By Rebecca Bulnes
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Over the past decade, Rick Ross has become the Bawse, collaborating with everyone from Trick Daddy to Diddy, Drake, and beyond. His label, Maybach Music Group, is home to some of the biggest names in contemporary rap music. The MMG fam includes Meek Mill, Wale, and French Montana, to name just a few.
But Rozay's success didn't just happen. Big homie had to pay his dues as an up-and-coming MC throughout the '00s, earning respect and defending his street cred.
This is the evolution of Rick Ross.
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(Foot)Ball So Hard. Rozay is a thick dude. Tipping the scale at more than 300 pounds, he's the type of strong fat that rules the offensive line, not the flabby fat often found at water parks. And before the rap game drafted Ross to be its portly prince, football seemed like a viable, paper-chasing profession.
"When I started playing football in little league, all the small dudes could play, but I was too heavy," Ross said in a 2009 interview with Rap-Up. "I was so focused that by the time I got to the 11th grade, I was a blue-chip All-American [at Carol City Senior High]. Over two years, I went from being nobody to being considered one of the top three linemen in Florida."
Albany State University took notice and offered Ross a scholarship. However, the would-be rapper stayed only a year, trading in two college semesters for a life of crime.
Yes, Officer. Lured by the potential for serious cash, Rozay hustled his way into a gig with the Florida Department of Corrections. He was hired as a corrections officer in 1995 and earned a base salary of $22,913.54 before steadily working his way up the law enforcement pay scale until 1997, when he resigned, making just under $26,000 annually.
"I never tried to hide my past," Ross said in a 2008 interview with Don Diva Magazine. "I put my name inside my CDs. My company has my [social security number]. I could've put a company name."
Some members of the hip-hop community think Ross's pre-rap professional past tainted his street credibility. But the MC disagrees.
"I never ratted on a nigga. I never prosecuted a nigga. I never locked up a nigga, that's first and foremost. I always felt that me being the nigga that I am, I never owed a nigga an explanation. When I'm making my music and I'm talking about blow, it's because I did it.
"When I say that I'm rich off cocaine, it's because I did it. Those are the street principles that apply."
Trick Loved the Kid. If you were a hungry MC in Miami during the late '90s and early-to-mid-'00s, signing with Slip-n-Slide Records meant you'd made it. Trick Daddy had become one of the best-selling thugs in hip-hop, and Trina was "Da Baddest Bitch."
Soon, Rick Ross started popping up on Trick and Trina's mixtapes and often performed alongside them at concerts. Homie built a solid fan base, and when he finally dropped his debut, Port of Miami, on Slip-n-Slide in 2006, it debuted atop the Billboard 200, selling nearly 200,000 copies its first week.
On "Hustlin'," Ross rapped about the dope game and bragged about alleged relationships with infamous drug dealers and even a former Central American dictator. "I cut 'em wide, I cut 'em long, I cut 'em fat... I know Pablo, Noriega/The real Noriega, he owe me a hundred favors."
A few years later, however, Ross's past as a corrections officer was revealed. Trick Daddy felt cheated, and the relationship between Ross and Slip-n-Slide began deteriorating.
Trick Don't Love the Kid. "The sad part about this is that when the first corrections-officer picture came out," Trick Daddy recalled in a 2008 interview on Angela Lee's Sirius satellite radio show, Shade 45, "about a week later I saw an interview, and the interviewer said, 'So, Rick Ross, how do you feel about Trick Daddy calling you a prison guard?' Time out. Ain't no way you went for that dumb-ass shit right there."
In the rap world, being called a prison guard — even if you were, at some point, employed as prison guard — is not much different from being called a narc or a pussy.
"I've been arrested and convicted of more crimes than he been pulled over and written a ticket for," Trick added. "When did I have time to be a pussy? I'm a real Miami nigga. I was born and raised in Miami. I'm not moving to no-fuckin'-where. I'm not going nowhere. My studio was in Carol City for three years. That whole three years that player-hatin' shit [Ross's DOC job] was going on."
On April 12, 2009, the Bawse released his next record on Slip-n-Slide, Deeper Than Rap. But soon he and the label were dunzo.
The Teflon Don. Ross's fourth studio record, Teflon Don, was released in the summer of 2010, and it quickly became one of the year's most critically acclaimed rap albums.
Rolling Stone gave it three-and-a-half stars, the New York Times claimed Teflon Don established Ross as "one of rap's most potent and creative forces," and Pitchfork named it one of the 50 best albums of 2010.