Rick Ross, “Real Hard” (Originally Published May 2009)

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Way back when, the streets of Carol City, Ross’s hometown, belonged to Kenneth “Boobie” Williams and his crew, the Boobie Boys, with whom Ross has claimed affiliation. The son of Tommie Ann Roberts, a nurse, and William Roberts, who worked in education and died in the mid-’90s, Ross was a chubby kid, “always too fat to play Optimus”—little league football—he says. But he chose to embrace his size as an adolescent, adopting the nickname The Fat Mack after hearing the term in an 8Ball & MJG song. “Maybe that’s just a part of me. I just been able to accept any conditions, whatever,” says Ross. “I go with the flow.”

He started rapping when he was 24, sold his first crack at age 15, he says, and got in good enough shape to play center on the Carol City Senior High School football team. Football earned him a free ride to Georgia’s Albany State University, but he dropped out after a few months of classes. “For somebody that’s in they right mind, it’s a great thing,” says Ross of college. “But I had bigger plans. And I wanted to be wealthy. The next few moves that I made, I feel, played a part in me being in the position I am now. ’Cause by the time ‘Hustlin’’ came out, I was established. That was my white-on-white Beemer. That was my life that I put into the music, and it was authentic. It was real. Twenty-twos.”

Ross was going by the rap name Teflon Don when Houston’s Tony Draper signed him to Suave House Records in 2000. At the time, he’d been ghostwriting for another of Draper’s artists, Noah, traveling to and from Atlanta. Though Ross never dropped an offi cial project through Suave House, Draper released an album of previously recorded material, Rise to Power, in 2007. “When I met Ross, my exact words was, ‘This is a fly, fat nigga,’” says Draper. “That nigga was wearing Pradas and Guccis and diamonds then. He ain’t no chump. He ain’t no sucka. He’s 100 percent real with it… I wouldn’t even say that if it wasn’t truth, ’cause I don’t have nothing to gain by giving him his just due.”

That right there alone could save 50’s career!” The final strains of his newest song, “I Solemnly Swear,” still vibrating in the air, Rick Ross is amped. “And it might not even make the album!”

Sporting a different pair of shades—gold-rimmed, jewel-encrusted Alpinas this time—and a shiny red jacket zipped halfway down his belly, he sits at the console in the main room at North Miami’s newly renovated We the Best Studio, where his friend and colleague DJ Khaled is setting up shop for Def Jam South. (A tireless ambassador for Miami hip-hop, Khaled was appointed president of the label in February.)

Deeper Than Rap will be released under Ross’s Maybach Music Group/Def Jam imprint, an extension of a deal he signed in 2005. That original deal—facilitated by Ross’s former manager, Poe Boy Entertainment CEO Elric “E-Class” Prince, and the late Def Jam exec Shakir Stewart—was a joint venture between Def Jam and Ted Lucas’s Slip-N-Slide Records. Back in 2002, Ross left Suave House to sign with the Miami-based Slip-N-Slide, where he ghostwrote for Trina and made his first appearance, as a guest on Trick Daddy’s Thug Holiday album. Earlier this year, he severed business ties with both E-Class and Lucas. While neither would comment for this story, Ross says there’s no bad blood. “Ted my nigga. E-Class, that’s my brother. So it’s all love.”

Even if you view Ross in a negative light, you have to admit the guy knows how to make a record. Grandiloquent anthems and street records with a commercial touch. He solicits producers like J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and DJ Toomp, sound-crafters whose imperial drums and trumpets provide the perfect backdrop for his king-size, coke-filled fantasies. Almost every track that the studio manager/engineer, Ben Diehl, cues up is fully developed and full of personality. “The direction of this album,” says Diehl, “you could tell it’s a little more soulful, a little more grown.”

Lyricswise, Deeper builds on the elementary rhymes of Ross’s previous efforts—those that have led critics to censure Ross for putting swagger over spitting. The self-proclaimed “Biggie of the South” now seems more focused on wordplay, in an effort to level the scale—not that he’s suddenly rapping like Rakim or anything. “We gotta bring music back. Not that funny talk. Music,” he says, teasing the next track, “Usual Suspects,” which is produced by the Inkredibles and features a bona fide lyrical legend. “I got a real New York cat. I got the realest nigga from Queens.”
He means Nas.

No amount of money could get them muthasuckas a record like that!” he says, waving his arms, playing conductor as the beat blares. “Fuckin’ No. 1 album of the year! What’s the best way to put it? I love it!”

The much ballyhooed “Maybach Music Pt. 2” co-stars Lil Wayne and T-Pain. Hook-crooner The-Dream channels a Jackson 5–era Michael on the radio-friendly “All I Really Want.” And on “Valley of Death,” which features Wayne again, Ross gets in another dig at 50: “Lord knows when I see this monkey, I’ma be the Devil/Beat him ’cause I’m clever, beat him at whatever/You never was a G, nigga.” In previous interviews, Ross has cited what he felt was a snub at the 2008 BET Awards as the genesis of his tiff with Fif, whom he now lovingly refers to as either Curly or “the monkey.” But to hear him talk today, his issues seem to stem from something bigger. “For the last few years, I’ve saw him do more destruction to New York City itself than actually bringing something to the table for the rest of the people that’s on the grind,” says Ross. “When you look at New York hip-hop, it has been stalled. And those negative effects, the shit just fucked their whole swag up. And I’m one of the biggest fans of New York City.”