, and began attacking people closer and closer to me, to a point where I had to make a decision. I felt I was gonna be next on that list. So I took the offensive.
People were shocked by that. It’s like you don’t pick a fight with the bully. It stunned the whole game overall.
Niggas gotta study history. The mob bosses always get whacked at the end. Sometimes by someone of lesser value, of lesser importance, you feel me? So, on that note, you gotta understand there’s always niggas that’s willing to make that sacrifice on some real shit. When you really step out there, and you want to get into some shit, you’ve got to be on your A-game. My goal is to deliver hit records. But don’t get it mistaken, we are the muscle—we are the muscle.
But isn’t it really just about dope music trumps all? It’s not about C.O. talk, it’s if I make the dopest shit, I win?
If I’m the richest nigga on the block, if I’m the flyest nigga on the block, it ain’t no way to get around that. If I’m feeding the most niggas in the ’hood, if I’m looking out for the most bitches, and keeping it real with the most niggas that I can, it’s no way to get around that. And if you’re doing that, wherever you at, you’re gonna be successful. And at the end of the day, if you’re not successful, no one cares about you. Being successful, making dope records, it’s being a part of dope moments in musical history, you feel me? That’s the only thing I’m concerned about. I have no personal quarrels with no one in this music business—none. I set my goals, my standards. Other than that, it ain’t nothing personal. I fuck with who I fuck with, and they know who they are, and anybody else…. I’m all about moneybags. You feel good once you crack that 20 million mark; I wanna know what it’s like to hit 50.
How did we get here, Rick? You got signed in ’96. This isn’t overnight success.
The love of music. When you come in my house, you see a big-ass 1970s jukebox. You see another record player on the floor—that’s just my Prince vinyl, my Thriller vinyl. I love music, I love making music more than anything, man. It was after making music for 10 years and never making a dollar from it; at some point you just accept that this is what you love to do, it is what it is.
But the beautiful thing about it is I’ve gained so much experience, I feel like when it comes to making music, I’m one of the best music-makers in this business. I’ve written hit records for so many other artists…hit records…number-one records. “Aston Martin Music” is my first number-one record for Rick Ross. Not number-one album—I’ve had several of those—but number-one single. “Aston Martin Music” was my number one for Rick Ross, but not for William.
I gotta go and check my credits [laughs].
We actually have five offers on the table for my Maybach Music Group. Five aggressive offers. It’s safe to say every label wants to work with my imprint, my brand, which is something I’m extremely proud of. I’m hands-on. I’m capable of making that much music, I’m capable of making four or five records a day. All hard records, you know what I’m sayin’? That’s what we’re doin’ over here: developing artists. We got reggae artists, another big movie deal. Shout-out to my Latino division, Maybach Latino. I’m doing a lot of different things. We’re giving a lot of brothers opportunities to chase their dreams, and shit’s only going to get better. I’m on my Pat Riley shit, man. It’s just that time. I’m not going to believe in everybody. But Meek Mill and Wale, I believe in.
Talk to me about you and Kanye. You just shot a video for your part in “Devil in a New Dress.” How did that collab come together? That verse is hard.
It’s definitely one of those dope records. That just comes from me being a fan of the music he created from The College Dropout and Graduation. It’s like, “When I wake up in the morning, I play those records, Mr. West!” [Laughs] He really created a new lane of hip-hop. That was the beauty of his success.
But to go back, he produced a track for a particular artist, another artist that I happened to write the rhymes for. We were in the studio together, making sure this particular artist delivered the record properly [laughs], and on the downtime while this particular artist was workin’, me and ’Ye was vibing on some chill shit.
We rhymed for each other, for maybe two to three hours. My whole catalog, his whole catalog. This was before he ever had a major hit, before I ever had a hit, just me and him in the studio. We actually had conversations [about] him producing my whole album. Like, “Damn, man, your verses.” And it just so happened we set dates to link with each other, exchanged numbers, and that following week he had the car crash. I believe the week after the car crash was when me and him was supposed to get in the studio.
So that’s where the “had cyphers with Yeezy before his mouth wired” line came from.
That’s why I know when he heard it. I know it took him back, because this is something we don’t talk about. We don’t talk about before, when we both were nobodies. We never forget where we come from, but it’s like, we love to see each other shine. It took me an hour to write the rhyme. I laid the verse. I kept calling because the album was at mastering. They called back and were like, “Yo, shit is phenomenal.” And you know, I just reflected on, We here, man. At the end of the day, we know where we came from, we know what our dreams as, what our plans was, and I’ll never forget something my grandfather told me years ago: “As long as you accomplish what you set out to accomplish, you won.”
And when I approached the record, it’s like I just went back to me and Kanye sitting in a little studio in Miami, trying to inspire each other. And to see where we’re both at today, to know the mansions we were in and out of in Hawaii, and I’m fuckin’ hang-gliding, and we see the whales. I’m going, Thank you, God. I see whales—you see what I’m saying? Yeah, man, it was a beautiful moment.
So was being a rap star your one big career goal?
I never forget. I was cutting school. I was in the sixth grade, this was when my dad had left for a time, so I wasn’t doing good, this was before football came into my life—that’s what really turned me around—and I went to the flea market, and they had a game room [with] a big screen where they didn’t play nothing but videos. I was sitting there, between the games, in there just watchin’, and “The Symphony” was on. It was a couple of girls, they walked up in front of me to get the best view of it. I’m lookin’ at one girl, she’s like the finest bitch with the biker shorts on lookin’ at Big Daddy Kane, and I’ll never forget her remarks. I started wearing my flat-top that day.
Like you just mentioned, football was also your thing, right?
Football during high school. In my elementary years…I was kicked out of public school. Like in the third or fourth grade, I had to go to some other shit for a little while, then I went back to public school, and then middle school wasn’t really much better. But by the time I got to high school and started playing football, that shit kind of got me on. My coach helped rearrange shit and got me focused. I loved playing football, that’s all we ever did.
Center. Yeah, All-American.
But the streets were always a factor.
Of course. That’s what it was. Coming from where I come from in Miami, it’s like if you’re doing your thing by the time you’re in the eighth or ninth grade, it’s not even abnormal. For people not from Miami, I know it’s hard to understand. Any nigga that’s in prison right now that love you, he’s going to tell you, “Do the right thing, man, this ain’t where you wanna be. You don’t wanna play with these people.”
You studied the game, saw it from a different perspective, and then, being that sponge, it’s like, now it’s your time.
Of course, of course. Rick Ross being on top of hip-hop is not by mistake. It’s the furthest thing from that. And I don’t take that for granted. And I’m-a play my position. It’s like, I’m not necessarily seeking pop…that’s not necessarily my goal. My goal is to make sure the work that I put out is better than the previous. From the concepts to the ideas to the way it makes somebody feel. The best artists can control all those elements.
You just make the art.
Exactly. That’s my priority when I make music.
Give me some more insight into God Forgives. How far into it are you? Do you feel like you already have singles in your mind? How far along do you feel the project is? What’s the temperature of the album?