Rick Ross took his rap name from an antihero of the '80s (that would be the California cocaine kingpin Ricky Ross). But the Miami MC’s façade of opulence and confidence seems more akin to a different boss from the same era: Ronald Reagan.
Ross is an enormous man whose physique -– two fleshy spheres of torso and head dipped in wooly beard -- evokes a Santa Claus that only delivers Bolivian primo and Louis Vuitton sunglasses. But it’s no accident that the perpetually underestimated rapper named an album “Teflon Don.” His whole career, like Reagan's, is a lesson in shaking off detractors by staying on message and promising to deliver the goods. And Ross' new free mixtape "Rich Forever" is very good indeed.
His Friday set at the Nokia Theatre showed how one of commercial hip-hop’s unlikeliest fixtures rose from a coke-rap caricature to a dominant MC who's challenged what it means to be credible as a rapper.
When Ross first emerged with 2006’s "Port of Miami," critics pounced on several perceived weaknesses. The first was that he wasn’t especially good at rapping. His craggy, minimal delivery wasn’t exactly brimming with verbal dexterity -- his breakthrough single "Hustlin'" memorably rhymed "Atlantic" (the record label) with "Atlantic" (the ocean). The character of the rapper-as-cocaine-kingpin was already overripe, with Young Jeezy and Clipse the more regarded flag bearers.
Revelations that Ross had actually served on the right side of the law as a Miami prison guard seemed certain to sink his proverbial speedboat full of kilos -– a fate that 50 Cent encouraged by calling Ross “Officer Ricky,” and which led the actual Ricky Ross to unsuccessfully sue for trademark infringement.
But what happened next is a textbook in hip-hop crisis management. Ross issued a sort of non-denial-denial (Yes, I worked in a prison; yes I also simultaneously trafficked millions of dollars of cocaine into Florida) and went on with the business of making more regally gothic LP’s about his import/export trade. It helped that the singles -- especially the star-making Lex Luger track “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)” -– had all the apocalyptic menace of “Ride of the Valkyries.”