Real-life American gangster “Freeway” Ricky Ross has been fighting in the judicial system for over 30 years. At the height of his career, Ross reportedly raked in over $2.5 million a week on the streets as a drug dealer, before it all came crashing down. In one of the biggest narcotics busts in U.S. history, Ross’s multi-million dollar drug ring was linked to members of the CIA as a part of the now infamous Iran-Contra scandal. Originally sentenced to life in jail after being convicted of trying to purchase 100 kilos of coke from a federal agent, the L.A. kingpin saw his sentence reduced to 20 years in light of the government’s involvement in his illegal activities. After being incarcerated for over 12 years, Ross is now back in a courtroom fight, but this time it’s not for his freedom, but his identity.
Over the course of past few years, rap fans have been introduced to another Rick Ross (born William Roberts), hailing from Miami. While a rapper referencing or even using a street legends name as a way of gaining cred and paying homage is nothing new, the Ricky Ross feels that without proper consent; using his name for fame is the ultimate disrespect. XXLMag.com got a chance to catch up with the living legend to discuss his new ventures, how his life is different since being released and exactly why he’s so mad at William Roberts.
XXLMag.com: The first question on everyone’s mind is why are you upset with Rick Ross the rapper?
“Freeway” Rick Ross: I’m not upset, what I am trying to do is get my name back. I don’t think that I should allow them to sit back and make money off of my name and image and I not benefit off it. So, I’m not upset at all, I’m just exercising my rights.
There was a recent interview where you expressed how you felt Jay-Z and the rapper Rick Ross intentionally stole your identity to sell records. Do you feel that it was malicious and why do you think that your request has gone unanswered for so long?
I think initially that they didn’t think I was ever going to get out of prison, so after it had went for so long and they had put so much money in it that they couldn’t back out. I actually read in an interview that [Ross] said I should be “happy” that he “helped” me out. I look at it like if someone steals your car; who cares that you put a new paint job on it? You still stole my car and that’s pretty much the situation.
What about when he made the statement that he was paying homage…
Well, no because in his earlier interviews with various magazines he was actually disrespecting me. Some of my guys were really pissed off about it, but I was able to calm them down. He made some comments that were definitely out of line and now he talking about he was paying homage. How, when you wasn’t at the front gate to see me and he hasn’t gave me any money. When someone gets out of prison that you benefit off of, the first thing you do is pay them their money.
Now let’s touch on the fact that the rapper Rick Ross was a correctional officer. Word is you knew about that before anyone else but decided not to dime him out. Looking back at the disrespect, do you wish you would have said something first?
No, because then everyone would have called me a hater. I honestly think that everything worked out the way it was supposed to, because it probably wouldn’t have gotten as much recognition as it did. I had guys in prison telling me who he was, but he was never really a concern until recently when I started speaking across the country and here he is rapping my whole life; so it’s a conflict of interest.
In your opinion, what would be a fair resolution and when it’s all over would you still let him use your name?
It’s pretty much out of my hands, but when it’s all said and done it’s definitely an option. Anything can happen with this situation and I am wide open because I’m not trying to hurt his career, but I don’t want someone to take what’s mine and hurt me. So the ideal for me would be to come to a resolution where everyone wins.
Touching on hip-hop as a whole, how do you feel about rappers using the names and lives of fellow gangsters to gain street cred?
At the end of the day, it’s entertainment; so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing it in the proper form. Just make sure to respect the people who made these names, right now I’m working on some movies for some well-known people but if I didn’t have their consent I wouldn’t do it. I have been approached by some guys in jail that are seeing me making moves that want me to do a movie on their life story, it’s because of their moral support that I am able to do what I do.
With all of the low level drug dealers claiming to be kingpins and getting a lot of jail time, what is your advice to the kids that are looking up to them as a way to get out of the ’hood?
The drug lifestyle is a very hard lifestyle, it’s not as easy as everyone thinks. To be a drug kingpin is very hard because it’s a lot of sacrifice and determination just like with legal businesses, but you have to constantly be looking over your shoulder. It took me a long time to start to generate the kind of drug money that I made and with my legal business it definitely isn’t taking that much time, which goes to show that if you take that same energy and put it into something else, you can do anything.
Do you feel that the youth can continue to use drug dealing as an excuse to “get out of the ’hood,” when we have so many other options nowadays?
We have always had options, the real question is: Do the people see that option and are they willing to take it? A lot of people don’t see the potential in themselves to do great things legit and so they stick to what they know. Bottom line, I think the youth needs to see more people successful and making it out of their neighborhoods so that they can see it is possible and that there is a better way out, but it takes those successful people coming back to the ’hood.
After your feature on BET’s American Gangster, many people respected you but there were also the critics who lost respect for you due to your cooperation with the government to sell drugs in the community. For those who don’t understand your point of view on the situation, can you explain what happened?
Basically, I was selling drugs and the government brought their people in to sell drugs cheaper and I just happened to be the guy they made contact with. To set the record straight, I did not know that it was the government at the time and quite frankly I didn’t care because I thought I was doing a service to the community. Like people who are selling medicinal weed now, I looked at [the selling of] cocaine like people were going to get it anyway; why not from me? If the people wanted it, why shouldn’t I be the one to give it, was my thoughts on it, but I was also young. I was 19 at the time and trying to do everything that I thought a man should do.
Looking back over your life, is there anything that you would do differently?
Absolutely, there are a lot of things I would do differently but you know people can’t spend their life using hindsight, you have to stay focused on your future and be sure to move forward. —Tiffany Hamilton