Rapper Rick Ross is best known for his million-selling single "Hustlin'," an anthem to life on the street in the toughest neighborhoods of Miami. In Vibe, Casey Woods described Ross's style as "Street music: raw lyrics, fierce beats, and impeccable street cred."
Ross was born William Roberts, and grew up in Carol City, a rough, poor, and dangerous neighborhood in northern Miami's Dade County in Florida. True to his street roots, he took his performing name from that of Ricky Ross, a drug dealer who headed one of the largest cocaine networks in the United States in the 1980s and early 1990s.
"I Was in the Streets Most of the Time"
Ross made music for almost 12 years before signing with a major label. He told Scott Mazerall in Hip Hop Canada, "You know what man, I was in the streets most of the time so a lot of the time in that 12 years, I wasn't committed and focused the way I was supposed to." However, some observers saw signs that his talent could one day lead to a big career. He performed at DJ Khaled's birthday party, where P. Diddy was a guest. Khaled told Christian Hoard in Rolling Stone, "Diddy's eyes got big. He looked at Ross like … ‘He's gonna be a big boy in the rap game.’"
One single, "Hustlin'," peaked at number seven on the Billboard hip-hop chart and also hit number 54 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Hustlin'," the cornerstone of the album, was described by Hoard as "a hypnotic mix of thick organ, brassy synths and trunk-rattling bass, topped with a hooky, slo-mo refrain ('Every day, I'm hustlin")."
The single talks about making money on the street, glorifying drug dealers and thugs; as Ross told Jigsaw in All Hip Hop, in the lyrics he is also "shouting out a lot of key players that rolled us through the ranks in the streets. A couple of 'em doing life right now, so you know it's like a tribute album. Like the hustlers' anthem. That's what we doing down here. We hustling." "Hustlin'" did became a local anthem of sorts in Miami before achieving nationwide play. The song's popularity caught the attention of record labels, and urban music execs, from Irv Gotti at Murder Ink to P. Diddy, entered a bidding war to sign Ross. Jay-Z, president of Def Jam, won the war with a multimillion-dollar contract for Ross.
Ross signed with Def Jam in January of 2006, and his debut album, Port of Miami, was released in April of that year. It debuted at the number one spot, selling 187,000 copies in its first week, largely riding on the success of "Hustlin'."
Ross is physically impressive at six-foot, one inch tall, and weighs 300 pounds. His lyrics, like his physical appearance, project the tough neighborhood he grew up in, with gritty descriptions of violence, drug dealings, and betrayal. "I'm clarifying, not glorifying," Ross told Evelyn McConnell in Interview. McConnell noted that 28 young people from Miami-Dade County were killed in the first 28 weeks of 2006, and commented that Ross's lyrics could be viewed as "either recklessly ill-timed or bluntly to the point." Ross said, "It's that poverty, that lifestyle. For me it's all about trying to bring as much attention and light to the city as I can." Of his fans, most of whom are from neighborhoods just like his, he told Woods, "I respect them and they respect me, 'cause I rose through the ranks of the streets. I ain't get here for just rapping."
Ross told Woods that Miami gang leader Kenneth "Boobie" Williams, who is now serving a life sentence for murder, is his most important mentor in life. He also quoted the Bible: Psalm 27:2, "When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell." Ross said, "I recite that two or three times a day, because it applies to all those … haters, all those police, and all those doubters." He has a paternalistic attitude toward his fans: "They not going to let me out of their sight, because I'm the only thing they got going in their life."
"That's the Side I'm From"
A big inspiration for Ross is bringing the life of the rougher side of Miami to people's attention. He told William E. Ketchum III in Nobody Smiling that this was because "that's the side I'm from. From the other side of the bridge, that's where it really goes down at …. Just representing where I'm from, just letting people know what's really happening in Miami. A lot of [people] might've forgotten the real deal, you know? That's where it really happens at."
Ross told Ketchum that his main enjoyment of his new career is "Just the game, man. It took a long time to get here. Getting here was the hard part, now it's just time to [eat] cake." He also said, "When you're working for something, and you're making progress and you accomplish some of your dreams and aspirations, that's what it is."
Ross's second album Rise to Power was released in 2007.
Port of Miami, Def Jam, 2006.
For the Record …
Born William Roberts, in 1977, in Florida; married; one daughter.
Released Port of Miami, 2006; Rise to Power, 2007.
Addresses: Record company—Def Jam, 89 Broadhurst Ave., New York, NY 10039.
Daily Variety, August 17, 2006, p.3.
Interview, October 2006, p. 78.
"Interview with Rick Ross," Hip Hop Canada, April 30, 2006, http://www.hiphopcanada,com/_site/entertainment/interviews/ent_int300.php (February 26, 2007).
"Rick Ross: Brand New Hustle," All Hip Hop,http://www.allhiphop.com/features/?ID=1329 (March 2, 2007).
"Rick Ross: Miami Hustler," Rolling Stone,http://www.rollingstone.com/news/artistwatch/story/10463742/rick_ross_miami_hustler.html (February 26, 2007).
"Rick Ross: M.I.A. Triangle Trade," Nobody Smiling,http://www.nobodysmiling.com/hiphop/interview/86493.php (February 26, 2007).
"Rick Ross: On the Real," All Hip Hop,http://www.allhiphop.com/features/ID=1397 (March 2, 2007).
"Rick Ross," Vibe, April 17, 2006, http://www.vibe.com/music/2006/04/17/html (February 26, 2007).
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