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Rick Ross: Meet the New Boss

Superbaked, supersized, superstar: How a husky high school football player became hip-hop’s most lovable don

Rick Ross, Rapper

Rick Ross performs onstage at the 2012 BET Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta, Georgia on September 29th, 2012.

Rick Diamond/Getty

Even when he’s not trying to make an entrance, he makes an entrance.

It’s a quiet night somewhere deep in North Miami, at a house that’s actually a recording stu­dio. To get inside, you get buzzed through a gate and past a little reception area and into a yard filled with fountains and Roman statu­ary. The rapper Fabolous, incognito in a bushy beard and track-suit, is kicking it in the dark by the pool; Pharrell Williams, in cutoffs and black combat boots that say “Occupy Pussy,” is in the studio with Pusha-T crafting a beat. They’re working hard, but there’s also a sense of anticipation in the air — like they’re waiting for something big that’s about to go down.

And then in he walks: the William Howard Taft of the rap game; the self-proclaimed “big black fat nigga”; the guy T-Pain once called “Boss” 20 times in 11 seconds; the only man alive with a diamond-encrusted medallion of his own face — Rick Ross. Everything about him is gargantuan, from his topiary beard to his ursine belly, and even in casual mode, he looks fresh: white Louis Vuitton sneakers; crisp Levi’s 501s, size 46×32; a diamond-studded crucifix large enough to support a G.I. Joe; and a black XXXL T-shirt with the word “mogul” spelled out phonetically: MOH’-GUL.

For a second, the gravity in the room seems to shift. Chairs are rearranged and a seat procured, and Ross takes a load off. Someone hands him a joint the size of a small baguette, and he sparks it up and re­clines like some magisterial hood pasha.

“What you got for me?” He is here tonight to listen to a track called “Presidential,” off his new album, God Forgives, I Don’t. (The song is named after the rose-gold Rolex currently adorn­ing his wrist.) The room is now packed: Ross, Pharrell, Pusha, Miami rap-scene fixture DJ Khaled, a couple of girls, a cou­ple of white dudes. Posted up in the door­way is Ross’ suave, chilled-out manag­er, the fantastically named Gucci Pucci. Pharrell presses “play,” a sumptuous, 1,200-thread-count beat thunders, and Ross’ rhymes pour out of the speakers. He mentions courtside seats, waterfront cribs, having threesomes on cruise ships. Then the man who once boasted that he was “the only fat nigga in the sauna with Jews” tops even himself:

Walking on Jewish marble, hand-painted the ceiling
Happy Hanukkah, nigga, it’s a wonderful feeling!

Ever since 2006, when Ross, 36, exploded out of nowhere with his monster of a debut sin­gle, “Hustlin'” — which one re­viewer likened to “the sound of a trillion-pound weight hit­ting the ground” — he’s built a name as the biggest, baddest, boss-est rapper around. Four of his five albums have debuted at Number One — in the past decade, more than any rapper not named Jay-Z, Kanye West or Eminem — both of whom happen to be huge Ross fans.

Ross chief appeal is his one-of-a-kind voice — a rich, booming baritone that sounds like a steamroller running over a million dollars in slow motion. He’s never been the most poetic MC — famously rhym­ing “cellphone” with “iPhone,” “twenty-twos” with “22,” and “Atlantic” with, um, “Atlantic.” But what he lacks in techni­cal prowess he makes up for with exqui­site beat selection and sheer, undeniable charisma. Not to mention awesome nois­es: He’s done a credible impersonation of a money machine on at least two different tracks (krrrrrrrrrrr!), and his trademark bark — a deep, guttural wough!, kind of like a Rottweiler with bronchitis — has be­come a cultural reference unto itself. (Comedian Aziz Ansari on Twitter: “Very disappointed to find out that actress Julianna Hough’s last name was not pronounced like the Rick Ross noise.”)

The track fades, and Pharrell cuts off the speakers. “So what you think?” All heads swivel toward Ross, who exhales slowly, letting out a long contrail of smoke. He takes off his shades, exposing those big, stoned-manatee eyes and eyelashes so long and lustrous you’d be forgiven for thinking that maybe it’s Maybelline. He smiles like he just watched a sunset, or a baby horse being born. “It’s beautiful.”

Now the boss wants to eat. “Call up Prime One Twelve,” he says. “Get that smoking suite.” Prime One Twelve is a steak-house on Ocean Drive, right in the heart of the Miami scene. It’s where Bill Clinton, Cameron Diaz and Alex Rodriguez once dined togeth­er, where Dwyane Wade watched LeBron James announce he was taking his talents to South Beach. Ross’ smoking suite is a superprivate room at the top of a spi­ral staircase on the third floor, with a flatscreen TV, a queen-size bed and no one to tell him to put out his joint. Join­ing him tonight are Pucci, Khaled and a guy named Duece, whose sole responsi­bility seems to be rolling Ross’ joints. (He says he’s got it down to about two min­utes, which sounds pretty good, but also seems like a long time when all you do is roll joints.)

“Lemme ask you something,” says Ross, not bothering to look at the menu. “Have you ever had shrimp and watermelon on the same plate? Well, tonight you will.” He orders two of them ($88), along with two crab cakes ($44), four colossal crab legs ($180), a pair of crab claws ($90), two or­ders of chicken sliders ($44), one crab cocktail ($21) and one eight-ounce fillet ($46). He doesn’t tonight, but sometimes he’ll also get a soup to go and eat it for breakfast the next morning — a prac­tice immortalized in his song “I Love My Bitches,” in which he raps, “Am I reallyjust a narcissist/Cause 1 wake up to a bowl of lobster bisque?” (The answer to which is no, not really — more just a guy who eats weird breakfasts and likes to plan ahead.)

Spend even a little time in Ross’ orbit, and it’s easy to get accustomed to living like a boss. Bossness is Ross’ raison d’etre: He has one song called “You the Boss,” one called “The Boss” and one called simply “Boss.” For him, it’s less of an economic state than an ontological one: Even a pizza-delivery guy or a garbageman can be a boss, as long as he’s hanging with the Boss. “You better Twit­ter this,” Ross says at one point. “Tell em you’re having dinner with the Boss. Eat­ing like a boss.” And just like that, Boss-mosis is achieved.

In addition to the ocean-depleting quantity of seafood, Ross also orders a wedge of iceberg lettuce. His doctor told him recently that he should be eating bet­ter, so lately he’s been trying to have a salad with every meal. Not that he’s cut­ting down on any of the other stuff. He’s just eating salads, too.

The reason for this is medical. A few months back, Ross was on his way from Miami to Memphis for the grand open­ing of a Wingstop that he owns when he suffered a seizure midflight. A doctor on board performed CPR, and the plane had to make an emergency landing in Fort Lauderdale. Ross was examined on the ground and released, but on a char­ter flight to Memphis a few hours later, it happened again. This time the plane landed in Birmingham, Alabama, and Ross was rushed to the ER.

Ross didn’t realize what was happen­ing at the time. “It felt like I just dozed off on the couch,” he says. “I actually got off the plane like, ‘Seizure? Y’all are trippin’.'” Pucci checked him into the hospital under a fake name, and Ross spent a few days undergoing a battery of tests, all of which he says came back negative.

After his release, Ross retreated to his mom’s house, where he spent a few weeks eating his way back to health: baked chicken, pot roast, lasagna, brocco­li and cheese, cornbread, collard greens. (“My mom’s the best,” Ross says.) Friends brought him gifts: socks, underwear, cakes, pies. He got to spend some time with his kids — his daughter, Toie, 9, and his son, Will, 6. He also spent some time studying Scripture, rereading a few favor­ite passages, Psalm 27 in particular: “It just says sometimes you go through war, but you have to be confident.”

Though many suspected epilepsy or diabetes, Ross originally claimed it was lack of sleep that caused the seizures; he’d been getting only two or three hours a night. But now he says he was probably just smoking too much weed. His pub­lishing company is called 4 Blunts Lit at Once, and that’s only a slight exaggera­tion. “I’m most definitely an avid user, a pothead, however you wanna look at it,” he says. “I call it green caviar. It’s like a short vacation — it helps me chill out. And people love it when I chill out, because I can really be a dickhead.” Asked if he ever gets too high, Ross seems confused. “I don’t really know what that means.”

Since the seizures, he switched from blunts to papers, which he says are better for you. He’s also been trying to take naps — “Multiple naps. Boss naps.” — as well as drink more water. “I’m not gonna say I do all the eight glasses,” he says. “But I do drink more water.” At dinner tonight he’s drinking cran­berry juice, as is the rest of the table. “These crab cakes are disrespectful,” DJ Khaled says, which is a good thing. Ross agrees that it’s “a theory” — his all-encom­passing term for . . . just about anything.

“See, a theory could be all kinds of things,” Ross says — anything from a light­er (“Yo, hand me that theory over there”) to an attractive girl (“Damn, check out that theory!”). He and his crew have a whole lexicon like this — there’s also shone, as in ac-shone, i.e., action, which could be a girl, but could also be the thing itself, as in getting some. And if a theory is really praiseworthy, then it’s a movie, and you definitely want to be a part of that. Right?

Ross nods. “Of couuuurse.”

Soon Ross is ready to take his leave. But first, a parting gift: a single, perfect­ly rolled joint, fresh off Duece’s assembly line. “Take that back to your hotel with you,” Ross says. “That’s a little gift from the Boss.” It’s the same kind he’s been chain-smoking all night — three, maybe four an hour, with no seemingly adverse effects. Back home, I share it with five friends outside a pizza par­lor. Every one of us gets incredibly stoned.

Rick Ross grew up William Leon­ard Roberts Jr. in Carol City, Flori­da, a working-class neighborhood in North Miami. It wasn’t the best part of town, but it wasn’t the worst, either. He still remembers when his family made the move from an apart­ment to a real house: “That was a big leap,” he says. “You’re still next to the proj­ects, but at least you have a house.” The place is still there — a cute little sea-foam green bungalow that backs up to a vacant lot next to a Jesus People Ministries. “I still remember the smile on my mom’s face when we moved in,” he says. “Right then, I knew buying homes was something I want­ed to do a lot of.”

Ross’ mom, Tommie, was a registered nurse who usually had a couple of side gigs going as well. “My mom’s a hustler,” he says. “She a grinder.” Tommie and Ross’ dad, William Sr., split up when he was in elementary school, and William Sr. moved away. He died of liver cancer in 1999, when Ross was 23. Ross says he has fond mem­ories of his dad, but he doesn’t like to talk about him very much. “That ain’t for niggas to read, bro. That’s personal.” In his song “All the Money in the World,” though, he makes it clear how deeply he miss­es him.

I’d never rap again if I could tell him that I miss him
Why the fuck I own the world, when I can’t share it with him. . .
Crying in my mansion as I’m holdin’ on his picture.

Ross had a pretty good childhood — Atari games, bicycles, pickup football in the street. In elementary school, he got suspended a couple of times for what he calls “horseplaying and shit,” so he started going to a small Christian school down the street, but he had problems there, too. “They wanted me to learn the Ten Commandments,” he says. “I told them I didn’t really have time for that right now.” His mom went back to the public school and raised a ruckus, and they took him back.

Not surprisingly, he was a husky kid. Even his friends called him “Fat Boy”; for a while, he was too fat to even play foot­ball. Every peewee football age group had a maximum weight limit, and as Ross euphemistically puts it, “My age and weight never balanced out.” For 13-year-olds, the limit was about 140 pounds; he weighed 210. (“I was a little short fat dude.”) He found a coach who would still let him come to the park and practice — “shout-out to him” — but when game time came on Saturday, he’d have to watch his team play from the stands. And if you’re wondering if that was as sad as it sounds: “It was.”

He started writing raps in junior high, basing most of them around an instrumental of the song “Centi­pede,” by Rebbie Jackson, which his mom had on cassette. “I wrote to that for maybe a year,” Ross says. “To this day, if you listen to that beat, I’m pretty sure the flows I use now would still go on it.” One of his first performanc­es was at a junior talent show, where he rapped about going to other campuses to mack on girls during lunch:

It’s Monday morning, there was nothing to do
I was chilling at the lockers, chilling with my crew
I had this feeling to rush some ho’s
There was nothing stopping us, we had 30s and lows
At the red light, we all made our plan We wanted some chicks, so we went to Norland.

“I thought that was genius!” Ross says. “There’s five different days of the week, and I named five different schools — like, who ever did that? I should’ve won an award for that shit.” Sadly, the talent-show judges disagreed.

Then he got to high school, there were no weight restrictions, so Ross could play football again. He started at offensive lineman for the Carol City Chiefs, under celebrated local coach Walt Frazier. “He was a real good kid,” Frazier says. “Great personali­ty. The other kids took to him because he was kind of a jokester. I remember he had a pretty nice car, and when he’d come to school, he’d take his steering wheel out so it wouldn’t get stolen.”

“Big Will, that’s what we called him,” recalls Santana Moss, a wide receiver for the Washington Redskins who was a freshman at Carol City when Ross was a senior. “He was a ballplayer — real pop­ular, would come to school with the fast cars, the Chevy donks, the girls. As a ninth-grader you look at those guys, that’s who you want to be.” (A secretary who still works at the school recalls him fondly as well: “Oh, I remember Rick. He was a big teddy bear.”)

Ross was pretty good at football. His senior year he was second-team All City, and a pre-season roundup in the Miami Herald called the six-foot-two, 290-pounder a “top player.” He and the rest of the O-linemen dubbed themselves the IHOP Boys, because they excelled at knocking opposing linemen to the ground — what’s known in football as a “pancake” block. “He could have gone farther if he’d been more into it,” Coach Frazier says. “He had a bit of a concentration prob­lem. And keeping his weight down was always a struggle — like most big kids, he was kind of on the lazy side. But never any real problems, never any attitude.” And as for drugs? “None of that,” he says. “I would have heard about it.”

Ross’ nickname on the team was Big East, because everyone thought he’d go on to play for the University of Miami, in the Big East Conference. But when that didn’t happen, he accepted a schol­arship to play for Georgia’s Albany State, where he majored in criminal justice. He learned pretty quickly he wasn’t quite ready for college.

“I got through high school on my pop­ularity and shit,” Ross says. “But my grades was never good. I was never good at math.” He struggled with times tables: “I had my fives locked — but after that, my brain just stopped accepting the informa­tion.” When the school tried to put him in remedial classes, he dropped out and moved back to Miami.

Sometime around 1998, Ross decided to get serious about rapping. He started hanging around studios, jockeying for time on the mic. “I was a studio rat — give a few lines here, give a few lines there. Just trying to get on.” At first he went by Willow, a play on Will. After that it was Teflon. He started ghostwriting for the Miami rapper Trina, who was signed to local label Slip-N-Slide, the record com­pany that would eventually give Ross a deal, and at one point found himself in the studio with a hungry young kid named Kanye West, who was produc­ing an artist Ross was ghostwriting for. “I didn’t even know who Kanye West was,” Ross says. “I just saw a kid with a funny shirt who seemed happy to just be working.”

Ross was broke a lot. He slept on friends couches, scrounged their refrigerators for food. Sometimes his mom helped out: In 2000, when he was 24, records show that she bought a two-story house in suburban Pembroke Pines and transferred it to his name 10 days later. Ac­cording to Tiallondra Kemp, the mother of Ross’ six-year-old son, Ross relied on his mother a lot. “Will didn’t have much money,” she wrote in her 2009 memoir, Tia’s Diary: Deeper Than Rap — The True Story of Rick Ross’ Baby’s Mother. “One time when we went to get some dinner, he pulled out a debit card and I saw his mom’s name on it.”

“It wasn’t like he turned into Rick Ross overnight,” Trina says. “It was a lot of nights, a lot of hustling, a lot of mix-tapes, a lot of freestyles. He would be in the studio every night, no one else there, just listening to beats, writing, writing.”

“There was definitely no fancy rides or sit-down restaurants,” she continues. “This was the days of 7-Eleven, leftovers, fast food.” Still, that didn’t stop Ross from rapping about the finer things. “It was almost like he was speaking money into reality,” Trina says. “He spoke as if the non-existent was already existent.”

When Ross finally started catching on in Miami, most people heard about it pretty quick. “One of his first mixtapes, he spit a verse that had my name on it,” Moss says. “I was like, ‘That’s love.'” But it took others a little longer to catch on.

“The kids kept telling me, ‘Coach, Rick Ross played for you!'” Frazier recalls. “I remember all the names, and no Rick Ross ever played football for Carol City. Then they did a TV special on him, and I looked over and there’s this guy with a big beard. I said, ‘Nope, I don’t know that guy.’ But then he started talking, and I said, ‘Aw, heck. That’s Will!'”

Yo, where’s that lighter?” 

Ross is in L.A. now, sunk into a couch in a trailer on Hollywood Boulevard, in the middle of a promo tour for God Forgives. Tonight he’s tap­ing Jimmy Kimmel, performing in the parking lot for a few hundred fans. Pucci is here, along with Ross’ DJ, Sam Sneak. His two videographers are stockpiling footage; Duece is rolling joints, slipping them two at a time into a drawer near Ross. There’s also a guy named Damion, a rep for Ree­bok, who’s making a series of increasing­ly urgent phone calls trying to procure a Porsche for a video shoot Ross wants to do.

Ross finds his lighter and sits back and lights a joint. On TV, Anderson Cooper is talk­ing about the movie-theater shooting in Colorado, showing an interview with a 13-year-old girl who tried to save the six-year-old who was killed. “That’s fucked up,” Ross says later. “Beautiful six-year-old blond-haired girl. Such a cow­ardly act.” Still, he says, he’s not in favor of gun control. “I think we all have a right to bear arms, whichever amendment that is.” Even assault rifles? He shrugs. “I got ’em.”

He flips over to the History Channel, where there’s a docu­mentary on the Godfather mov­ies. “Mario Puzo!” says Ross, a student of the genre. “The great­est.” Later, they cut to the scene where Michael Corleone is talk­ing to a senator about getting a gaming license, and Ross leans in close. “My offer is this: nothing,” he says. “My offer is this: nothing,” says Al Pacino on the TV.

It’s nearing dusk now, the golden Cal­ifornia light catching the weed smoke through the blinds. Ross gets word that Nas is taping a performance at Kimmel tonight too, and that he wants to say hi. (The two have collaborated a few times.) Nas pops in, and they pose for some pho­tos. “Yo, Instagram this!” Ross says.

Also on the show tonight is actor Aaron Paul, who plays the meth dealer Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad. Ross says he’s never heard of the show, but when he hears that it’s about a mild-mannered high school teacher who reinvents himself as a meth kingpin, real recognizes real. “That’s some gangster shit,” he says.

Soon a rep from the label comes in and says she’s ordering wings from Hooters. Does Ross want anything? He asks her if they have salmon (he pronounces it sal­mon). “At Hooters?” she asks. He tells her to just get him some buffalo shrimp, with ranch dressing and curly fries. For the rest of the group, Pucci orders a hun­dred wings.

Ross doesn’t usually like eating fancy. He has three separate songs that reference chicken wings, and he’s shouted out Wing-stop more than once. Today for lunch he ate at Chili’s (salmon); he wanted to go to Chick-fil-A, but they couldn’t find one in L.A. Someone mentions the controversy involving Chick-fil-A and gay marriage, and Ross says he hasn’t heard about it. He listens to a quick summary with interest.

“Chick-fil-A obviously took their stand,” he says after a minute. “That’s their right — the same way the pro-gay people are tak­ing their stand. I believe everybody got the right to live their own life the way they want to.” So does that mean he’d support a Chick-fil-A boycott?

“Naw,” he says. “I love that spicy chicken.”

Pretty soon it’s time to get dressed. Ross strips off his white tee, exposing the tat­toos that “cover 80 percent of the Don’s frame”: the Statue of Liberty, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, Richard Pryor. Checking himself out in the mirror, he does a cute little Rick Ross jig, singing under his breath: “‘Cause I’m a mother-fucking P-I-M-P. . . .”

Out in the parking lot, he performs two songs: “So Sophisticated” and the new Usher collaboration “Touch’N You.” After the second, he gazes out at the crowd: “What up, Jimmy Falloooooon!” A pause. “Kimmelllll! Back at the hotel, Damion arrives with the Porsche — a black Carrera convertible — and Ross wedges him­self into the driver’s seat, sliding it all the way back until his belly is just barely graz­ing the steering wheel. The seat-belt alarm starts to ding, and Ross struggles for a sec­ond to reach behind him and grab it, then just turns the music louder.

One fun thing about hanging out with Rick Ross is that you get to listen to a lot of Rick Ross music. It’s basically never not playing — in his car, in the van, on some­one’s laptop. The song on “repeat” tonight is “911,” where Ross boasts, “I remember pickin’ watermelons/Now the Porsche cost me a quarter-million.” (Admittedly, “The rental cost Damion $400 plus insurance” doesn’t have the same ring to it.)

Ross lights a joint and sets off through West Hollywood, taking a roundabout route up La Brea, down Fair­fax and back up La Cienega. On Sunset, he drives past a mar­quee for a Fiona Apple concert, then a billboard for a documen­tary about Pablo Escobar. In Beverly Hills, he slows down on his way past Rodeo Drive. After a while I ask where he’s going. “I have no idea,” he says. “I’m just high and looking at stuff.”

Eventually he turns north­ward and heads into the Holly­wood Hills. He takes another hit off his joint, the speakers boom­ing his voice through the can­yons. “This is what this music is made for!” he screams over the wind. When the song “3 Kings” comes on, and he gets to the line “I came a long way from the weed game,” Ross punches my arm and gestures to his joint, to­tally stoked.

The next day Ross wakes up early and spends the morning tweet­ing about his album. At noon he heads to a meet-and-greet for L.A. hip-hop sta­tion Power 106, where employees pass out patches that look like his face and a girl in the balcony shouts, “I want to rub your belly!” (Ross: “Wough!”) Then it’s over to Chelsea Handler’s studio for a taping of Chelsea Lately. In the green room, Ross munches on a bag of jalapeño potato chips, while Sam Sneak avails himself of the heated massage chair. On the table, there’s a contract from E! for $403.

Ross is wearing a black T-shirt with a picture of the California state flag and the words CALIFORNIA KNOWS HOW TO PARTY on it, but he wants to change into anoth­er shirt he brought, a white Calvin Klein V-neck with a big photo of Mike Tyson. At the last minute, he decides he doesn’t like that one and asks an assistant to steam yet another T-shirt, this one plain white. Ross walks onstage, and Handler immediately climbs into his lap. They flirt for a few min­utes, Ross telling her he’s “very passion­ate,” Handler telling him it’s nice he has “so much seating on your face.”

Afterward, burning another joint on the way back to the hotel, Ross starts second-guessing himself. “I should have worn the Tyson tee,” he says, a little bummed.

“The white tee ain’t look bad,” Pucci reassures him. “It was crisp, it was chill. You came in with that white tee, and she sat right on your dick.”

At this, Ross brightens. The van is crawling through rush-hour traffic when Pucci tells Ross’ towering bodyguard Ghost, who’s driving, to pull over. The Boss wants to check out a-big and-tall shop. He hops out, high as shit, and spends a few minutes browsing the stacks of wrinkle-free khakis and plus-size shirts. “Big guys ain’t got no fly shit,” he declares finally. “It’s sad.” He says he’s putting together his own big-and-tall line as we speak. “Shoes. Clothing. Apparel. We’re gonna corner the market.”

Ross is constantly angling for new busi­ness opportunities. Previously, he’s owned a yardwork company, a hair salon and a restaurant called Hip Hop Grub Spot (a.k.a. “the world’s first hip-hop healthy fast-food global franchise”). He’s about to open two new Wingstops, and he also has endorsement deals with Reebok and Ciroc. (Meanwhile, the fact that a man nicknamed Ricky Rozay doesn’t have his own winery is probably 21st-century capi­talism’s greatest failure.) He says he owns 40 cars and is worth “nine figures,” but he’s still out hustling: His Twitter ac­count lists an e-mail address (RickyRozay Bookings@gmail.com) so that show pro­moters can get in touch — something you can’t imagine Jay-Z doing.

At one point Ross tries to convince me the two of us should go into business to­gether. “You write a lot of stories. Let’s talk about that publishing split.” When I tell him he’d probably be disappoint­ed, he shakes his head. “There’s always money to get.”

The promo tour rolls on. Ross is in New York now: He hits BET, MTV, SiriusXM, Hot 97. One night he hosts a party at Per­fections, a “VIP gentlemen’s club” near a U-Haul center in Queens. Another day he has lunch at Philippe. (Manhattan doesn’t have any Wingstops.) He also tweets about 900 times a day. If Ross worked as hard selling drugs as he does promoting his album, he might really have been a kingpin. From the beginning, Ross made drugs a central tenet in his self-mythology. He says he got a job at 13 working at a car wash, where he also sold weed on the side. He’s said he got “rich off cocaine” before releasing a single bar of music, and on “Hustlin’,” he claimed affiliation with narco-heavies such as Escobar, Noriega and Miami drug dealer Richard “Convertible Burt” Simmons.

But Ross’ credibility took a serious hit in 2008, when a photo surfaced of him in uniform at a graduation ceremony for the Florida Department of Corrections — it seemed the kingpin was actually once a prison guard. At first Ross employed the Shaggy defense, claiming he’d been Photoshopped by “online hackers.” But when the Smoking Gun turned up more sup­porting documents — including a con­tract for his $22,913 starting salary and an award for perfect attendance — Ross had to own up.

Ross has hinted that he was actually a crooked CO — that he took the job so he could deal drugs on the inside, sort of a re­verse undercover. But the truth is, he be­came a CO to avoid the drug game.

Not long after high school, Ross’ best friend, a kid named Jabar Delancy, was arrested on narcotics-related charges. In 1998, he was federally indicted and sen­tenced to 10 years for the distribution of cocaine and heroin. Ross claims he was also listed in the indictment, as an unindicted co-conspirator. “First time I ever spoke of this,” he says. “This was my best friend — who I ate peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches with, and pork and beans with, my buddy, my partner, my number-one dude. Suddenly I’m talking to him over federal phone calls. Hearing the way it was building, I knew I couldn’t take nothing for granted. Right then I kinda wanted to wash my hands.”

Jabar’s father, meanwhile, was Michael Delancy, a member of the so-called Miami Boys — one of Florida’s biggest drug syn­dicates. According to news accounts, the group netted more than $200,000 a week peddling narcotics, including “Delancy heroin” from Miami to Jacksonville. Fed­eral investigators started closing in on the elder Delancy in a series of raids starting in the mid-Nineties; he was also indicted in 1998 and charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, crack and heroin. He was convicted and was later sentenced to life with no parole.

“My homey’s father was a huge influ­ence on my life, too,” Ross says. “The first dude to ever give me a $50 bill, the first person that bought me a pair of Filas. I remember tears almost came to my eyes — like, ‘Wow. I never had shoes that were $60 before.'” Around the time all this was going down, Ross says, it was actually Mi­chael who urged him to go straight. “He was the one who was like, ‘Yo, go get a job somewhere, man. Go be a fireman. Or go be a fucking corrections officer. Just go sit down somewhere.'”

When the revelations about his CO days couldn’t be squashed, Ross doubled down. He boasted of even bigger drug deals, even more illicit cash. He later put out an album called Teflon Don — as in, nothing sticks. Amazingly, it worked: Fans clicked, shrugged and just kept on buying. Ross is like a hip-hop Gatsby, who, by pronouncing him­self a kingpin, basically became one. To call him a fraud or a fabulist is to miss the point, because anytime Ross says, “I did that,” for all intents and purposes he did do that, because “Rick Ross” is essen­tially just a character he’s created. And if there’s one thing Ross is really good at, it’s playing Rick Ross.

“I’ve been tested in this business, and I’ve proven that I’m nothing to be fucked with,” Ross says today. “And I love that. I think that’s what makes my story differ­ent. That’s what makes me much more complicated. That’s what makes me much more interesting.”

In 2009, Ross was called to testi-fy in a child-support case brought by Tia Kemp. He was claiming he only earned about $200,000 a year; she was trying to prove he made much more. The result is comic role reversal, in which a man who’d spent years exaggerating his wealth was suddenly trying to minimize it. The whole thing is great, but some parts are truly priceless — like this exchange between Ross and Kemp’s attorney about how much he spends on food:

Attorney: No. 15 says monthly meals outside the home, $200. That seems im­possible to me . . .
Ross: . . . I could have ate McDonald’s. I like McDonald’s . . .
Attorney: So are you testifying that you ate at McDonald’s all last week? I can’t imagine that’s true.
Ross: I love a BigMac combo.

Or this, about Ross’ housekeeping costs:

Attorney: The Laurel home, who keeps that clean?
Ross: I have a friend — girl that cleans up for me . . .
Attorney: You don’t pay anyone to clean any of your homes?
Ross: It’s a privilege to clean my home.

And finally, this, concerning Ross’ ten­dency to possibly stretch the truth about his finances in magazine interviews:

Attorney: [In]April of’08 . . . there is a [magazine] article about you . . . 
Ross: [Is this article] pertaining to my son?
Attorney: Right now I’m just looking to see how much you really make for pur­pose of child support . . .
Ross: Well, this is entertainment.

On the first Saturday in August, Ross is throw­ing an album-release party at a Miami strip club called King of Diamonds. He’s cel­ebrating what’s shaping up to be his biggest first week yet — 218,000 copies, another Number One. The last time Ross had a big party at the club, he arrived in a helicopter. The time before that, for his 35th birthday, he, Diddy, Pharrell and Lil Wayne purport­edly spent a million dollars. “Are you sure you ready?” Ross asks me before the party. “That’s a question you gotta ask yourself, my brother.”

It’s just before 2 a.m. when Gucci Pucci pulls up in his black Escalade. The park­ing lot is swarmed with hundreds of peo­ple. “This is gonna be a mission,” he says. He ducks inside the club for 20 minutes, then returns with what must be at least 50 grand in cash — stacks of twenties and fifties wrapped in black rubber bands. He empties a box of Kleenex and stuffs it in­side, then changes his mind and shoves the cash in his pockets.

DJ Khaled is here, wearing a T-shirt with the name of his album on it. People like Omarion and Chad Ochocinco are waiting inside. At one point Sam Sneak walks up, trailing at least 30 people be­hind him; in Miami, even Ross’entourage has an entourage. And then, in a jet-black Rolls-Royce Phantom, the Boss arrives.

The King of Diamonds is absolutely gi­gantic. (Rumor has it that it used to be a Costco, or a Sam’s Club.) There are eight stages, and at least 200 dancers. Two 30-foot poles stretch from the floor all the way to the ceiling, and the decor can best be described as “mirror-y.” Guys in purple bow ties are sweeping singles off the stage with 10-foot brooms. The thousands of patrons — about 50-50 men and women — are carrying bottles of Moet like it’s beer and walking on a carpet of dollar bills.

Upstairs on a private balcony, Ross and his crew pull out four blue Reebok shoe-boxes, all packed with bills. (They layered twenties on the outside for photos, but it’s mostly singles.) Two fully naked wait­resses bring over trays of Ciroc and Moet with sparklers in the bottles, shooting off sparks, and suddenly women are flocking to Ross. “It’s like a Walmart for ho’s!” he says happily. Along with him tonight is a childhood friend who recently got out of federal prison, who he wants to show a good time. “Dance for him,” Ross says to one of the strippers. She starts dancing.

The upstairs party continues for about half an hour. Then Ross is ready to per­form. “Let’s walk,” he barks, and sudden­ly we’re walking, Ross leading an exodus of hangers-on through the back hallways. He cuts through the dancers’ dressing room, surprising three very confused, very naked girls. It’s just like that kitchen scene in GoodFellas, only instead of busboys at the Copacabana, it’s Gemini, Precious and Illusion. A sign on the wall reminds them to “turn in all singles ASAP.” It’s just like that kitchen scene in GoodFellas, only with breasts.

Ross pushes through the crowd and onto the stage, and about 60 people try to follow him. When it gets too crowded, the club’s security tries to push them back, but they can’t get it done. Instead, Ghost — who’s wearing some kind of crazy padded-knuckle punching gloves — lowers his head and charges and pushes back 40 people at once, single-handedly. At one point, he also grabs one photog­rapher and literally tosses him out.

Ross performs tor about an hour, in front of a giant balloon banner that spells out mmg, doing new hits and old ones. While he raps, girls on either side of him do their thing on the pole, includ­ing a girl named Strawberry who does this thing where she climbs upward with her legs, which, no offense to the gold-medal-winning U.S. gymnastics team, but wow. At one point Sam Sneak plays the “M-m-m-m-m-m-m-aybach Music” noise for literally 10 seconds straight. It sounds awesome.

By 5 a.m. Ross is done. The sun’s al­most coming up, and the club is clearing out. The floor is covered in chicken bones, bottles and cigarette butts; singles are still everywhere. Ross ducks out the back and into the Phantom, and heads home to his own bed for the first night in weeks.

Tonight he’ll fly to Toronto, and who knows where after that. But on this Sun­day morning, Big Will Roberts is the king of his city — high on weed and his own suc­cess, with Psalm 27 in his heart:

In This Article: Coverwall

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