Rick Ross takes a bite of vegetable lo mein, one of the endless plates of specially prepared Chinese food arrayed in front of him, then effortlessly puffs from his blunt. “Y’all don’t call it hustles?” he asks, referencing the basketball game he says he played with Kanye West in 2010.
It’s late July, and Ross is donning an unusually subdued blue-and-white tracksuit tonight, seated comfortably in the back room of Manhattan’s upscale Jue Lan Club, a preferred spot for rappers passing through New York City; to his left is his personal DJ, Sam Sneak, who’s quietly taking in his dinner; across the table is one of Ross’s longtime friends, a man who goes by Whole Slab.
In 2010, Ross flew to Hawaii at West’s request for a recording session that would later blossom into My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, including the song that Ross appears on, “Devil in a New Dress.” (A tangentially-related lyric: “When it came to dope I was quick to export / Never tired of ballin' so it's on to the next sport.”) Every morning in Hawaii, Ross recalls, West would organize a game of hustles.
“Nobody calls it hustles but Miami niggas,” Slab interjects. “It’s called 21.” Regardless: “Kanye go hard,” Ross says. “All those dudes from Chicago, them niggas really played basketball. They take that shit a little more serious than a regular Miami nigga.”
Based on my research, I tell Ross, it seems like he has a solid bank shot in his arsenal. “I’m decent,” he allows. “If you older, I’m going to take advantage of you. And you: I would slaughter you. I would put that weight on you.” (For the record, I rebut, I am very adept at pulling the chair on guys who try to bully me in the post.)
That’s enough basketball shit-talk, though. Ross is in town to discuss his new album Port of Miami 2, out today, a full 13 years after the original Port of Miami and its hit single “Hustlin’” made Ricky Rozay a hip-hop household name. After all those years—an impressive length of time to be relevant in a notoriously fickle industry—Ross/Rozay is in a reminiscent mood, and not just about hustles with Kanye West.
Also out later this year (September 3) is Ross’s memoir, Hurricanes. Every chapter of Ross’s life is addressed, from his early days in the 305 bumping 2 Live Crew and Too Short, up until the current day, on the cusp of his 10th studio album. That includes his health scares (Ross endured a series of seizures), as well as the tragic death of his close friend and manager, Black, in 2017. Rather than trying to usurp the level of detail that goes into a memoir, I aim for something different during our 45-minute conversation: Filling in a few biographical blanks—some serious, some less so—to glean more about the life of the 43-year-old rapper whose latest project, by the way, might be his best yet.
GQ: I’m sure you’re well aware of the Internet’s love for your love for pears. Has any other fruit eclipsed pears in your heart?
Rick Ross: No, pears are still number one. Slab, when was the last time I had pears?
Whole Slab: Today.
How many pears?
Whole Slab: It’s not about the quantity. When he was buying a very expensive watch that was flown in today, he was eating pears. You eat pears to celebrate life.
Okay, noted. Ross, “Windex William” was the nickname the dope boys gave you when you were 13 and worked at a car wash. You used to go above and beyond by alphabetizing their cassette tapes. Why’d you start doing that?
Rick Ross: When you washing a car as a youngster, one of the greatest joys really don’t be the money, it be the opportunity to move the rich nigga cars. That’s the only time you can really drive some shit like that. I’d back that bitch up, wash it down, drive it up to dry it, and they music would be up the whole time. Before you look up, you been sitting in the motherfucker’s car for a half-hour playing their collection. While I’m sitting there, I thought, lemme just organize these tapes.
I remember there was a dude named Trav, a Carol City dude who had gold teeth in his mouth and shit. Real cool dude. As I got older, I was always looking for him. I wonder if he dead or he in prison. But he used to pull up in a white ‘71 Caprice. He’d leave the car, leave the keys, and go to the flea market for an hour-and-a-half. He’d come back and give me $10, and that was big for a youngin’. He trusted us, because the big homie whose car wash it was, he was a nigga that ain’t playing. We wouldn’t disrespect nobody or take nothing from nobody. I’m doing your windows, but I’m listening to your shit. I may not have the music all the way up, but I’m letting that bitch rattle and listening to what you listening to.
You mentioned your mom loved listening to The Isley Brothers, Isaac Hayes, Bobby Womack, and Sam Cooke when you were a kid. And on Port of Miami 2, you’ve got that SWV sample on “Summer Reign.” Who were your favorite R&B singers growing up?
Sade is my favorite R&B artist. She timeless. But as a youngster, I listened to Bobby Womack and Johnny Taylor with my mama. When I graduated high school, Mary J. Blige released What’s the 411? I played that shit so much, because it played good in Chevys. The dope boys would play that all the time. [Ross sings the first few lines of “Sweet Thing”]. That shit used to beat like a Too Short record.
I know you also grew up playing some of the old-school video game consoles. Do you still ever play?
Man, I got a real arcade. Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, and then I jump straight to Double Dragons, Maddens, all the stand-up shit. I got every console there is, from the first Atari, Sega Genesis, any one you name. Even Neo Geo. I got at least 50 arcade games. I love them all. I go back and play all of them.
What did you feel was important to include in a Port of Miami follow-up?
I just knew that after my health situation, that’s what made me tap the breaks a couple times. I lost one of my close homeboys too. I did records like “Fascinated,” “Every Day I Pray,” “Running the Streets,” and I discuss some things a little more direct than before, most definitely.
It’s been 13 years since Port of Miami. How does that hit you when it’s said out loud?
It hits you a lot of different ways. Ultimately, the most important thing should be the catalogue of music you created for your fans in the streets. That’s what’s most important.
But what about for you personally?
For me, all the work, it paid off. It meant something. That’s what it meant for me to still be here.
When “Hustlin’” first dropped, I know monetarily and also in general—sitting in the front rows of shows, that sort of thing—you didn’t always feel like you belonged.
You couldn’t feel it if you haven’t released the album yet. It’s like being an author, or a journalist, and you’ve never written a cover story. How could you feel secure? It’s impossible. There’s still levels, floors that we gotta climb if we’re going to be honest with ourselves. That’s what made me dope—I accepted those challenges that came with wanting to be great. You just got to face it head on. Before I had released the album, I still didn’t know.
The “thank yous” on the track list for Port of Miami 2 has some interesting names. I was hoping you could explain a couple to me: Like, “Kisses to my baby Martha Stewart.” What’s your relationship with her?
It’s always been fun. She gave me her number, and I actually called her a couple times. I don’t even remember what we talked about, but I know I wasn’t calling her for no reason. She answered though. That was my whole goal: “Martha, what’s up, it’s Rozay.” She was was just peaceful, and I kept it short. But that was dope—she was so cool on her show, and we had a good time. Backstage, she showed me love.
When it was time for me to release my album, I want to say it was Rather You Than Me, she actually got a cake made for me with the album cover on it, stood next to it and took a photo. I’m sure it’s online. She did that out of love. So I just called her and told her I was sending her some light, much love. She a super cool person, and that’s why I put her on my thank yous.
Okay, Wendy Williams. What’s that one about?
Man, every time I go on her show, I get love. She always embraces Rozay, Maybach Music, my brand. I actually ran into her off-set for the first time in L.A. not too long ago, and we had a laugh. I was like, “Look at you! You on your relaxed vibes.” She just laughed. She a cool motherfucker. Wendy Williams do what she gotta do to win. She make it look easy, but her doing what she’s doing, that’s not easy. I salute her.
You reference President Trump on “I Still Pray.” I’m sure you’ve heard about A$AP Rocky’s arrest in Sweden, and Trump tweeting that he was trying to convince the Swedish Prime Minister to let him out of jail. How does that hit you?
I saw what the A$AP situation is, and that’s fucked up. But we just got to wish the best for him—me screaming ain’t going to do nothing for him.
Right. That’s what Trump has been trying to do on Twitter.
[Long pause] I don’t follow Donald Trump.
We should all adopt that policy. One of the songs on the album is called “Fascinated.” What fascinates you right now?
I’m still fascinated by a lot of the same things. That’s one thing I do love about myself: How much I remain the same. Video games still fascinate me. I just seen the Beavis and Butthead Vans, those fascinate me. There’s a discipline involved in looking at something at face value and trying to have it all. But I’m most definitely fascinated by bad bitches, by success, the list is as long as you can imagine.
Did you grow up watching Beavis and Butthead?
I did, yeah.
What are you watching these days?
Forensic Files. I watch how motherfuckers will kill their brothers or sisters to go get a $15,000 fishing boat. Everybody that’s reading this, when you die, if someone stands to gain $30,000 or more—I established that number, $30,000—you need to have a conversation with them, because a motherfucker might put some freon in your drink, some shit like that.
How’d you arrive at the $30,000 number?
It’s something about [the combined cost of] those pickup trucks and fishing boats. Them motherfuckers want a pickup truck and a fishing boat, and they feel life is set. They will kill their best fucking friend, hit them in the head with a rock, and they got it made.
I’m curious where you rank your specific ad-libs in hip-hop history. I’m not even going to try to do it because I’m a dorky white guy, but you know which one I’m talking about.
Why not? You can try it. You got to do that.
[Ed. Note: Rick Ross recorded the “Ugh” attempt on his Instagram story, preserved in tweet form for your viewing pleasure below:]
Now that we got that out of the way, where do you rank your ad-lib all-time?
Hmm. I ain’t gonna lie, Luke has some of the best ad-libs. He wasn’t even damn saying words sometimes! He used to make songs out of nothing sometimes. That shit used to come on and it just felt good. To me, the best ad-libs are just a feeling. It’s a dope feeling.
It isn’t easy to stay relevant in hip-hop for a decade-plus. What advice would you give up-and-coming rappers who want to achieve that longevity?
Base it solely on your skills. Base it solely on your talent. Today, it’s so easy to get popular doing the goofy shit. You can do something goofy right now and you’ll trend for 30 minutes. But longevity will come from what you really bringing to the table. Not who you dating, or whatever else that can make you cool for two weeks. It’s a lot of people who may really put energy and thought into that, but fuck that shit. You need to focus on the music you releasing, that wordplay, that production, the way it feels when it all comes together.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Originally Appeared on GQ