Rick Ross has always styled himself as a tough guy who grew up in Miami’s cocaine cowboy-like underworld, mingling with drug traffickers and armed outlaws. The successful rapper has powered his way to the top of the hip-hop world with rhymes about his rags-to-riches life, scraping for food while his mother worked three jobs.
His critics and fellow rappers, however, have been relentless over the years, accusing the self-proclaimed “Boss” of rap of letting his thirst for riches get in the way of the facts of his life.
So when he was caught in a fusillade of bullets on Las Olas Boulevard earlier this week — all of them missing the 300-pound rapper, his girlfriend and the Rolls-Royce they were riding in — it resurrected questions about the real Rick Ross.
Some, including fellow rapper and nemesis 50 Cent, have said it’s difficult to believe that anyone firing that many shots would miss such a large target. They essentially accused Ross of staging the shooting to boost his larger-than-life image.
They have good reason to wonder, since Ross has not always adhered to literal truth in his self-portrayals. He was outed in 2008 as once having a respectable career as a Florida prison guard. At first, he denied the notion, but was forced to come clean when The Smoking Gun website printed his Florida Department of Corrections personnel record, which included a citation for perfect attendance. Then a former drug trafficker named “Freeway” Rick Ross sued him for stealing his moniker, which Ross claimed was morphed from his many high school nicknames. The lawsuit further dented Ross’ credibility in the rap world.
Fort Lauderdale police are investigating this week’s gunfire, and have released few details and have no suspects. But Ross does have his enemies, chief among them a gang named the Gangster Disciples, who have demanded The Boss pay them for using one of their leader’s names in his songs. In November, the Florida branch of the gang posted a video threatening to kill him if he doesn’t pay up. But the shoot-’em-up has not been tied to the gang.
After the incident, Ross beefed-up his security, but has yet to publicly comment. His lawyer, Allan Zamren, declined to address the matter. His publicist has not returned phone calls.
So who is Rick Ross?
Ross, whose real name is William Leonard Roberts II, came from a middle-class family with educated parents, earned average grades in high school and was a standout football lineman his senior year. He won a football scholarship, became a prison guard, then, suddenly, completely changed gears.
By 2006, Ross at the age of 30 was on the verge of rap mega-stardom. His first two albums debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 album chart. His second single, Push It, was an homage to the movie Scarface. His first album went gold.
Last year, Ross seemed to make it to the pinnacle of his fame as both a rapper and the founder of Maybach Music Group, despite the furor over his past. He made the cover of Rolling Stone, unabashedly shirtless, pants hanging low, wearing his signature dark shades. The headline: “Gangster of Love.’’
Ross has been nominated for a Grammy Award this year for best rap album, for his fifth studio album, God Forgives, I Don’t.
He is not the only rapper to embellish his image for financial gain. Street cred is part of the theater of rap, an element woven into the fabric of the genre’s culture. In fact, rap is often fiction layered with characters. Rappers taking on personas — the kingpin, the baller, the epic lover, are as old as the music genre itself, no different in some ways than movie roles played by actors, said author and scholar Todd Boyd, a University of Southern California professor who specializes in the study of race and popular culture.