At the start of 2017, Rick Ross celebrated the five-year anniversary of his mixtape Rich Forever, considered by many of his fans to be his magnum opus for the streets. Others have stated that coveted title should go to his fourth album, 2010's Teflon Don, or even 2012's follow up God Forgives, I Don't. The man who gave listeners two releases in 2014 (Mastermind and Hood Billionaire) and doubled up again in 2015 (Black Dollar and Black Market) has consistently put out enough material that the term could justifiably be applied to more than one of his projects.
Now, Ross is wading into the debate by calling his ninth studio album, Rather You Than Me, his official magnum opus. Last week, Ross celebrated both his daughter's birthday and the release of the album on March 17, and initial fan reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Ross' ear for production is still impeccable on standouts like "Santorini Greece" and the Meek Mill-assisted "Lamborghini Doors." Plus, there's no shortage of Renzel-isms ("Me and Hov back and forth like I'm triple platinum") and boss-up moments -- like when he dedicates an honest open letter to Cash Money boss Birdman, a former inspiration turned foe, on the appropriately-titled "Idols Become Rivals," sparking a conversation about Birdman's business moves and strained relationships with Lil Wayne and DJ Khaled. (Birdman responded to Rozay's claims in an interview with Billboard.)
On Rather You Than Me's release day, Billboard spoke to Ross about his reasons for addressing Birdman on "Idols Become Rivals," the possibility of working with Drake again, and when fans can expect to receive the long-awaited MMG Self Made 4 compilation.
Billboard: How has your perspective changed since your first album, Port of Miami, in 2006?
Rick Ross: My perspective changed in so many different ways. From the perspective of being a student of the game, an artist, a businessman. I seen so many sides that's evolved.
How did you push yourself on Rather You Than Me and show sides that fans haven't seen before?
Just overcoming those personal obstacles. Once you get to this level, you either could push forward or break. When you face obstacles or go through different phases, I always relied on my music. I depend on my music, my teammates. So at the end of the day, having incredible music, for me, would keep me in the space I want to be as an artist.
You laid that out in your open letter to your fans, saying the album was a product of "strength, perseverance and determination." Who did you want to make the album for?
It's gotta be the ones that have been f--king with me since day one. Of course I appreciate everybody that love the music I make, but [I made this for] the ones who understand my story. The ones who got "Maybach Music" one through five. The ones who are like, "Yo, I understand what the f--k he did with this." You know, just watched me build my empire and enjoyed that ride with me.
I want to get into some of the tracks. On album-opener "Apple of My Eye," you rap, "I'm happy that Donald Trump became the president / Because we have to destroy it to elevate." Do you think America just needs to start over?
Most definitely. This is the bottom. We will start over after this. I think that particular line, a lot of young brothers who haven't really put a finger on how they feel about our new president, I think they needed to hear that line to get some form of understanding.
Did you hear about Trump going after Snoop Dogg for Snoop's "Lavender" video? What did you make of that?
It's unfortunate that this country would have to endure this. So much more important issues to press, just in our country alone. We not even discussing everything globally -- just in our country alone. And for our president to be so concerned with everyone laughing at his toupee when he the one that bought it...
"Idols Become Rivals" is letter to Birdman and how you used to look up to him. Why did the people need to hear your take on Birdman's business practices and Wayne's situation?
You know, I just think it's so f--ked up. Us seeing Lil Wayne's [situation] and suffering from that, I think we kind of all got used to it. I think the culture has f--king accepted that Wayne would not put out another album. And that's not the way the game [should be]. That's not the way we designed this. That's not the way this is supposed to be.
When we come up from the mud together, it's not supposed to be this way. Birdman is supposed to be in that f--king building making those f--king people give him money to take care of his man. They supposed to be in the f--king [building], flipping over desks in those f--king offices, fighting to get money. Not f--king suing each other, fighting lawsuits and everybody starving. Not putting out music, not being creative. Us not doing what we came here for. There's nothing more I hate than that -- us not doing what we came here for.
You spoke about Khaled, too, on the song: "You put my n---a in a hole, homie, that s--t hurt me." Did his situation motivate you more to address it?
For one, it was different phases. First, it was my understanding phase. Like, "Yo, what's going on? I don't understand." It's not the way it's supposed to go. Khaled came into the fold and went above and beyond [more than] any artist went for his team, his brand. Khaled pushing his team and his brand, he was able to get money doing other things as well. And just to see the way that unfolded and for [Khaled] to owe someone millions of dollars and act like this is a normal business practice? It's not. That's not the way it goes.
I felt the pain, and it wasn't my money, but just by me watching and what took place and me being supportive, me being there for [Khaled], me being there for anything he needed, I was there for him. Just to see the way [Birdman] did [Khaled's] family, that's unacceptable... That's why Khaled in the position he in. Homie really left [Khaled] in the hole. He walked away from that and started over.
There's a fan theory going around that when Khaled says "they" [as in one of his catch phrases "They don't want you to win"], he might be referring to Birdman.
I seen that, and it was funny. I know they don't want us to laugh at those.
Back to the album. On the song "Scientology," you rap, "I got the money for Wayne, let's do it then." That'd be a power move if Maybach Music Group and Young Money were able to do something to put out Tha Carter V.
When I played that song for Jay Z, me and Jay Z laughed. We looked at each other and had a laugh. Hov was like, "Let's do it." It was just one of them things. We didn't put no deep thought into it. We let the music roll on.
"Maybach Music V" feat. DeJ Loaf is the first in that series of songs that isn't produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League. Are you still working with them on music?
I haven't really been working with them a lot.
Is it because of creative differences?
It's nothing in particular. I don't have no particular reason. It just ain't come through like that. Or the sound sometimes -- I'm not sure. I'm extremely happy with "Maybach Music V." "Maybach Music" part one [feat. Jay Z, from 2008's Trilla] was definitely me and Jay Z in the studio, just me and Hov exchanging [verses] and giving n---as that wordplay, that lifestyle. And of course, we went part one, part two and part three. I didn't never want to feel like I was chasing a high. It's just like a junkie trying heroin for the first time. You get f--ked up chasing that high. That's why I wanted them to feel like it came full circle by the fifth.
What makes "Maybach Music V" so special was of course I put the album out celebrating my daughter's birthday as well, and DeJ Loaf is her favorite artist. So "Maybach Music V," I wanted a real airy type of feel. Just a real slow vibe to it that's also going to surprise my daughter. So that's real special.
Are you closing the chapter on the "Maybach Music" series with this fifth one?
Nah, I'm not saying that. I'm pretty sure we'll go back to the hard rapping. I just wanted it to feel like I came full circle, kind of like my style and my ability of music that I can make. I feel like I can make records where, you know, I can get in the alley and exchange bars with Styles P, but I can also get in the studio and create a classic with Rihanna. I wanted that "Maybach" one through five to give the listeners that feel.
One of the best songs on the album is "Lamborghini Doors." In your eyes, how has Meek Mill grown as an MC and as a boss with Dreamchasers?
Meek being in the studio, putting the plays together. Meek used to sit in the studio with me when I first started working with him. I was happy when he brought me [2011's] "I'ma Boss." You know, just his vision. He's continuing to do that with his last tape [DC4], the last music he put out. He continuing to do that and he consistently putting it together [with] chorus, records and vibes that, once they come on in the club, it's f--king go crazy time.
And you've got Wale on "Trap Trap Trap" rapping like that again.
Yeah, and the thing about that is that's what me and Wale will always go back and forth in the studio [about]. We understand that he's a great poet and his penmanship is top-tier, and he showed us that with "Lotus Flower Bomb." But I also loved that Wale that'll come on like that last verse at the end of a Waka Flocka Flame song like "No Hands." That's the kind of alley-oop I gave him on "Trap Trap Trap" as well.
On a couple of the records, you talk about Drake, who has been beefing with Meek Mill since 2015. Are you guys thinking about making music together again?
Well, we not talking about making music together. You know, we sat down and we had a conversation. And at the end of the day, the conversation was... What's important to me is understanding we all are men. And let's respect that first and foremost. One on one, that's always clear with each other. I just sat down with both parties at different times and just put that in the air and made sure.
Because I still don't know what this is about. Just in my book, when you can't put a finger on it, you know it ain't no 'G' s--t. You know, you can look past it. I'm pretty sure they'll both move forward because both parties are talking positive on different levels. So that's what I'm looking forward to.
Now that Rather You Than Me is out, when are we getting Self Made 4?
I only release those Self Made [albums] after the team put out their projects. So once Meek put out his album, once Wale release S.H.I.N.E., then I'll give the streets the Self Made 4 once again. We got some bangers on there and we gonna keep recording until we put it out. It's gonna be a hot summer. This is the Maybach takeover.