My last conversation with Rick Ross ended like this:
Me: "Rick, it's been a pleasure talking to you."
Ross, pointing to my hair: "What you call it right there when you flip it like that?"
Me: "I don't know."
Ross: "You peeled that shit to the side."
Me: "What would you call it?"
Ross: "You might have to call that 'the wave.'?"
Me: "You like it?"
Ross: "I think it's... I gotta get used to it."
That exchange happened at the tail end of an interview backstage at the BB&T Center in May. It was humid, I had been drinking vodka, and over the course of the night, my hair, as Ross put it, had undergone a gradual peeling process to the side.
So you can imagine my frustration when, mere days before I was to get a long-overdue haircut, Neala Gershkowitz of the Miami-based The Neala Group sent me a text inviting me to the private listening party of Rick Ross' new album, Black Market.
I suspected he still wouldn't be "used to" my hair.
Also, New Times had Photoshopped Ross' face onto Adele's body in an article two weeks earlier, so it was very possible this invitation was for revenge purposes.
"Before we get started," I imagined him saying to the star-studded crowd, "I'd like to point out this kid's weird-ass hair. OK, let's begin."
But one would be foolish to miss out on an opportunity like this, so I grabbed a comb and jumped into the car.
The listening party was held at Miami's iconic Circle House Studios, a recording studio owned by Ian Lewis and Touter Harvey of Inner Circle (the reggae band behind "Bad Boys," the Cops theme song).
Circle House is sort of like a Smithsonian of South Florida hip-hop. Pitbull was recording there when he was just a puppy, and everyone who's anyone — from 2 Live Crew to Ross himself — has been inside the studio. Gold records cover the place like wallpaper.
Black Market (out December 4) is Ross' eighth studio album and second LP in 376 days. He held this album's first listening party at Sonos Studios in L.A. November 19. This one, however, was much more intimate, a homecoming of sorts that felt more like a very expensive house party than anything else.
Ross arrived around 9:30 p.m. with friends and fellow South Floridans DJ Khaled and Ace Hood. Ross and Khaled proceeded to stand in the backyard, lighting the first of what would be a seemingly endless loop of blunts, while the crowd — made up of mostly industry folks and media — circled in for a closer look.
We pulled out our phones and aimed them at him. Ross pulled out his phone and Snapchatted us.
Then, all at once, Ross and his immediate entourage walked inside to get ready for the first of two sessions.
It's an odd concept — the listening party.
We listen to an artist's music while watching that artist listen to his own music. It's like Marlon Brando taking you on a date to see The Godfather.
When we're ushered into the studio to hear Black Market for the first time, I'm surprised just how cozy this listening party is. We're in a recording studio no bigger than your average bedroom. I could have practically reached over and pressed "play" myself if I were, say, a crazy person who didn't value my fingers.
We all stood shoulder-to-shoulder, about 20 of us, facing Ross. Khaled was there too, enjoying some of those never-ending blunts.
After the first track, Maybach Music Group's Lex Pierre-Louis thanked us for coming and told us feedback was encouraged.
There is no rosé on this Earth strong enough to get me to look Rick Ross in the eye and say, "You know, I just wasn't feeling that one, homie." And the last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to myself and my hair, which had, again, gone all poofy thanks to the wonderfully sticky Miami climate.
But even if I did have cooperative hair and big cojones, I really wouldn't have anything bad to say. Black Market is Ross' best work in years.
Look, if you've never liked Rick Ross — maybe you're still caught up on his past as a corrections officer or his usurpation of the "Rick Ross" moniker from "Freeway" Rick Ross, the one who built a multimillion-dollar drug empire — this album may not change your mind. But if you are or ever were a fan, get excited.
Black Market sees Ross do everything you love — brag, threaten, and humph — but with an elevated consciousness. The spectrum runs wide on this LP, which features both a touching ode to his mother ("Smile Mama, Smile") and a touching ode to his penis ("Dope Dick"). He grazes topics like police brutality while offering some surprising collaborators: Mariah Carey and Nas, among others. He also makes pretty clear whose side he stands on in the Drake/Meek Mill beef. (Spoiler alert: It ain't with Drizzy.)
All of this, by the way, comes on the heels of one of the hardest years of Ross' career. As he played us Black Market, a court-ordered ankle monitor — which he tells to go fuck itself in the new album — hugged his leg, a result of aggravated assault and kidnapping charges he faces after allegedly pistol-whipping one of his employees at his Georgia mansion.
He played only about 75 percent of each track, and after the music stopped, a small chorus of approving oohs and aahs filled the room. Ross rapped along, loving what he was hearing as much as anyone else in the studio. "That's the one, man," someone seemed to say after each song.
As more blunts were passed, people shuffled toward the assortment of Rick Ross-owned Wingstop chicken wings sitting near the soundboard, lemon-pepper obviously included.
The session ended, and Ross made a small speech. He talked about how it was a hard year, yes, but it was nice to end it on such a strong note. If he was afraid at all about what his future held, it was hard to tell over the equally thick layers of smoke and confidence.
His crew assembled for a picture before the room was cleared. He looked toward me. I couldn't tell where his eyes were underneath the sunglasses he wore, but his gaze was close enough to my hairline to make me sweat.
Luckily, though, he was more interested in my colleague, New Times writer Kat Bein. Her hair is currently dyed electric blue.
"Yo, blue hair," he said. "Get in this."
She happily obliged. After the photo, he tousled her tresses like a toddler's, admiring her locks with a grin on his face. "You got like four Kool-Aid packets on that hair."
I was thankful he had spared my head but also a little envious he had found a new interest. I also realized the quickest way to get Rick Ross' attention is through your hair, which makes an odd kind of sense when you consider that hair is not only something Ross doesn't have, but also probably one of the very few things he simply can't buy.
(It appears he shaves his head, but still, who's to say he doesn't miss his hair?)
I snuck in on the fringes of that picture, tripping on the way, nearly causing a domino situation with a lot of very expensive equipment.
But even standing there, on the end, sticking out like not just a sore but dismembered thumb, I started to feel it — a fluttering sense of power and money and unlimited, all-you-can-eat everything. I was drunk on it in only seconds. Rick Ross, very quickly and only for a short time, made sense.
This is how it feels to be a Bawse — such a Bawse that no one even questions your spelling of the word "Bawse."
What a life, man.
I let loose a tiny, internal humph of my own before we all dispersed. Then we were sent back outside, left to stare through the glass doors, wondering what was going on in there now.