Rick Ross: "I Found Out I Didn't Like Myself"
Why the former drug kingpin is committed to changing his life and community
In part II of an exclusive interview with Loop 21, former '80s drug kingpin Freeway Ricky Ross is joined by his business partner, Antonio Moore to speak on the glamorization of thug and drug culture by record labels and rap artists, his recent legal battle with Miami rapper Rick Ross over the use of his name, what he is doing to change the image associated with his name, and the responsibility he takes for his contributions to the culture lauded by so many young black men.
You can read part I, Rick Ross: Hip Hop's War on Young Black Men, here.
Loop 21: Why do you think the media portrays black men negatively? How do they benefit?
Moore: I think the media is being irresponsible, and are purely motivated by profit. It’s taking the simplest line to make a profit. Right now, America has accepted that black men are America’s criminal. And as a result, the more that you reflect that image, the more that people tune in. But when you start showing images of people like myself on television, it doesn’t have the same caché.
Ross: In the media, good news is not something that’s celebrated. When I go out and speak, people have the nerve to ask me, why should we listen to you? Why should our kids listen to what you have to tell them about drugs, when you did all of this? So what winds up happening is that they only look at the bad side of us, and never the good.
I believe that the system is working just the way it was planed to work. I don’t believe that they ever had plans on the young black man living up to his true potential. It benefits them to have a rapper go out and portray this image so that thousands of other young black men will try to follow in his footsteps. Everybody has their own choices on what they want to do with their lives, but sometimes when you brainwash somebody so much, you’re really taking their choice away from them.
Moore: One of the questions we’ve gotten in a number of arenas is what’s the difference between this rapper talking about Rick’s life, and Rick putting out his biopic about his life. What people who say that mean is they haven’t read the screenplay, and they don’t understand that the depths of a drug dealer’s experiences aren’t necessarily in the highs, but in the lows, and the losses. And right now, the rapper, unlike other rappers who came before him, doesn’t rap about the lows. He raps about fanciful highs that go higher than probably the normal drug dealer even experiences. He doesn’t rap about losing friends and things like that too much. So all you get is that fanciful life.
Loop 21: Why do you think the labels do this? How do they benefit?
Ross: I believe that the benefit comes from the same place as media. I don’t know if they sit down and say they want to necessarily destroy the black man, but I think they are complicit in it by not dealing with the fact that it’s irresponsible to put that image out there, even if it is profitable given the reality of the atrocious number of black men going to prison. And I think record labels profit off of it just because of record sales and because we as black people support the concerts.
Loop 21: Who is more to blame for the promotion of this violent image, in your opinion: The record labels or the artists themselves?
Ross: The artists are just as much as the labels are, in my opinion. When I look back at what I’ve done in my life, I’m just as responsible as anyone else that was in the game for me selling drugs. In my opinion, they should — and they will one day — bear just as much responsibility as anybody else. We don’t know how many young kids that they’re influencing to sell drugs.
Moore: My other thing is, I think the artists are the segue way between the consumer and the distributor. So I really feel like if we are buying this music and then as a result the label demands for this music to be made, it puts the rapper in the onerous position where to be successful, they have to rap about that stuff. So we, at the same level, need to start telling our children to listen to and to want better things in their environment and in their mind.
Loop 21: So can we really complain if we continue to buy these albums?
Ross: But the black community isn’t complaining. They don’t even know that they are in bad shape. They don’t understand that they should be doing better, they’re thinking that’s the way it’s done. And most of them are followers; we don’t have any leaders out here.
Loop 21: I know you’re currently in a legal battle with rapper Rick Ross for his use of your name and image. Why do you think he adopted that persona?
Ross: For two reasons. One is that my name has millions of dollars of marketing done on it. It was well known and well received in the urban community. People loved me, and they still love me today. They understand my plight in life more so than most politicians. They understand that being broke, hungry, homeless and without will make you do things that you may not normally do. And the difference with the rapper is that he doesn’t have that same problem. I mean, he made it.
Moore: The name and the story have a lot of caché and value; this is unlike any other black kingpin story that we’ve had in history, and I don’t know how you value that. The rapper Rick Ross went to the same high school as Trayvon Martin, Miami Carol City High School. Many people don’t even know this, but that's because these guys often usurp the value of the area for commercial purposes, but don’t come out in solidarity for real social issues. Rick and I have spoken at high schools around the country, the kids can touch us as role models. We are real people aspiring to make change, and inspire the kids to make changes in their own lives. We as young black men need to start being aware of how we present ourselves, from our clothes, to not smelling like weed, to all these different elements of our identities that we don’t necessarily see because we’re only around each other.
Loop 21: What responsibility do you take for the glamorization of drug culture, Rick?
Ross: I think that I’m probably one of the most influential guys maybe ever in drugs, and definitely in the crack era. So I bear a large responsibility. And that’s why I’m doing my part right now to try to make sure that no other young kids fall pray to cocaine, or the other drugs out here right now that in my opinion are just as addictive as cocaine was; every kid that I know smokes marijuana right now. When you see our people addicted, it’s like they just want to be junkies. They’re looking for something to do with themselves, because they can’t deal with themselves in reality. They don’t like who they are right now.
Loop 21: What made you want to change the image you portray to the world?
Ross: Because I found out I didn’t like myself. I didn’t think that I would live past 24 years old at one time. Going to prison was nothing to me. I knew I was going to prison; I was prepared for that. I went into the drug business to make me money. I was trying to get out of poverty. My personality hasn’t changed, the only thing that changed about me is that I realized I couldn’t use drugs to accomplish my goals.
Loop 21: What are you doing to change what you stand for?
Ross: One of the things I do, I go around to schools and talk to kids. Usually when I go, I dress very casually, and I let them know that just because they don’t have the Air Jordans, the True Religion jeans, that you’re still important. And you can put all those things on and still be a clown. You could be getting $200,000, $300,000 a night to get on stage and still be a clown. That doesn’t stop you from being a clown. You stop being a clown when your mind is functioning like a grown man, or a grown woman. And a lot of times, our people are not functioning in that capacity. I feel that it’s my job to wake them up and let them know that this is how we should be functioning, because there’s people out here who want to put you in prison. They are building prisons right now for our babies. So it becomes the kid’s job to do everything that he can or she can to stop that from happening. And it’s my job to make them aware that they have these things to go up against and to prepare them.
Loop 21: How will your pending biopic walk the line of telling your story and not further perpetuating this image?
Moore: The movie is a mix between Traffic, Blow and Crash, and as a result, it’s not purely Rick’s story, it’s an American story, telling the reality of how Rick came to be amidst this international conspiracy of the Iran Contra Scandal and as a result, you really get to feel him as a human character, rather than a drug kingpin in the way that we saw Lucas in American Gangster. We get to see Rick grow up from being a young boy to essentially becoming a man who owned everything that he saw in some way or form, and then had to deal with the reality of, “How did I get here, and what am I doing for my people?” With the biopic and also the documentary, Crack In the System, the goal is to make it an honest and true story, rather than a glamorized story. These are not vanity pieces, they will tell the truth about the losses as much as the gains you have in a group that was 10, maybe 12 years out of Jim Crow when Rick did this.
Ross: And one of the things that I emphasize when I go out and talk to the youngsters is that they need the facts. Without the facts, they can’t make decisions. And a lot of times, I believe our children are making decisions without all the evidence.
Moore: That’s true of us as Americans. When Zimmerman looked through that window, he didn’t have all the facts. All he had was the glamorization that Universal and Rick Ross have put out, and the prison rate, and he had to make the decision if Trayvon fit that mode. And he made that decision. We’ve gotta change those facts, so that people can make better decisions about who and what we are when they look out that window.
Do you think hip-hop contributes to negative images of our young Black men? What should we do about it? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.