“My name is my name!” – Marlo Stanfield, the fifth and final season of The Wire.
Rick Donnell Ross, the man who bares the unfortunate title of having been “the Walmart of crack” during the 1980s, is currently having trouble convincing some people that he is even who he says he is. When a new generation hears the name “Rick Ross” they instantly think of a rotund rapper from Miami, and not the diminutive drug dealer from Los Angeles. The South Central native, who acquired his nickname “Freeway” from the collection of properties he owned at one time near the Harbor Freeway, is fighting to reclaim the name he made simultaneously infamous and illustrious while running an enormous empire that stretched from California to Cincinnati.
In a brutally candid discussion with HipHopDX, “Freeway” Rick Ross revealed that the recent dismissal of his lawsuit against rapper Rick Ross does not signal the end of his quest to let the world know who “the real Rick Ross” is, (but that he would consider calling off his legal hounds if his rappin’ namesake will just “tell everybody that he really wanted to be me”).
Having spent almost the entirety of the ‘90s and ‘00s behind bars, Ross also revealed what contact he had with the then burgeoning Hip Hop scene in Los Angeles during the ‘80s, and how he “coulda been Eazy-E back then, with money” if not for a former business partner of Dr. Dre telling him to “leave Rap alone.”
And maybe most notably, the man who once made tens of millions of dollars monthly while pushing up to 100 kilos of cocaine weekly (courtesy of a C.I.A.-sponsored connect who was “fundraising” on behalf of the Reagan administration-backed Nicaraguan Contras) revealed how his jaw-dropping life story (first revealed in part to the masses by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb) is shaping up to become one of the most impressive biopics ever made.
HipHopDX: I know you don’t wanna talk too much about your past, but as a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, I just have to ask if you can talk at all about your time in the Midwest during the late ‘80s?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Yeah, I can. I can talk about anything I want to.
DX: Well let me tell you a story real quick. I remember I was in middle school when you were out here. And one day in my neighborhood on the far north side of the 'Nati, Seven Hills, some guys came down the street walking alongside a slow-moving car. They were dressed the same way Rocket was from Colors. They were clearly looking for somebody. And I remember somebody later after they left saying something about “Freeway’s boys.” Were my young eyes deceiving me, or did you really, as DJ Quik would say, make my hometown “Jus Lyke Compton”?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: I probably helped. I love the ‘Nati though. The ‘Nati was a nice place, a place that I could live. I wasn’t trying to make it like Compton, but I probably helped in doing that, yeah.
DX: How do you look back on that time of your life now? How much personal regret and/or guilt do you have, or do you have any?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: I don’t know if it’s regret, guilt or any of that. It’s a part of life that I went through. I cherish every day that I spent on earth, including my prison time, which was the worst time of my life. I wouldn’t give it back if I could, because that’s what made me who I am today. And I love who I am right now. … I don’t need a guy dribbling a basketball or catching a football to make me excited. I don’t need anybody on TV to make me excited. I’m just excited because I’m who I am. And I see that I’m different than most people [because of that]. Most people need somebody else to make them excited about life.
DX: And just out of curiosity, will your time in Cincinnati be shown in The Rick Ross Story?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: No. The movie is really short. It’s only an hour-and-a-half. Rick Ross is 51-years-old, so [a lot of my life story] won’t be shown the way I wanted it to be shown. Because, [there are] so many other intricate stories inside of my story: talking about The White House, the Nicaraguan Contras. It’s just so much stuff that goes inside of [my story].
DX: Explain the contest going on at FreewayEnterprise.com in regards to the film.
“Freeway” Rick Ross: This contest is about me giving back to the hood. Giving people a chance – Okay, say like if you wanna go and get in a movie right now, and you go the normal Hollywood route, you have to take $3,000 worth of photos – headshots – before you can get anybody to even look at you. And then after you take those headshots, you still may not get the movie. More than likely you won’t get the movie. So, what I’m doing is I’m cutting through all the chase. I’m saying, Okay, if you a hustler, especially people like you, I’m gonna give you a chance to play in a movie. All you have to do is go to FreewayEnterprise.com, sign up. … This time I can only do it with two people, because I don’t really have the pull inside of this movie that I would like. As my pull grows and I start to expand myself, then I’ll be opening up these type of opportunities to many more people.
That’s why it’s so valuable to support what I’m doing. And a lot of people are not supporting it, [but] I don’t mind. I know how people are. Most people are riders. They only get on when you winning. And right now it don’t look like I’m winning. It look like I’m struggling, and people are not there to back that up. [But], I’m just gonna keep pushing.
DX: Is there a film studio there to back this up? Has anyone signed on to put the movie out?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: I’ve had opportunities to sign with film companies. I’ve met with all the heads of all the studios in Hollywood: Sony, Universal. I’m talking right now with ICM. … Everybody’s interested in the movie, but what they are not used to dealing with is somebody like me, somebody that thinks like I do. I can’t be bought. I’m not impressed by how much money you have. I’m not impressed with how many baskets you made, how many yards you carried the football. You don’t impress me. I’ve been through so much in my life that none of this stuff really impresses me: how nice your clothes are, how big your diamonds are, or what color you car is or what make it is. I’m not impressed by none of that. And they’re not used to dealing with anybody like that. And right now they really don’t respect me the way that I feel that they should.
DX: So are you saying that you’re basically self-financed at this point for the movie?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Right now that’s what I’m doing; I’m raising the money independently.
DX: So do you have any plans of when the filming will actually start?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: We figured in a few months. We got a lot of people stepping up to the plate, that are saying that they are gonna help with the finances. So it’s really based around the financing right now. The only person that’s really tied to the piece right now is Nick Cassavetes. He’s the guy that wrote it. He’s an award-winning writer and director. He did movies like Blow. He directed John Q, Alpha Dog. He’s decorated. … And he’s the only one right now that I have tied to the piece. I met with Columbus Short, Leonardo Dicaprio, Mark Wahlberg…Denzel Washington. So I’ve met with some of everybody in Hollywood that’s interested in helping with the piece. You know, they’re saying that this piece is gonna be the piece of the decade. And what’s so funny to me is the studios, they tried to lowball me. I’m like, “I didn’t ask to meet none of you guys. You called me. I didn’t call you. You’re gonna tell me how good my movie is but yet [you try to lowball me]…” So, I know what type of piece I have. The script is phenomenal. They said that I couldn’t get Nick Cassavetes to write my story on credit. Right now I have the script in my hand.
DX: And you said Denzel Washington is gonna play you?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: No, I didn’t say that. I said that I met with Denzel about [producing the movie]. Not about playing me…my guy has to be a young guy.
DX: You could always get the rapper Rick Ross to portray you.
“Freeway” Rick Ross: But [the rapper Rick Ross] can’t break himself down and let everybody know that he wants to be me. Look on TV, he doesn’t wanna [admit to emulating] Rick Ross. They’ll say, “You already Rick Ross, aren’t you?” [Portraying me in the movie] would kinda like blow him out the water. Tell him to holla at me though. Give him a call; tell him to holla at me. Tell him I don’t hold grudges. I still want my money though.
DX: Speaking of, so if I understand this correctly you want him to change his emcee moniker, give you 50% of his royalties, and cut you a $10 million check?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Yeah, we’ll go for that. Or just go on TV and tell everybody that he really wanted to be me.
DX: You would forego the money if he did that?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: I mean, I would consider it. [Laughs]
DX: [Laughs] Let’s clarify this though, didn’t the judge in the federal district court case say you didn’t have a valid trademark claim on the name since you used the name in the streets, not in the entertainment industry?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Yeah, he basically did. But the lawyers didn’t know how to fight the case. And what I did, I twisted it. So I went back at him a different route.
DX: The case got tossed out of federal court, so you’re in state court now or --- ?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: --- I’m in state and federal. Because, the federal judge, he made some mistakes inside the case. And, he really sanctioned my case when he said what he said, because he said I had state issues. And the federal law says if there is any possibility that there’s a claim then he must resolve the claim. He can’t leave issues on the table.
DX: What would the state issues be?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: That he used my name, he used my copyright without my permission.
DX: But you never filed a copyright for your name.
“Freeway” Rick Ross: You don’t have to. Once you use the name in public, in a certain format, that automatically copies it. And then another person is not allowed to come in and portray that they’re something that they’re not.
DX: I’m confused. Why can’t every guy named Rick Ross in America sue him the same way you are?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Well, they can’t show that they lived the lifestyle that he’s rappin’ about. See, if I can show that there’s a likeness in what he’s saying and with my actual story, then that’s where the conflict comes in at. If a guy has worked all of his life at Burger King, and then he comes and says, Well, the guy is using my likeness. And the guy is rappin’ about selling drugs, then they would say, Oh, well you never sold drugs, you worked at Burger King. But in my situation, by me actually living that lifestyle everybody knows that I lived that lifestyle, knows that that was me. Now say for instance if he actually sold drugs – which he wouldn’t of named himself after somebody else, ‘cause drug dealers don’t name themselves after other drug dealers. It’s usually a competition thing with other drug dealers, so they would never degrade themselves to [take their name from] another drug dealer. ‘Cause that would be like saying that he was better than me, or he was bigger than me. And that just doesn’t happen in the street. But if it happened, then he would have an argument to say this was really me. [Laughs] So that’s pretty much where that [stands].
DX: So any timeline on when this is gonna finally get through the court system…?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Man, you know how these courts drag their feet. And then now that the judges know that I’m on it personally – ‘cause they dealt with me before when I was inside of prison, and they know that I’m relentless, that I’m just not gonna lay down and let it go – they gonna drag it out.
DX: You willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court to fight this?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Yeah. I was willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court when I fought it the first time. I’m not afraid of courts. I fought ‘em from a jail cell, when you have to sleep on the floor and they wake you up at three in the morning, [where] you sleep on a concrete floor, next to a steel toilet with piss on it… So if I can do that, now I can walk inside the courtroom, and sit on a cushioned bench. They dealing with a different animal. I’m a different animal than most of the people walking the street now.
DX: I just gotta ask, man, what in the world does Jay-Z have to do with all of this?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: [Jay-Z] signed Rick Ross. That’s the only thing he has to do with it. He was the President of Def Jam [Records when Rick Ross was signed].
DX: You don’t want money from him though, do you? You just want him to come in and testify [that he knew Rick Ross was using your likeness]?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: I would take some money from him, if he did wrong. [Laughs]
DX: [Laughs] I understand that, I’m just trying to figure out what in the world –
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Anybody that was involved with it [is going to be brought into court]. I really want Def Jam [held accountable]. I don’t really want money from neither [Jay-Z nor Rick Ross]. I would like for [Jay-Z] to come in and say, "Man, you know what? Yeah, we knew who this guy was. We stole his name…and Def Jam you owe him some money. Go ahead and pay the man."
DX: So, to follow this logic out, Jimmy Iovine of Interscope Records should cough up 50% of 50 Cent’s earnings and send those funds to the family of the real 50 Cent?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: I don’t know about 50 Cent, or the family. I just know about me. I just told you, I don’t care who carries basketballs, how much they dribble, how fast they run, none of that. I just care about what’s happening with me and mine. And I only support people that support me.
DX: You might wanna be careful about making sure you continue to show support for Jimmy Iovine, since he signed your nephew, Slim da Mobster. [Laughs]
“Freeway” Rick Ross: [Laughs] Well, you know Slim [da Mobster] better get himself in position, ‘cause you know how the record labels are. They gon’ use you up and spit you out. I told him. I told him that: stay on your P’s and Q’s, don’t look for no favors. You hot today and tomorrow they don’t want you no more.
DX: How involved were you in his life as a youngster, ‘cause I know he apparently got in the life after you got [incarcerated again in 1995].
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Well you know, all these youngsters in L.A., they look up to me. All the ones out in the streets, I don’t know how they did it and how they found out, but they did their research and a lot of ‘em modeled themselves after me. Which is not a good thing, [to emulate] my past. But [if they study] my present, it’s gonna be wonderful.
DX: I was just curious with Slim in particular though, if you…were around in his upbringing?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: We mostly communicated through letters and over the telephone. He was a toddler when I went in [the first time in 1989]. But he’s one of the few that did send them letters.
DX: In his feature interview with HipHopDX last year Slim said back when he was a little kid he called Dr. Dre up after getting Dre’s number out of your phone. You were only a free man for less than a year, from September ’94 to March ’95, so how did you connect with Dr. Dre?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Well you know, [back in the ‘80s] King Tee, [Mixmaster] Spade, them was my cats. And those were the cats that taught [Dr.] Dre how to work the drum machine.
DX: King Tee and them, they’re from your neighborhood or - ? How did y’all connect?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: I been knowing Tee and them forever. Spade used to uh…you know, get his work from me. And I shoulda listened to them when they told me to get in the Rap game. [Laughs]
DX: [Laughs] Yeah, you coulda been Eazy-E before Eazy.
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Man, like seven years [before Eazy-E started Ruthless Records], with money. I coulda been Eazy-E back then, with money.
DX: You had like what, car washes and Laundromats or whatever, [but] you didn’t think record label?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Well you know, I paid for Anita Baker’s first album, [The Songstress in 1983]. But I wasn’t thinking Rap [at that time].
DX: I did not know about Anita Baker. [Laughs] Holy shit.
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Yeah, I paid for her first album. When she was with Beverly Glen Music.
DX: Wow. But that wasn’t the general like thought process back in the ‘80s…let’s take this to music.
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Well, you know what? Two guys talked me out of going into Rap, and [one] was a guy by the name of Dick Griffey, who’s deceased now. And when I went up to his office [at SOLAR Records], his office was decorated with platinum and with gold albums. He was the epitome of the music business, and he told me to leave Rap alone.
DX: So what did you think then when Dick Griffey linked up with Dr. Dre and Suge Knight [to start up Death Row Records]?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: That’s when I was in jail. But he had already told me that he had made one of the biggest mistakes – him and Otis [Stokes] both told me one of the biggest mistakes they ever made is when they told me to leave Rap alone.
DX: They would’ve rather dealt with “Freeway” Ricky Ross than Marion “Suge” Knight?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: I think so. … I was speaking at an event in Philadelphia last week. I go around the country speaking. And what I told ‘em was that I’m not a drug dealer, I’m a businessman that sold some drugs.
DX: That’s sort of like…that’s a very professional way of presenting it.
“Freeway” Rick Ross: I mean, that’s the way it is. And they tend to recognize. Everybody who don’t recognize right now, if they just look at what’s going on [with] my website right now, I’m signing up two, three hundred people every day… They ain’t even seen nothing yet. I been doing this with no money. Once I sign this movie deal, this $35 million movie deal that I’m working on – I got about nine [investors so far] who said that they gonna put the money up. And one of [the studios] is gonna wanna take this ride with me and put this [movie out], so we can see if we gon’ have – as the President of ICM said – the black Godfather. Somebody’s gonna take that chance and ride with me. I don’t know who it is, but somebody’s gonna wake up and smell the coffee and say, You know what? Rick’s movie is gonna be the shit and I’ma ride wit’ him.
DX: Are any of those investors…from the music industry?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: There’s one cat right now. His company is talking about putting up [some] money. And they want him to play the role [of me in the movie]. Most people would be totally shocked to find out who it is though. But I don’t know if I can reveal who his name is right now.
DX: Can you reveal if it’s somebody everybody knows…?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Oh, definitely. One of the hottest rappers on the planet.
DX: You still got that Dr. Dre phone number? You could hit him up for some financing?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: What we’re gonna do with Dre is let him do the soundtrack – him and Slim [da Mobster] do the soundtrack. That’s the greatest place he can help. Because, it’s tough to have somebody to finance a movie who really doesn’t understand the movie business. I don’t know if Dre understands the movie business, or if he understands the magnitude of this movie. Most people don’t understand that this is not a Ricky Ross movie. This is an American movie. The script is just sick. Nick [Cassavetes], that’s my man. That dude is a wonderful dude. He stood by me, and put his money to the side and told me it wasn’t about the money with him and wrote the script for me. And most people said [because of that] he was gonna give me some garbage, but the man gave me a phenomenal script that I am very, very proud of. And this is just the first draft. We still got some more to do to it he said, to tighten it up. But the script is just phenomenal, and everybody who reads it loves it and thinks that it’s gonna be – they say that it’s something like a cross between, what’s the name of that movie? Traffic and Crash. Or maybe a Traffic and Boyz N The Hood.
DX: I would think you would remember Traffic, considering its Cincinnati backdrop couldn’t have even happened if it wasn’t for “Freeway” Ricky Ross.
“Freeway” Rick Ross: You know, a lot of people don’t really know about my time in Cincinnati. They don’t know that I get the same kind of love in Cincinnati [that I do in Los Angeles]. [Indianapolis], St. Louis, I get love all over the [Midwest], man. And then you look at what I get love for, that’s what really baffles me. How could they give me love and I sold poison? So once I start selling this wisdom, and this knowledge and this education that I learned – ‘cause you know I read 300 books while I was in prison.
DX: Answer your own question there, why do you think they give you love? Just being young and naïve?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: No, it’s not just young and naïve. I’m talking about I got lawyers, and [other professionals giving me love]. It’s not just young and naïve. These [people] are old and wise. [Laughs]
DX: The same way America loves Al Capone they love “Freeway” Rick?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: I guess so. I mean, why not? They look at it from a different standpoint. They come from a different era. And most of their parents, they basically know what we was up against coming up.
DX: So what do you then tell these young people during these speaking engagements – how can you even deter ‘em when you’re like, you got a movie, you got all this stuff happening? How is your story a deterrent? It sounds like an encouragement.
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Well, it wasn’t the drugs that did all that [for me]. ‘Cause there’s a lot of drug dealers that don’t have all that. There’s a lot of drug dealers that at the end of their story it’s the penitentiary, it’s a jail cell. And mine almost ended like that too. I had a life sentence [until it was overturned on appeal]. But it’s what I did after all that, how I turned it around. And I let ‘em know that they can turn it around from where they’re at. That anybody can turn it around.
DX: We talked about the movie, just out of curiosity; you got a book deal in place?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: I got an offer yesterday for a book deal. I don’t think I’m gonna take it, but they offered.
DX: The money’s not right, or just the setup’s not right?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: It’s the setup. I’m a real possessive person, and that’s one of the things that I’m finding out [with these projects], that I like it to be mine. … I want to control it. I want to eat from it. And I’m not looking for somebody else to come in and just gobble up everything and give me the crumbs.
DX: I asked about a book deal ‘cause I was curious if you could even really write a book. I mean, can you ever really divulge everything that happened in your life during the ‘80s? Or won’t you end up as dead as Gary Webb is.
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Absolutely [I can divulge everything]. See, I went to prison, I went to trial. So everything was put on the table. I had a life sentence. So everything that they thought I did, they put on the table. I’ve been charged for everything that I ever done.
DX: I’m just talking about your connects, and just going into that whole story.
“Freeway” Rick Ross: My connects turned me in. So they told ‘em about everything.
DX: I mentioned Gary Webb. I don’t know if I should even bring this up, but I was just curious – There’s conflicting reports now, [with] the autopsy saying he reportedly committed suicide by shooting himself twice in the head. I never heard of someone shooting themselves in the head, and then apparently surviving that shot to then shoot themselves again.
“Freeway” Rick Ross: That Gary Webb thing is a long story. And I don’t think we’ll ever figure it out. It’s been a tough one for everybody. But it’s best for us to take this whole thing as a lesson, to learn [about] the lengths that our government has gone to to accomplish their goals. And that they don’t mind sacrificing the urban community to get those goals accomplished.
DX: I think part of the lesson is just the obvious: you’re just lucky. I mean, you can frame it any way you want. But anybody else does the shit that you did, it’s six feet deep or like you said a penitentiary forever.
“Freeway” Rick Ross: Well, I don’t know if it’s luck. It could be luck. A blessing. I’m just gonna take it and ride with it. Whatever we wanna call it, that’s what it is. And my goal now is to make the world a better place and educate our people, because I believe once the kids have the facts then they can make [an informed] decision. Because you can’t make a decision without true facts, [otherwise] you just guessing and wondering.