The real Rick Ross is not a rapper. That's what it says on his T-shirt, silk-screened attractively in two colors. The bold letters in black ink frame his image — bald, bearded, and somewhat bug-eyed with the fervor of his comeback. The gold ink requires a second stencil. Depicted on his head is a crown, cocked just so and perfectly aligned, the kingpin in exile, and below that his autograph, the excessively flamboyant signature of a man who once made millions a day selling cocaine but only began learning to read, behind bars, at age twenty-eight. Eventually he would read himself to freedom.
On a sunny morning in southern California, Rick Ross is driving from his cramped but rent-free apartment along tony Ocean Avenue in Long Beach toward some pressing new business in blue-collar Riverside, an hour away. We're talking here about the real Rick Ross, born Ricky Donnell Ross in 1960, one of three Ricks from 'round the way, this one the Rick who stayed on Eighty-seventh Place where it dead-ended at the 110 Freeway, in the shadow of a massive concrete abutment where you could feel the earth vibrating beneath your feet, hence his nickname: Freeway Rick Ross… as opposed to the rapper known as Rick Ross, a blubbery former college football player and corrections officer whose birth name is William Leonard Roberts II. When Roberts entered the music game, he appropriated the name and tattooed it across his fists: RICK RO$$. He rose to prominence rapping about a fictitious criminal past while the real Rick Ross, Freeway Rick Ross, a man iconic enough to have his name jacked, was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in a federal penitentiary.
Having brought suit against the rapper for copyright infringement and failed in several courts, Ross came up with the idea of these T-shirts. Over the past five months, with the help of a gangbanger turned silk-screener, he's printed five thousand. Offered in a rainbow of colors, in sizes up to 6XL, they are folded painstakingly and fitted into plastic bags by his older brother in a mini-warehouse to which Ross has managed to secure the key, one in a seemingly endless series of fuzzy handshake arrangements through which he operates his portfolio of legal enterprises.
Read more: Rick Ross Interview - Rick Ross Drug Dealer Profile - Esquire
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