'I'm the Godfather of That Paper Rap': A Conversation With Rick Ross

Rick Ross sat down with Complex to discuss his 2019 Grammy nomination, Drake collaborations, and what's next in 2020.

Rick Ross Complex interview
Complex Original

Photo by Diwang Valdez

Rick Ross Complex interview

When I pull up on Rick Ross at his house in Atlanta, on an overcast Tuesday afternoon in mid-December, I find him laid up, living out the exact scenario one would imagine for a rap interview, but so casually that it's almost as if he forgot he was expecting company.

Ross has a palatial estate worthy of a Hype Williams video; Evander Holyfield’s former mansion, as you may have heard. The images and impromptu house tours he's prone to share on Snapchat and Instagram don't do it justice. With ornately framed memorabilia spanning musical legends from the '60s to rap gods like JAY-Z, Kanye West, and of course, himself, certain corridors of the house can feel like a museum dedicated to himself and music overall. 

Goodfellas is on the TV—at the time of my entrance, Jimmy Conway just stabbed Morrie in the throat with an ice pick—and weed is being broken up over a coffee table. This is the kind of scene that fantasies of rapper visits are made of, but in this case, it couldn't be more everyday or more devoid of pomp and circumstance.

For one, Rick Ross isn’t in some grand living room or den, but rather a nondescript first-floor bedroom, the interior of which is still bigger than some NYC studio apartments. He'll later tell me it's one of his favorite out of the 99 other rooms in the house, and one he comes to most often to post up alone. The TV sits mounted on the far wall, surrounded by framed basketball jerseys and at least 20 pairs of sneakers neatly lined up on the floor, in front of a couch and armchair, where Ross lounges in basketball shorts, enjoying his weed. He's in the middle of a Scorsese filmography binge, inspired by attending a recent screening of The Irishman.

At the time of this interview, the 62nd Grammy Awards are about a month and a half away, wherein Rick Ross is nominated for Best Rap Song with "Gold Roses," a song that literally starts with him coming to terms with the reality that he'll probably never win one. Featuring Drake, the song serves as the outro to Port of Miami 2, his tenth solo studio album, which released last summer. It's his first solo project in two years, one where he sounds like he's fully transitioned into a veteran position. He also sounds recharged and ready to enter the new decade just as invigorated as he began the previous one—with one of the best verses on the decade's best album, a run of three solo projects that each have claims as being his best work, and at the helm of one of the early 2010s' most formidable rap crews. As the tragedy of Henry Hill plays out in the background, Renzel and I reflect on his year, the past decade, and what he has planned for the next ten years.

Rick Ross Complex interview

In your first verse on "Gold Roses," you begin with: "Nominated, never won a Grammy/but I understand they'll never understand me." Funny turn of events.
It is. I have been nominated. It's most definitely something that I'm appreciative of, but the line came from a sincere place. I done touched so many cracks and crevices of the streets and the game. I'm the godfather of that get money, that paper talk. And not only that, I'm a great example of not just talking that shit, but going out, being an entrepreneur, and actually investing in yourself. So, to accomplish the things I've accomplished and not be recognized by that which is easily considered the highest form of recognition for a writer and a musician, it's most definitely something that's hard to understand at times. 

You felt a way.
Why not? And it's not in a dark space. It's just in a space of, damn, maybe they just don't really understand what Rozay really represent. 

When you wrote and recorded that, were you at peace with that feeling?
I released my first album in '06. Being a new artist, that's when you're sitting there, like, "Who nominated? Who this? Who that?" I'm pretty sure I was emotional them first several years, until it came to a point where I said, maybe the music that I make and whoever is making these decisions, maybe there’s nobody that really understands what I do or what I bring to the game that's sitting there. And so at that point, it's nothing that I was in a dark space about. It's just…

It is what it is.
Yeah. It's just one of those things.

Do you think that line is what kind flagged it? They heard you, like, "Oh, all right. We feel you."
Honestly, I don't. Because I done been a part of some huge records and, ultimately, this shit really represented a lot of different things, and it never flagged them. So me addressing it, honestly, I'm sure as they listened to the record, it became a discussion, but would this be the reason that we actually got nominated? I doubt it. I believe, even more so, the record is a beautiful record. It's another collaboration that me and Drake did. We done had a lot of dope history.

Almost 10 years now.
Yeah, of us collaborating on records. Like I said [earlier this year], the concept and the idea of the record came from us discussing Nipsey. 

Right. Expand on that.
It was just one of those things, and it wasn't nothing that was premeditated and meant to be deep. It was just, we had to touch bases and speak on Nipsey. And we kept it real short, but that was ultimately the peak of the conversation. Enjoy these roses before you’re gone. 

“me and Drake, we done made history.”

Did you guys have a feeling of not being appreciated?
I'm pretty sure, as an artist and a writer, having fans from every demographic and every part of the world that you could imagine, you can almost go out and search for any type of feeling that you want to feed into. But I'm an artist as a whole. I understand what I put out there. I understand that the music, as a whole, I put out there is always on some boss shit. So always, at the end of the story, it's about empowerment. Put yourself in the wealthy situation. Put yourself in the powerful situation. Go to the other end of the spectrum. Don't be the weakest you could be. We all have a breaking point. Don't be that. I understand what I'm putting out there. As a whole, the energy I receive back is always on some boss shit. I'ma go get it. You know the same tweet I send out every morning. "It's a perfect day to boss up." And sincerely, I send that personally, and I mean that. 

I didn't see one today.
No, today I actually did: "Your hustle determines your salary." The reason I was doing that is, me and the homies was up in [my walk-in] closet. I'm like, "Yo, let's redo this shit." And I'm actually doing this shit. So that was appropriate. I wanted to make sure that the closet was full for the homies.

You and Drake are nominated for "Gold Roses," but you two also had "Money in the Grave" in 2019, and that speaks to the dual lanes you guys collaborate in. For almost 10 years, you two have given us bangers and songs that are more, like, bar fests. Do you have a preference?
Well, me and Drake, we done made history. I love when I'm in an arena and "Stay Schemin" comes on. It gets dark. Every light on the cell phones come on and everybody’s screaming, they dead homie, dead brother, whatever it is. As well as "I'm On One," as well as "Aston Martin Music." You know what I'm saying? And the list go on. 

Whenever I collaborate with the homie, it's always the best of the best. So, if we just kicking some street shit, and if it feel like some YOLO shit or if it feel like some "Aston Martin Music" shit or "Gold Roses," I always find the best in it. Because whenever we collaborate, I love when I hear him go from bars to switching that shit all the way to the tune of Keith Sweat. That's something that keeps him in his own lane. So I enjoy both.

What do you think you two work so well together?
I think whenever we get in the booth, I always play the big brother role. And he always be the young fly brother. From day one, when I met him, he was just one of them niggas that I really fuck with. He knew I would've gotten my shoes muddy for him. We all became family and it just continued to be that way.

How did "Money in the Grave" come about?
I was actually in, I want to say, Taiwan. I was in a far part of the world, I posted a pic, and I was listening to some beats when the homie actually called me out of the blue. We chopped it up and he told me he had an idea. I asked him to send it to me right then. And when he sent me the beat, I just came off with the verse right then, as soon as I landed. I knocked it out, sent it to him, and he loved it. 

Fire. Now, you know what I'm going to ask, though.
I can't wait. 

The YOLO Tape. Is there any chance of it ever happening, even if it's by another name at this point?
That was just a vibe. You never know what could happen in the future, but me and Drake, him being in Miami at that time [in 2011-2012], and him coming by the crib every day, we was spending a lot of time together. And it was a serious possibility. We wasn't just talking shit. We really was in the studio a lot. It's just not the same no more. Meaning, the way he travel and the way I move. But is it a possibility? There's always a possibility for that, because it would be simple for us.

I mean, you got 10 already, or something like that.
Not only that, but I have enough production for three albums that's lined up right now.

Don't say that.
I’ve got enough production to do a me and Drake project and a Nas project. The next Maybach Music Self Made 4.

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Your ear for beats is so good. It's been a thing where some people want you to take on executive producing a Nas project. Have you ever talked to Nas about it seriously?
Yeah. Me and Nas had that conversation several times. And not several times as we bullshitting. But just because a project like that, with me, would be all about the details. The details down to the fucking smallest, most minuscule detail when it came to production and getting mixed and all of that. So, it's not nothing that we could just sit and agree on and really dedicate ourselves to it. But we've had that conversation and we left it there. We kick it, we give each other that look in the eyes, and we leave it there until the next time. So it's never any pressure. Me, Nas, Snoop, we got to sit down and watch The Irishman and just discuss different things about the movie and [Scorsese]. So me and Nas, we spoke about different things and we're always just laughing. It was actually a joke and we both laughed at it. Some kind of way, Art Basel came in and I just blurted out, "Nasquiat."

I could picture that movie and Scorsese putting a battery in you and Nas' back in the same way that American Gangster inspired Hov.
I'm pretty sure, because it's all about codes and understanding and being a team player.

Who do you think has the best performance in Irishman? People are debating Pacino. I might go with Pacino, but Pesci went crazy.
You know, Pacino was set up for the stage. He was set up to be the star, and that was cool, but for me, I look at him in different ways because Pesci has always been the strongest player in all the other films. So, just to see all their roles switching, I love the movie, but I'm still just vibing. I love it.

Getting back to the Grammys, how proud are you to see Meek in there for Championships?
Oh, man. I'm just so happy to see the 360. He was incarcerated, fighting for his life. He was fighting for his freedom, and fighting to share his voice again. And just to see him, this year, nominated, and the album still carrying its weight a year later... It's still feeling like he just released it four months ago. That's what a real body of work will do. I'm proud of the homie.

We need a "What's Free" Grammy performance with you, him, and Jay.
Oh, man. That'd be dope. 

The talk around rap Grammy nominations always swings from the things they got right to everything they got wrong. What were you vibing to this year, outside of yourself?
I'm one of those dudes that, when I go into different markets and go into different areas, whatever the vibe is and whatever the DJ is feeding the streets, that's the flow I want to go with. I'm one of the type of niggas that could really listen to something and, because I grew up around a total different type of music, I grew up listening to [Uncle] Luke, man... So I'm just an open type of motherfucker. Rest in peace to the little homie, Juice [WRLD]. All the youngsters doing their thing. It's a lot of females that's shining this year. I remember sitting at the VMAs and watching Lizzo come out and I really was like, "Yo. Go on, girl. Go on, girl. I'ma take this shawty to Wingstop." Just because it just felt so good. You know what I'm saying? And to me, that's what it's about. And if your energy is right, you’re a winner, and you're going to shine. You could be a fly motherfucker with a hit, and if you step up to the mic and you ain't really looking how you’re supposed to, it's going to hurt you.

Tyler, the Creator was a big snub to a lot of people in the Best Album category. I don't know if you know this, but we were talking to Nick Diamond for a story a while ago and he said that, way back, you had called Tyler at his store when he was blowing up. Were you trying to sign him then?
He was most definitely one of those young niggas that I'd seen and was like, "Yo, he got a vision." He’s a leader. I'd just seen it in him and, once again, I'm looking in your eyes and seeing it, and I seen homie. I saw him shining, and I got to go out and rock his [Flog Gnaw] event out in L.A. during one of his early years doing it. And I love to see the nigga doing his thing now. I love him in his blonde, what that is, a bob?

Yeah. Igor.
Yeah, I love that shit. I love to see [Tyler] do his thing, put his suit on, go out there, and just be confident and be what he was when I first saw him.

“To me, creating an album is really about the sound. The raps is easy.”

What is the vision for MMG now, going forward? You mentioned Self Made 4. We're about to be in a new decade. Where are you taking it?
Well, to me, Maybach Music is going to an even more exclusive place, because it's no longer about Rick Ross having to prove himself as being a successful CEO. It's not about getting a certain amount of notoriety. We've done that. We've established ourselves to be one of the greatest units in the game. I just wanted to make it more exclusive over the last few years. I wanted to cut ties with some motherfuckers that I felt wasn't really going to take it to that greater place. And doing that, you clear the stage and make space for the ones that's going to shine bright enough for them all. So everybody that's still a part of the team, I'm genuinely fans of. And that's what it's going to be. The next plays that I make, 2020 and 2021, once again, I believe everybody’s just going to say, "Rozay, that nigga, he always."

You already got your eye on 2021?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. You got to do that. If you're trying to get some real money, you already got to be thinking that. 

Thinking back over these last 10 years, rap crews were much more of a thing back in 2011 and 2012. You had MMG, G.O.O.D. Music, Shady 2.0... Do you feel like it's kind of died out a little bit?
I'm not going to necessarily say that, because it's just about who is doing their thing right now. It's a lot of niggas that's just independent, that's solo, doing they thing, but Migos is a group and, as a team [with QC] they hold count. You know, I wanted to do that at that time. I wanted to introduce three, four, five new artists that's on the platform, R&B. We went platinum with Omarion. Wale did huge things, of course. After you do that and you receive that excitement, now I just want to genuinely go back to what I want to do, and that's going to be to introduce another [new crop].

So Self Made 4, looking to shape up the old A-Team, and then some new talent you got your eye on?
Well, myself, Wale, and Meek, we most definitely are going to do something different than we've done, and this is most definitely going to spearhead it, but we're going to introduce some new niggas to the game.

One standout song on Port of Miami 2 is "Nobody's Favorite," because you switch the flow up. It was nice to hear you attack that in a different way.
Me and Gunplay just showing niggas day one, album number 10. So, we 50 restaurants up, nigga. We done sold, I don't know how many records. Our team is one of the strongest in the game and my love for my homies is still genuine. I let him know, "I love you, my brother." And he tell me that and, "Regardless, nigga, we ain't nobody favorite. You my favorite. And [starts rapping a capella] "Big  blunt still burning in the black big Benz/Bad bitch sucking dick, 'bout to dent my rim." And when I do that, I just let niggas know, when I do what I do, can't nobody fuck with me. You know what I'm saying? When I feel how I feel, it's genuine. You know what I'm saying? And me and Gunplay both just slid on that shit. Shout out to the homie, double M G. Trop produced it.

I feel like there was a year where Gunplay was just killing every feature. "Cartoons & Cereal" with Kendrick, "Power Circle," "Ghetto Symphony." He was arguably one of the best out.
Gunplay still is. It's just, when do Gunplay want to do it? Gunplay is a real street nigga that don't give a fuck about these rap niggas. You know what I'm saying? He's a real nigga and his mind really be somewhere else, but when he got his mind on his shit and his heart in his shit and he rapping that shit, it's very few niggas that's going to really be able to fuck with homeboy. 

And then "Turnpike Ike" is a quintessential Ross track. A Lush beat, and you just dialing up the theatricality, especially with the interstitial skits with the woman. Her dialogue's over-the-top, but in the best way.
What if I told you that's one of my bitches?

Oh, word?
What if I told you that?

Straight up?
What if I told you? [Laughs]

I would believe it.
You should. [Laughs]

Rick Ross Complex interview

When I listen to Port of Miami 2, it feels like you know what the people want from a Rick Ross album and how to deliver that. But when you get this deep into the game as an artist, sometimes there's a difference between what fans want and what you want to do. Do you ever face that?
Nah, not really. Because niggas know what they want from Rozay. Rozay came, from day one, talking about, "Everyday I'm hustlin." And this one, nigga, you watch go get some money. You watch this nigga not take no from nobody. Ain't nobody step on Rozay's shoes in the motherfucking game since he stepped in it, and can't nobody step on these Way of Wades. You’ve got to realize, any time you’re really trying to get some money in life, you’re going to have differences with people. But even if you’re in high school and you want to be the number one athlete of the year, you're going to face competition. You just got to accept and address that. And that's something I ain't never had a problem with doing.

When you're making an album, do you ever feel an urge to try something new and unexpected?
I'm not going to say that, because I record a lot of different records, a lot of different times. Does it make the final track listing, is ultimately the question. Because when you're putting together a body of work, it does start to take on a certain form or direction and you want to deliver that feeling. That's the feeling. I ain't just thinking of rapping and saying something that will grab somebody, but it's a feeling. And to me, I think that's what gives you that longevity.

Which do you think is your best album?
You know, I let the streets determine tha. Because, when people have that conversation, it's always different. Motherfuckers will tell you Port of Miami. Some people will say Trilla. Some will say Teflon Don. Then it'll be some people who say, "Fuck that. Deeper Than Rap." So it's wherever you're at during that time. And to me, at the end of the day, it's all good conversation.

Do you have a personal favorite? Mine might be Rich Forever.
Rich Forever was one of those projects that I put together so quick. Def Jam wasn't ready to move. You know what I'm saying? And that's when I pulled the trigger on them, like, "Fuck it, I'ma put it out, anyway." It's about the streets. It ain't just about getting the money, it's about feeding the streets, and we fed them.

Do you have a project that you think is underrated?
That 'underrated' word is a powerful word. Underrated. It's like, to me, nigga, when you say underrated, who is you looking for acceptance from? Who? That's like you being a writer, and you wrote something, and it's like, who is you really looking for acceptance from? Especially when you go from crack and crevice to selling out everywhere you go. You do this for years and you're looking into the faces of the motherfuckers you know you made the records for. Who are you really looking for acceptance from? So that's a powerful word and I really choose not to use it.

You started this decade off with Deeper Than Rap, as well as the "Devil in a New Dress" verse, which I think many people still hail as your best.
It could be. And, to me, that's good, when I know records like "Hustlin'" and "BMF." I done seen motherfuckers pass out in a performance, but it'll be a record like "Tears of Joy." It just gives me a good spectrum to let me know I could play with, that I know I could touch people on. Me and Mike Dean just had a phone conversation maybe three or four days ago. It was a nice 10-15 minute [talk], just touching bases. Just out the blue, he hit me. And that conversation came up with "Devil in a New Dress." And I told him, "I appreciate how you flipped that beat for me." 

Did you see the controversy, though, about that?

Bink got mad on Twitter because he felt like people weren't giving him proper credit for also creating the beat. And I feel like you are one of the few people that still goes back to Bink, because Bink's kind of underrated, a little bit. 
Like I say, you got to be careful about that word. Because when somebody uses a word like Bink underrated, to me, first, I'm a say...

Sounds heinous.
Who the fuck is he underrated to? If a nigga don't know who Bink is... 

That's their problem.
That's their lack of knowledge. But he's not underrated to niggas who are really in touch with the culture and with the music. Is he the most popular? Is he going to do goddamn Breakfast Club and all that? I ain't never seen Bink do that. Bink, he don't really move like that. But musically, you can't deny what the homie bring to the game.

You had him on your previous album.
"Santorini Greece." That was one of my favorite records. And when I listened to the record, it made me think: Where would I want to go where I haven't been? That's the title. And then I went. I actually filmed the video.

I want to do a speed round and ask you about some stuff that was unreleased and if we'll ever see it. First, "Maybach Music" with Bobby Womack.
That's coming. That's without a doubt. Rest in peace.

A personal interest of mine: Bugatti Boyz. You and Puff.
Me and Puff. That was me and him having fun. We was talking about doing a project because I would go in the studio and do four records in one night and he was like, "Man, let's do an album." I was like, "Yeah, let's talk about it." And we just always bounced it around.

We still need to see it.
There's a good chance we could do that. I'm one of them type niggas that, in two days, I could do an album. To me, creating an album is really about the sound. The raps is easy. It's the quality of sound that you have. It's where you’re trying to go with that. If we’re trying to go into some deep punk rock shit, I'll call Skrillex right now. I'll call Carnage right now. If it's some smooth shit, I could get Mike Dean on the phone right now. You've got to have those relationships, and it's all about the sound. It's not, "Yo, we’re going to start working on the album Monday. Let's call and ask for beats." Nah, nigga. You already fucked that album up. You got to have shit already.

More music with J.U.S.T.I.C.E League?
All the time. Always. J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Bink, Swizz Beatz, and one of my close homies, Just Blaze. A lot of niggas don't even know, me and Just Blaze, we be on the phone at like three in the morning talking about BMX bikes from '85, '86. That's just one of our things. You go talking about GT Performers. That's just shit nobody would ever know. When it comes to these sounds, that's what it's about. And when somebody talk about sounds and a body of work, albums, you got to have some of the best shit in the game ready to go. You know what I mean? And if it's something we’re missing or something we want to try, we could reach out for that in particular. But as a whole, if you’re really on some space age shit, you’ve got to already have some dope shit.

You bring up Just Blaze, so we have to talk about your work with JAY. Your collabs always tend to yield some of his best verses.
Once again, I'm the godfather of that paper rap. And Jay is a real dopeboy MC. That's what makes him what he is. I love to hear everybody break it down and all that and that's cool, too, but that's a dopeboy MC. Y'all talk about turning one into five, and that's what make him what he is. To actually see him do it in person is that much more intriguing. How many people got more Hov collabs than Rozay? 

Not many.
Not many. And I believe that goes right back to when it comes to that getting money—when it comes to that godfather of paper, man. Because at the end of the day, that's what it's about.

2020, what can we lay out? Can we definitely expect Self Made 4 in 2020?
That's without a doubt.

Rick Ross solo?
Yeah, without a doubt. That's too easy.

Anything else?
We’re going to keep getting money. Make sure y'all go to Wingstop, get that 10 piece and that corn on the cob. Swing by Checkers, get you a champ with cheese. Ask them to cut it in half, the Rozay way. If you're looking for rims, you can try the Corleone Forged, most definitely. And if you’re into sneakers, make sure you pick up the Way of Wades, those Rozay and D. Wade collaborations. If you’re into your hair, personal grooming, you can get the RICH by Rick Ross. We also have the body wash, the shampoo, and the conditioner. The beard oil is number one in the game. Started off at Sally's. 2020, we'll be in Walgreens and a few other spots. You want me to keep going? 

And the Lizzo collab?
You know what, Lizzo? If Lizzo let me take her to Wingstop, I'ma do a Lizzo collab. I'ma put the music together and the vibe because I love her. She's beautiful. She's so confident. She's sexy. And she's a winner.

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