80rickross.jpgWhenever a rapper adopts his tag from a real-life hustler like 50 Cent or Bumpy Johnson, he’s making one hell of a statement. Although he’s already armed with a heavy street rep, Miami native Rick Ross looked toward L.A.’s crack kingpin Freeway Rick to make a name for himself.

“When [I heard his story], it just grabbed me,” says Ross, of his namesake. “It was rumored that he introduced crack to the Crips.” In actuality, the imprisoned Freeway Rick is credited with introducing the deadly drug to the entire city of Los Angeles. Much like the crack epidemic, Ross has taken the hood by storm with his infectious chopped and screwed–tinged single “Hustlin’.” “Shit’s fucked up out here, people are hungry,” says the 28-year-old before getting quasi-political. “Everybody hustlin’. Bush is out here stealin’ oil. Bush [is] hustlin’!”

Sidestepping the inevitable fate that awaits most d-boys, Ross jumped into the rap game in 2000 by laying his grizzly vocals over various instrumentals. “That’s how I got hot in the streets,” he says. “Take a nigga’s beat like it’s mine.” The G-Unit–pioneered strategy earned the Carol City representative a deal with Slip-N-Slide Records in 2002, which led to appearances on Trick Daddy’s Thug Holiday, as well as both Trina’s Diamond Princess and Glamorest Life.

Rick Ross’ street stock continues to rise. At the top of 2006, Miami’s resident heavy hitter DJ Khaled put Ross alongside Lil Wayne, Paul Wall, Fat Joe and Pitbull on “Holla at Me Baby,” the first single from the DJ’s debut album, Listennn... The Album. With “Hustlin’” and “Holla at Me Baby” topping rap-radio countdowns nationwide, the head honchos at Def Jam were practically forced to make a deal with Slip-N-Slide in order to get a piece of Ross. As if signing a deal with Jay-Z wasn’t enough, Rick is in negotiations with Diddy to be the newest member of Boyz N Da Hood.

With Ross’ debut album, Port of Miami, scheduled for a summer drop, the trapper-turned-rapper is fully aware of his market value. “You have to take advantage of this shit,” explains Rick. “I ain’t got no fuckin’ time to be playin’.” Spoken like a true kingpin.