Long before the rapper Rick Ross allegedly started "selling dope straight off the iPhone," the drug dealer Ricky Donnell Ross, a man the Wall Street Journal called "a mastermind of the crack-cocaine trade," was pushing 100 kilos of Nicaraguan blow per day and building a $600 million criminal empire under the moniker Freeway Rick Ross.
Yesterday, Rick Ross the MC debuted a trailer for his forthcoming record, Mastermind. Coincidence, or is it copyright infringement? That depends who you ask.
"[Ross] uses Mastermind, that's exactly how the Wall Street Journal described me, and my life story," Freeway tells AllHipHop.com.
The former drug dealer spent Wednesday squaring off against Warner Bros. Records, Rozay's distribution label, inside a Los Angeles courtroom, the latest in an on-going legal battle.
In 2010, Freeway filed a $10 million copyright infringement suit against Ross shortly after serving a 20-year prison sentence. He argued that the MMG maestro was illegally using his personal story to build one of hip-hop's most marketable brands.
"I was [surprised] because dudes that really supposed to come from the street, we could have met and spoke face-to-face, maybe did this another way," rapper Ross said in an interview with Funkmaster Flex last year. "But homie wanted to go through the courts and say that I was rapping in all of my songs about his life and in my songs I'm talking about his life and it's just not true."
"Initially, it grounded his career in the confusion," Freeway argues. "Now it helps clean up the inauthenticity that came out about being an officer. I don't need my name and image diluted and confused that way without license."
A judge ruled in favor of rapper Ross, dismissing the suit in November 2010. Freeway appealed, but to no avail.
Last summer, however, the ex-con was granted permission to sue Warner Bros.
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"The use of my name and image helps him in Internet search globally," Freeway claims. "This guy is literally trying to have people confuse him with me as an actual person."
But a jury will have to decide if that's true.
"We will be deposing Sean Combs, Stephen Cooper, Lyor Cohen and Todd Moscowitz," Freeway tells AllHipHop.com. "We feel good about our case, and look forward to letting an LA jury make the decision."