Rick Ross remembers the day he discovered the identity of his greatest enemy. In 2011, after suffering two seizures in less than 24 hours, the Bawse found himself sitting in the waiting room of a very expensive doctor’s office. “I was the only black dude, and the rest was 55- to 80-year-old white males sitting in the room,” he says. “It was all silence and we all was kind of just looking at each other, like, What the fuck he here for?”
Ross watched as elderly Caucasian male after elderly Caucasian male was called by the nurse. Finally, it was his turn. The doctor broke it down for him. “He told me I didn’t have high blood pressure but I was hypertensive, which is a phase under having high blood pressure. And that’s when I said right then, ‘Yo, what’s my biggest enemy?’”
The doctor checked his chart. “Right now, for you, based on everything you wrote down: sodas.”
Rick Ross, the larger-than-life Carol City-bred rapper, who’s survived drive-bys, was about to be taken out by Dr. Pepper.
“I said, ‘I’ll never drink another one in my life,’” the Bawse says. He reaches down between his legs and picks up a styrofoam cup full of pale-orange liquid with fruit floating at the top. “See that shit?” he points to the cup. “It’s fucking fresh carrot juice with mint and berries. You know, rich-nigga shit,” the rapper laughs.
Ross is lounging backstage at the BB&T Center, surrounded by friends, family, and employees. He’s the headliner of the 99 Jamz' Memorial Day concert presented by PLA Marketing Group and Lex Promotions. He just shared the stage with Jeezy, Future, Gunplay, and others while closing out the show with a roughly 45-minute set, something that wasn’t always easy for him to do.
Rick Ross backstage with his longtime friend and fellow rapper Gunplay.
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
“Before, I needed two water breaks doing a 45-minute set. But now I could probably do a two-hour performance,” he says.
The rapper seems relaxed, though not tired as he alternates between sips of carrot juice and hits off a blunt — or, at least what looks an awful lot like a blunt. The only noticeable sign of fatigue is in his voice. His usual bass-heavy growl is raspy and strained, cracking every now and then. His signature sunglasses are absent, revealing dark brown eyes and heavy eyelids.
“Before, you would have had to wait an hour for me to just catch my breath, calm down. It’s a big difference,” Ross says. “And I guess that’s what I was doing it for. I wasn’t doing it for chasing a specific number or no shit like that. It was just trying to live better — live as healthy as I could."
The Bawse can’t (or won’t) say exactly how much weight he lost. But it was enough to set the internet ablaze when Instagram photos started to emerge showing a very svelte Rick Ross. “When I started out, I weighed myself. I was around 340,” he says. “And after I got under 290, I stopped weighing myself, because it wasn’t about the number anymore.”
Ross is roughly at his high-school weight now. He was, needless to say, a big kid. A standout football player, he ended up receiving a scholarship to play at Albany State University in Georgia, which he only briefly attended before dropping out.
And though the new Rick Ross is slimmer, he is by no means dainty, standing six feet tall with the wide frame of a former offensive lineman. His beard is an impossibly dense, meticulously shaped jet-black thicket, like what Santa's beard might look like after bobbing for apples in squid ink. It looks impervious to razors. It would probably take a diamond-tipped machete a couple hours of hacking just to find a cheek.
“He’s a big artist, but he doesn’t make you feel like that,” singer K. Michelle says about Ross.
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
A small outline of the state of Florida is tattooed between his eyes and “Rich Forever” is spelled out beneath his lower lip in a curly font.
But even still, Rick Ross isn’t the towering figure you imagine. Years of epic music videos and imposing magazine covers have given Ross a mythical quality. After turning on the TV and seeing all 300-plus tattooed pounds of him in a fur coat that makes him look like a Kodiak bear, you can’t help but be a bit disappointed upon learning that he’s not actually a 12-foot beast with hands the size of tennis rackets.
Surely, the laid-back man on the couch in a plain white t-shirt and red sweatpants sipping carrot juice can’t be the same man who introduced himself to the world by barking, “Who the fuck you think you fuckin' with, I'm the fuckin' boss.”
But by most accounts, the rapper who’s grunted on some of the most popular hip-hop songs of the last decade has always been quite delightful.
“He’s supercool, super-laid-back,” R&B singer K. Michelle says. In addition to sharing the stage with Ross at the BB&T Center, the Love & Hip Hop star has also collaborated with him on the song “If They Knew.”
“He’s a big artist, but he doesn’t make you feel like that,” she says. “He’s really cool.”
Loyalty seems to be another of Ross’ virtues. Joining him on the backstage couch is Gunplay, the rapper also known as Don Logan. They grew up together in Carol City, and have known each other since they were 13-years-old.
While fielding questions, Ross is quick to steer them toward his longtime ally, mentioning more than once how excited he is for Gunplay’s new album, which drops in July. When asked what his fans have to look forward to this year, Ross doesn’t hesitate.
Ross has nothing but good things to say about fellow Carol City rapper Gunplay.
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
“Man, I’m excited for Gunplay in July,” he says. “My dog been running around with me forever.”
Gunplay was arrested in Miami for an armed robbery that was caught on tape in 2012. After serving a year under house arrest, charges were dropped after the victim refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
“For years, at first, they thought he was just a wild goon nigga who was gonna shoot the club up,” Ross says. “He’s etched his name in a special crowd — in a select few of motherfuckers that are respected as being real lyricists and real niggas.”
Ross is clearly supportive. But above all else, he seems proud of his friend, visibly excited at the prospect of sharing a slice of success with someone he cares about.
Of course, it hasn’t been all love and hugs for the Bawse. There is his ongoing feud with 50 Cent, which allegedly started after Fiddy looked at him the wrong way at the 2009 BET Awards. After a series of musical insults, their beef drags on to this day, most recently manifesting itself in the form of a lawsuit over a sex tape featuring Lastonia Leviston, the mother of Ross’ child.
Infamously, there was also the controversy surrounding his past as a correctional officer at the South Florida Reception Center in Dade County, something he initially denied but eventually admitted.
Then there was another lawsuit, filed by former L.A. drug kingpin “Freeway” Rick Ross, who sought to block the rapper (born William Roberts II) from using Rick Ross as a stage name. Ross, the rapper, ended up winning that lawsuit.
But on January 28, 2013, he faced down the scariest incident of his life. Around 5 a.m. on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, where Ross was driving after his 37th birthday celebration at LIV in Miami Beach, someone inside a BMW that pulled alongside his silver Rolls-Royce fired at least 18 shots at his car.
Ross was able to escape, driving around the corner before crashing into a nearby apartment complex. But two years later, police still have no suspects and no leads.
When asked if the lack of progress in the case is frustrating, Ross begins to say no, but then hesitates. “I don’t want to say not at all, you know, to perpetuate what could be a huge problem. But, for myself, I’m good,” Ross says as he leans back into the sofa, arms spread. “Rozay good. This my city.”
Ross admits that he never thought he'd make it this far.
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
It’s hard not to agree. Ricky Rozay is, to say the very least, good. Surrounded by friends, both new and old, with enough Luc Belaire rosé in the building to fill Lake Okeechobee twice, the 39-year-old rapper is enjoying the spoils of success a mere 23 miles away from the city that raised him — a city where luxury can mean making it home in one piece.
A little after midnight, Ross slips out of the BB&T Center with his two-dozen-strong entourage in tow. They’re off to celebrate, maybe at Ross’ Miami mansion. Or maybe at King of Diamonds, one of his favorite strip clubs.
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What would 13-year-old William Roberts II say if he could see this? All the diamonds, cars, weed, money, rosé, women, legal troubles?
Ross thinks for a moment and shakes his head. “Man, I don’t know. I didn’t even think I was going to make it this far. I didn’t think we was gonna make it this far. We always had the dream, the drive, the work ethic. But I’m a realist. I think realistic and I never thought, the way we was living, that we would make it here. But we did.”