Rick Ross has proven he’s an artist with staying power, and now he’s looking to build on his empire with the Maybach Music Group. We caught up with the main cogs in the Maybach machine—Wale, Pill, and Meek Mill—to get an idea of how it’s all going down with the big man.
This feature appears in Complex's June/July 2011 issue.
After solidifying his spot at the top of the rap game—and locking down a distribution deal with Warner Brothers for his Maybach Music Group imprint—Rick Ross formed a super group of the same name and signed a trio of young guns: Wale, Pill, and Meek Mill. Their debut album, Self Made Vol. 1, is a second chance for Pill and Wale, and a new beginning for Meek. We got down with all three to talk about how they hooked up with Ross, growing up around greatness, and what it’s like to work with the biggest bawse.
How did you all meet Rick Ross?
Wale: Everybody met him at different times. I already knew Meek and Pill. It’s just a testament to Fat Boy’s ear and being in tune. A lot of veterans will neglect the artist that they didn’t personally find.
Pill: I was bumping into him anyway because every time he would be in the city I’d get up with him because we had mutual friends. If you look back at that “So High Sativa Remix” you see me in there dapping him up but you don’t see my face. I was fucking with him from then. A lot of people might have that selfish pride like, “I wanna do this,” or “I wanna be the one to [do this.]” But the way the game is going right now you gotta do what you gotta do to survive. And when you got somebody as great as Ross—with the lyrics and the type of music that he’s putting out and the depth that he gets in subject matter—the shit is poetical. So, when you have other artists like me, Meek, and Wale doing the same type of shit, it’s only right that we all join forces. We’ve all had great exposure, but not really that mainstream exposure.
W: I think all of us haven’t had that. I think mine isn’t necessarily connected to...
Meek Mill: Nah Wale, you on another level. We gone keep it moving.
M: You just being modest and shit nigga.
W: They didn’t put the full-on press like they were supposed to...
Meek, I know Ross said he was in Philly when he first met you.
M: I knew Ross was in Philly so I tweeted, “I need Ross on this ‘Rose Red (Remix).’” And everybody retweeted it. Ross is like, “Yeah, come down to the radio station, I’ma get on it.” I’m thinking he’s just talking. Three weeks later, he sent me the verse back. That’s when me, him, and Wale started running into each other on the East Coast at all the homecomings. That’s how it came together. I tweet stuff like that all time. If I see Nicki Minaj in Philly I’m like, “I wish I could go scoop Nicki Minaj right now.” Just playing around. On Twitter being a character.
How did Ross approach each of you about signing to MMG?
W: One night after a show, I think it was at Delaware State, a security guard came down and he told me to [go meet with Ross]. He asked me what my situation was and I told him the things I liked about it and the things I didn’t like. He said, “Look, what can I do to make this happen?” I thought he was bullshitting but he kept calling every other day and checking on me. And then I called Meek and was like, “Man you really wanna do this shit?” He said, “Man, I’ma do it.” I said, “I’m glad if I’m doing it that there’s somebody that I know.” Then a few weeks later I heard Pill was coming so I was like, "This sounds like something that’s gonna be really special in hip-hop."
M: Same thing with me. I seen Ross at Powerhouse, he came off stage and said, “I’ma holler at you.” Artists always say that but Ross followed up. Me, him, and Wale ended up out in Miami together at the same time. Pill, a week or two later.
P: I been had his contact so [we spoke and] next thing you know I’m going to Miami. We started recording immediately. We did like five songs in his crib and then shot a video that first day. I was like, “Man, this is the type of work I need to be doing.” You got people whose grind is impeccable and they influence you to step yours up. I was kinda down at the time, I had been doing my thing, but I was going through management situations and that shit had me fucked-up for a second. So when that deal happened I was like, “Man, I’m back."
How would you guys compare your old situations to your current one with MMG?
P: The situation is better because it’s on a larger scale. I never did 106 & Park. I had been on the cover of the New York Times, but I had never had my records on the radio. I never had...
M: The backbone, the support.
W: You already know, just me being exposed to that market. Like, I’ve been in the underground for so long. I was praised by the underground, but my style hasn’t had an opportunity to evolve. The songsmanship hadn’t had an opportunity to evolve. When I was working with Mark [Ronson] he wasn’t really hands-on, it was from far away. When I wasn’t around Mark I would be the same old Wale. I’m getting an opportunity to see the business and learn about the game and songsmanship.
M: This situation is moving fast. Usually, a new artist coming in the game wouldn’t do things at this rate. I know as a new artist in the game, I wouldn’t have done anything for another seven months. I wouldn’t be moving at this rate right now.
Tell me about the pace...
W: That’s the joy of it. I’ma have two projects out this year and my album dropped in ‘09. A lot of people don’t have that opportunity. I’ve been staying on the road and I’m making more now than I was making before. Attention Deficit sold 28,000 records the first week, whatever that’s supposed to mean. I know when I drop in the fourth quarter, it’s gonna be a whole other story and that’s something that helps me go to sleep at night.
P: Exactly, because you already know it’s a minute. You already know the lights are on.
M: And even if things go bad, you know I got the look. If things go bad right there, I’m gonna make it right.
P: It’s motivation man. It makes you wanna work harder. It makes you wanna stay up late and write extra verses. It make you wanna buy and battle for beats.
W: Man, everything that we seen these niggas do...I seen Pill do things, I seen Ross do things that it makes me wanna...Like, I steal stuff from Meek all the time now. Like, “Meek, remember that Michael Jackson freestyle that you did like a year ago? Yeah, I just borrowed something from that.”
M: We all do that though. It’s just a part of the game.
What have you guys picked up from working with each other?
P: The delivery, clarity, and direction in verses. I do that a lot on my own, but it’s always good to be around different types of energies to see what approach these guys got going into the booth. And, seeing what they doing when it comes to brainstorming, formulating verses, and formulating songs.
M: A song idea comes so much faster now. It used to take me...
W: Hours and days.
What have you learned from Ross?
W: I never knew how to get lost in music. I never knew how to just wake up, smoke a J, and play music all day. I do that now. When I recorded Attention Deficit, I treated the studio like it was a 9-5. I walked in there with my briefcase—which was my book bag—with my music, some energy drinks, and some weed. I come in at 11 and I clocked out at five no matter what I got done. Now, there’s times where I left the studio at nine in the morning after I went in at six the night before.
What’s it like in the studio with Ross?
W: You know how they say Jay-Z writes? That he mumbles to himself? Ross comes up with albums and marketing plans like that. We just be looking at this nigga like, “What is he doing?”
P: And he’ll be like, “Man, this a song.”
M: Next thing you know he’ll drop like two or three verses. When Ross is controlling that shit, it’s like you got a to-do list.
What was on your to-do list?
W: It’ll just be some songs that you gotta do. Maybe it’ll be like you gotta do some freestyles this week. Put something out. That was like the first two weeks, then we just got the hang of it like, “Oh, I’ma get my camera crew and go to these colleges.” I’ma do the Yeezy shit.
M: Coming from where we coming from you got this to do and we got a whole load of shit we gotta do ourselves. That’s what comes from being self made.
P: It’s a good workload to have. When you have a project of this magnitude, it motivates you to go harder on your own shit because you know you got your stuff following it up so you go harder. Then when your shit comes around you’re gonna give it 100% as well. You’re taking a situation and making it larger. And all of us are getting another chance. So you gotta make the best of it.
You guys all had your own buzz before the MMG situation. Are you sacrificing anything by working with Ross?
M: We taking it to the next level.
W: Nah, it’s a compilation. My album is 90% done. I’m droppin in the fourth quarter, November or December, something like that. But we not worried about all that. We trying to feed the streets this summer. We could have easily called up Cannon or Drama or Scream and put all these [songs out as a mixtape.] But then it wouldn’t have really done the songs justice. They’re bigger than that.
P: I think it’s actually worthy of purchase because of the quality of the music. I think it’s worthy of an iTunes. I think it’s worthy of a record store. I think it’s worthy of that download. I think we payed our dues enough to actually have something for purchase. To put a few coins in our pockets.
What is the goal for MMG?
M: Being rich forever.
P: Affecting the culture man.
W: You gotta understand, we grew up watching greatness. Meek watched his peers from Philly tour the world with the Roc-A-Fella movement.
M: I used to see them ride by on the way to Powerhouse like, “Damn, I wish I was in that car.”
W: And Pill saw Goodie Mob and OutKast come out of Atlanta.
P: I started out with OutKast and Killer Mike as a teenager. I would leave football practice and go to Stankonia Studios. I met Jay-Z, partied with Nelly, was with LL Cool J. So it’s like, “Damn, when am I gonna be that guy?”
At one point, it seemed like you were about to be that guy.
P: Yeah, I headlined the CMJ Festival and I got the cover of the New York Times art section. Then I went and destroyed SXSW. Got the cover of Creative Loafing, got the cover of XXL. All that shit. It was just me and my manager. I ain’t have no big crew. Everybody thought we had a machine going, but it was a two-man army. It was my grind and business savvy and him knowing what he’s doing. I was self made.
What went wrong?
P: Personal issues [with my former manager] that I won’t discuss slowed me down. People would be like, “I’ve been trying to get you to do a song with Maino,” and I’d be like, “How come my manager didn’t tell me this?” We basically disagreed on some things and it affected the business side of it so we couldn’t continue to march together. I had to do what I had to do to survive and he had to do what he had to do to survive. We just had personal issues that I cannot discuss. It wasn’t even the business. It’s because we were friends at first and when shit started to happen that kinda pushed shit aside. There’s always issues that come about when money starts being made. That’s what always separates some people whether they’re family or friends. But it was a hindrance to the actual height that I was trying to reach cause we had it going. Like I said, it kinda messed things up so I obviously made the right move. Sometimes people’s business ideas don’t match up because you’re from the streets and they aren’t.
Having Ross come up in the same way you did, does that make it easier to do business?
M: Yeah, it’s hard to be working around someone you don’t feel. You won’t even respect their opinion if you don’t feel him.
W: I came from quote-unquote “the most powerful conglomerate in hip-hop” [Interscope]. It’s not just Maybach Music, it’s Warner Bros. It’s a new building, with people like me. I don’t have to explain why I need dark-skinned women in my videos. Everybody knows the Wale saga: The guy that got close and something happened. It ain’t no more getting close. This time, we taking the whole shit.