Seconds ago I was sat eating a sandwich outside a studio where Rick Ross was recording an interview with BBC 1Xtra’s Charlie Sloth. Now, I’m racing down flights of stairs amid a small crew of publicists as we try to beat the Miami rapper and his entourage to ground level – they took the lift. As we reach the pavement a cab is already taking off and we find ourselves compactly packaged into a second car as we race Ross through the streets of London.
From the discussion that the publicists are having between them, I discover that if Ross reaches his hotel room before us, our interview isn’t likely to go ahead.
When we reach our destination, a central London hotel that Ross is staying at for the night, there isn’t any sign of the other cab. We did lose sight of it in the rush-hour traffic, so it’s likely long gone by now. A concierge meets us and lets us into a two-bedroom apartment around the side of the building, and we are relieved to find that – other than whoever came and set up a bowl of pears, a reoccurring motif through our day with Ross, although he never actually eats one – we are the first to arrive.
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‘If They Knew’, from ‘Hood Billionaire’
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When the self-proclaimed biggest boss enters the room, his mood has switched considerably since our morning at the BBC. He has a blunt in hand and he’s begun to get aggravated with press, a contrast to the polite gentleman we watched conversing with DJ Semtex at 10am.
“Photo man, start taking pictures,” he commands, despite our photographer still being on his way. Immediately we’re sat down on a couch as Ross exhales pungent weed smoke and scrolls through his Instagram feed. “I’m ready,” he says, without looking up from his phone.
At the time of our meeting he’s preparing for the release of his second album of the year, ‘Hood Billionaire’. It’s the first time that a major hip-hop artist has dropped two LPs in a year since DMX back in ’98, and Ross’ two discs are distinctly different records. ‘Mastermind’, released back in March, channels the East Coast 1990s Mafioso vibes of collections like Biggie’s ‘Life After Death’, with soulful production and tales of luxury living with criminal undertones.
‘Hood Billionaire’, on the other hand, focuses its attentions towards the South. “I wanted this album to most definitely lean towards the South, and have that feel production-wise and the way I wrote the choruses and just the way the rhymes was written. So it’s more catchy, rap-along-ish type rhymes versus being wordy rhymes.”
I comment on the Memphis vibe that’s particularly rife on the tracks that we’ve been played from the album, and he reveals that he spent a lot of time in the city during the recording process.
“I opened a few Wingstops (chicken restaurant that Ross owns several franchises in) in the Memphis area, and I’d just received the key to the city. That was a cool moment – for bringing X amount of jobs to the city. But I was in Memphis doing a lot of different things.”
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You know, when you get up and shit on the toilet in the morning you read your CD covers for the eight-hundredth time. I might’ve did that more than a normal muhf*cka…
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It was there that he found an unlikely idol in Elvis Presley, who is the subject matter of ‘Hood…’’s lead single, ‘Elvis Presley Blvd’. “I wasn’t familiar with Elvis Presley at all, I’m pretty sure anybody in Miami would have told you that,” he admits. “But by me being in Memphis and riding around, you see that he was really a boss. So I said, ‘I’m gonna do this record and salute him like that.’”
The track also features another Memphis legend, Project Pat, who he was working with in the studio when he came up with the track. The Three 6 Mafia rapper’s brother and band member Juicy J also makes an appearance on the remix. When asked whether Ross listened to a lot of Triple Six growing up, he answers softly, “Of course.”
Despite the larger-than-life ‘Boss’ figure that Ross paints in his rhymes, at his heart he is a hip-hop nerd and a lover of the culture. He relaxes from the aggressive mood we found him in at the beginning of the interview, as we chat about his passion for the music.
“I always just loved it more than maybe a normal muhf*cka,” he says. “Just a little bit more.” He laughs cracking open a bottle of his own Belaire Rosé. The black bottle is another Ross motif. He pours out two glasses and continues: “I just kept the CD covers a little more. You know, when you get up and shit on the toilet in the morning you read your CD covers for the eight-hundredth time. Shit like that. I might’ve did that more than a normal muhf*cka.”
On ‘Mastermind’ he revisited his initial motivations, which naturally involved making some money, but the album also revealed an influence that surprised a lot of listeners.
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I think the beauty around me is you hear so many different things and so much around my name and around me as a person… [But] once you’re in the room with Rozay, myself, people understand…
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“All I ever wanted was to make scrilla (money), have a recording session with J Dilla,” he roars on ‘Walkin’ On Air’. “I think J Dilla was one of the most underrated producers,” he laments taking a sip of wine, his eyes flickering towards my untouched glass. “He did a lot of different shit, he was just one of them dudes that kept it humble. He kept the light, he was a legend.” He gestures at his friend who is stacking up promotional $100 bills with Ross’ face in replace of the president. “Swalu, what’s my favourite?”
“‘Labcabincalifornia’ [by] The Pharcyde, where he produced the whole album,” Swalu answers enthusiastically. “One of the greatest smoking albums in the world!” (Editor’s note: don’t bother emailing us to say Dilla didn’t produce the whole album. We know.)
Ross nods in agreement. “That’s my favourite! And when we get high and we just ride, it’s like, ‘Yo, that n*gga did this.’ So it’s just, you know, a different vibe, and I love what he did.” Constantly being commended for his excellent beat selections, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Ross is a fan of the late Detroit producer, particularly given his penchant for soulful vibes.
Perhaps someday we will get to hear Ross spitting on one of the many Dilla productions that are locked away in the vault. But he won’t take on the task lightly. “It’s a possibility because, salute to his whole team, but when Busta Rhymes heard that line he reached out to me and told me that, when I’m ready to get in the studio, he got a few beats.”
Swalu nudges my glass of Belaire closer to me, and despite being teetotal I feel inclined to drink; a toast to Dilla with the boss. “I just said, ‘Not yet, I just want to wait. Let me clear all this shit off, because when I get in there, you never know what that may turn into.’”
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‘Thug Cry’, from ‘Mastermind’
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I comment on Ross’ presence in person and on wax, admitting that I truly became a fan when I first saw him perform live. “I think the beauty around me is you hear so many different things and so much around my name and around me as a person,” he considers. “Once you’re in the room with Rozay, myself, people understand. Wherever you from, gangsta, whatever you is, you understand who I am, and you understand what it is. And that’s how I’ve been able to move the way I’ve been able to move.”
“At first it was just about writing a dope verse, then writing a dope hook on a dope beat, then altogether,” he continues. “Now, it’s all that. I’m still stacking shit on top of that. That’s still first. And now it’s the rollout, it’s the colour of the posters; I want to have two different covers. I want to have the red for the standard and the blue for the deluxe, and when you open the blue I want the red disc in it.”
He points at the posters for ‘Hood Billionaire’. “You know, it’s that. It’s my pictures I want to use, I took the pictures, those are my pictures. It’s that now, it ain’t just the raps. It’s us writing the treatments to the videos. Us having our own film crew, our own directors. Hopefully that’s what I’m inspiring to the youngsters who are watching.”
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