Every Day I’m Hustlin’ – The real Rick Ross is not a rapper

Written by on January 15, 2019

There are a few people throughout the history of the film industry that have seen their life stories played out on screen. These are most often musicians, occasionally athletes and retired gangsters. There are not many however that would have to have their own trilogy just to tell their story without seeming too far-fetched. The life of Rick Ross would be one of those rare examples where the true story is stranger, and more intriguing, than fiction.

Part 1 – The gangster movie

Freeway Rick Ross spent his early life playing tennis while in high school in Susan Miller Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, he was preparing for a college scholarship because of his athletic pursuits until it was discovered by the university system that he was illiterate and the offers disappeared.

After leaving high school Ross came into contact with cocaine for the first time. At first he did not recognise the substance as a drug because it looked different from anything he had seen before. It didn’t take long for Ross to understand the financial opportunity available in selling the drug within his community and to begin selling the drug and building his empire. Between 1982 and 1989 federal prosecutors estimate that the gross income Ross made from his drug network was $900 million ($2.7 billion in 2018 terms), they also estimate that Ross ended up with $300 million in profits ($900 million in 2018 terms), however due to the illegal nature of the income and the use of cash the true number may never be known. During the most ‘successful’ period it is believed that Ross made $3 million in a day, and an estimated $500 million in the period between 1983 and 1984 alone.

Ross was eventually caught and prosecuted after a sting operation led to the drug dealer buying over 100 kilograms of cocaine from an undercover FBI agent in 1996 and received a life sentence under the states ‘3 strikes’ law. During his time in prison Ross taught himself to read and studied law in an attempt to understand his conviction and eventually brought forward appeals based on technicalities in the application of the law when he was originally sentenced.

Part 2 – The conspiracy movie

The investigative journalist Gary Webb had had a number of articles published over his career that had made serious waves, whether these were investigations into organised crime, coverage of earthquakes and the immediate aftermath or investigations into the actions of the Ohio state medical board. It was no surprise then that he would soon uncover one of the largest ‘conspiracies’ in recent memory.

The ‘Dark Alliance’ series of articles is Webb’s best known work and one of the more impactful series ever written. The first article of the series set the scene very vividly:

“For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funnelled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.” This drug ring “opened the first pipeline between Colombia’s cocaine cartels and the black neighbourhoods of Los Angeles” and, as a result, “The cocaine that flooded in helped spark a crack explosion in urban America.”

Over the course of the series many characters were introduced and discussed, one of whom was Rick Ross. Ross played a bigger part in the history of the US’ foreign policy than he ever could have imagined. Ross had found himself in the middle, and inadvertently a large player, in the Iran-Contra affair. It was revealed through the investigations conducted by Webb that the CIA had a hand in the smuggling of cocaine from Columbia into LA through the efforts of Nicaraguan smugglers Oscar Danilo Blandón and Norwin Meneses. Blandon and Meneses would sell the drugs on to local dealers, Rick Ross, to distribute on the streets of Los Angeles, the money would then be used to fund the Nicaraguan ‘Contra’ movement to destabilise the country’s government.

The US had become wary of the spread of communism in South and Central America and had begun to fund rebel groups in the areas with the aim of removing the communist governments from power. At the same time there was a small matter of American hostages in Iran to consider. Laws passed in the United States had made the direct funding of the ‘Contra’ movement illegal.

The US went on selling weapons to Iran in the belief that this would help secure the release of the hostages. The money from this sale was then transferred on to the Contras in Nicaragua. Their income was further supplemented by the sale of drugs in the United States. All of this was brought to light, as well as the part played by Rick Ross, in the DarkAlliance series of articles written by Gary Webb.

These details were further brought to light in the appeals hearing for Rick Ross, here questions were raised about the arrest and prosecution of Ross, with Webb sitting behind the defence attorney feeding further information and questions. As a result of questionable practices by law enforcement and the refusal of law enforcement agencies to comment on certain aspects of points raised by Ross’ legal team Ross had his sentence reduced from Life to 20 years. Ross was released in 2009 as a result of good behaviour.

Part 3 – The real Rick Ross is not a rapper

As if the last two story lines weren’t enough there would be further controversy in the life of Rick Ross. Having been released from prison he would embark on a civil lawsuit against a rapper that was finding success, going by the name of Rick Ross.

Former corrections officer William Roberts II had found success under the name of Teflon Da Don, but later changed his name to Rick Ross in the mid -2000s with the first album release under that name coming in 2006. The rapper also changed his image to look more like the former drug dealer.

The original law suit was deemed to be ‘untimely’ by the judge that heard the case as the plaintiff (Ross) would presumably have been aware of the rapper’s work from 2006 but had not brought the case until 2010, presumably being in prison at the time had not helped the case, perhaps there had been more important things to be concentrating on. After the release of another album by Roberts using the Rick Ross moniker another case was launched. This time Ross claimed that the new work consisted of further infringements upon his name and image.

The case was heard; however, it was later dismissed on 1st amendment grounds. It was judged that Roberts, although admitting that the story of Ross’ life had grabbed him, was found to not be liable for damages. The judge ruled that, although the rapper had appropriated the name and image of the former drug dealer, there had been enough in the way of original material to negate this.

“We recognize that Roberts’ work—his music and persona as a rap musician—relies to some extent on plaintiff’s name and persona,” wrote Judge Boren. “Roberts chose to use the name ‘Rick Ross.’ He raps about trafficking in cocaine and brags about his wealth. These were ‘raw materials’ from which Roberts’ music career was synthesized. But these are not the ‘very sum and substance’ of Roberts’ work.”

The judge ruled that the hip-hop star’s persona is entitled to protection as expressive speech because it’s transformative.

“Roberts created a celebrity identity, using the name Rick Ross, of a cocaine kingpin turned rapper,” says the ruling. “He was not simply an impostor seeking to profit solely off the name and reputation of Rick Ross. Rather, he made music out of fictional tales of dealing drugs and other exploits—some of which related to plaintiff. Using the name and certain details of an infamous criminal’s life as basic elements, he created original artistic works.”

It is not clear whether further lawsuits will be brought by former inmates who claim that Roberts stole ‘raps’ that they had written during his time as a correctional officer. It is perhaps concerning that the possibility of someone claiming your identity as your own is fine as long as they create ‘original material’ with it. Ross laments that this leaves him in the paradoxical situation of not being allowed to go into schools to talk about the dangers of drugs and the lifestyle that he previously led, while someone using his name and likeness is allowed to glamorise this lifestyle to the same children through their music.

Ross continues to work towards improving the area in which he used to live, and ultimately destroyed through the proliferation of drugs, using fees from speaking, and through various documentaries and books, to improve public services in the area as well as being hired as a speaker for community groups around the US.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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