Freeway Rick Ross: Life in the Right Lane
The stage name and musical symbolism performed by Hip Hop recording artist, Rick Ross actually derives from the true life of South Central LA’s “Freeway” Rick Ross. Decades before the name Rick Ross re-emerged via the medium of Hip Hop music, Freeway Rick Ross was branded as LA’s unforgettable drug king. His operations connected him to the Central American nation of Nicaragua, and also expanded from the United States’ West Coast, to the Midwest. Rick’s highest grossing periods skyrocketed his daily profit from 2-3 million on most days. Yet, unequivocally, his lifestyle would unintentionally contribute to some of the subject matter that future hip hop artists would incorporate into their music, while their audiences lived vicariously through the life of Freeway Rick Ross and other street kings.
Life’s timing placed Rick in the era of gangsters and drug dealers who were sentenced to prison under some of the harshest drug and crime laws. During this period, President Reagan’s administration implemented stringent drug-crime laws, therefore changing federal drug sentencing guidelines to require that prisoners serve no less than 85% of their federal sentences behind bars, and also mandated that persons who were caught in possession of even moderate amounts of crack cocaine be sentenced to hard time.
Selling drugs was never a childhood goal for Rick. Like other uneducated and poverty stricken Black males, the drug trade seemed like a viable option. His drug enterprise began after illiteracy stopped him from playing tennis at the college level. Although unable to read, Rick confirmed that he was advanced to the 12th grade, and teachers gave him passing grades for sports eligibility. While attending LA’s Dorsey High School, Rick envisioned himself as tennis’ next Arthur Ashe. He ranked as Second Team-All City, First-Team-All Conference, and became a sought after practice mate for professional players, such as Larry Barnett, Jonathan Canter and Lawrence King.
Yet, without tennis, Rick faced nearly the same limitations and perils as South Central’s other Black teens. Unlike other South Central youth, such as Crips gang leader, Stanley “Tookie” Williams (executed in prison in 2005) and former Crips gang member, “Monster” Kody Scott (Sanyika Shakur); Rick never took to violence or gang affiliation, he instead created one of the biggest drug enterprises to be seen in LA. On his documentary Crack in the System, Rick admits “At one time I felt that selling cocaine was my purpose. I used to think I was born to be a drug dealer. I thought it was my job to keep everybody high.”
Without question, fate’s design ended his reign at the end of the 80s, and Rick served a short prison bid, only to be convicted a second time, which gave a federal life sentence. Rick’s federal conviction created a media frenzy. In 1994, LA Times’ journalist, Jesse Katz wrote “If there was an eye to the storm, if there was a criminal mastermind behind crack’s decade long reign, if there was an outlaw capitalist most responsible for flooding Los Angeles’ streets with mass-marketed cocaine, his name was Freeway Rick.” Yet, LA based journalist, Gary Webb, Congresswoman-Maxine Waters, and many others negated the belief that Rick had spearheaded the entire operation; and affirmed that he was the scapegoat for the drug operations occurring between Nicaragua and the US government (the LA area), all while exposing that Rick’s former supplier was both a Nicaraguan immigrant, and the drug informant who set him up. But Freeway was still given a life-sentence. Yet, while serving his time, Rick used the same determination he once applied to the drug trade to become literate, and received an overturned conviction.
At age 55, Rick sees a much higher purpose in life. “I don’t look at the time in prison as being a loss. I bettered myself.” Today, Rick works fervently to reclaim his life from his drug inundated past. The promotion of his book, Freeway Rick Ross: The Untold Autobiography, and public screenings of his documentary, Crack in the System are only two of the many irons that Rick has in the fire. Rick also teaches life lessons and promotes hope to others as a motivational speaker. He visits churches, high schools, colleges, juvenile detention centers, and even prisons, to tell his story, with the hopes of deterring America’s youth from choosing a criminal path. While looking to recreate the dreams that were once funded by illegal monies, Rick is trying his hand at the music business with his company, The Rick Ross Music Group. He’s also aiming to release his documentary on Netflix, and is in pre-production for a motion picture biopic.
When finally able to catch up with Rick during the Chicago screening of his documentary, which aired at Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition Headquarters, he shared his following thoughts…
Rick Ross: I wrote the book while I was in prison with a life sentence, without the possibility of parole. This book was going to be my way of throwing back to the hood & letting them know what I learned through my travels in this life.
Heed Magazine: You don’t seem brutal…
RR: I’m not brutal. I’m really a nice person. I like people. I witnessed a murder at a very young age, and I learned the importance of life, and that once you kill somebody, you can’t bring them back!
Heed: Do you blame yourself for how things deteriorated from drugs?
RR: People ask me that all the time. Yes, I do take responsibility for having sold drugs. Everybody has to take responsibility for their actions. I don’t hate myself for selling drugs, and I don’t hate anybody else that sold drugs, anybody that’s using drugs right now, I don’t hate. I think that drug use is a medical problem, not a criminal problem. People make mistakes, including myself.
Heed: How did it change the spirit of the community? The spirit of the people?
RR: Well, you know at first, everybody was on the get rich quick thing. Go out and sell some drugs and get rich, and it went from there to a lot of people being strung out. Just last night, you know I was riding through downtown, through Skid Row, and it was a terrible sight to see all the pimps, and you know, all the people sleeping on the street. It’s a large-large Black population of homeless people right now that we didn’t have before the drugs hit South Central.
Heed: How would you describe the before and after of South Central, from the drugs?
RR: I remember South Central, when we first moved there, it was a lower-upper class Black neighborhood. It wasn’t a dirt poor neighborhood, because people owned their own houses, and people were renting houses, it wasn’t like the projects, it was a notch up from the projects, but it was cool. What the drugs really did to the community is it took the people who were the working class people, and made them believe that they can sell drugs and get rich, and a lot of them held good jobs. They gave up good jobs to drugs. I saw a lot of people who had good post office jobs, and working for the toilet tissue factory, and ship yards start to give up those type of jobs, and they felt they could make more money on the streets selling drugs, then they were making on those jobs, and it wasn’t the case.
Heed: What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned from your past?
RR: Our mind is so powerful! We can think ourselves into any position we want to be in. We have to believe in ourselves, once you buy into how others think and feel about you, you become that person. Too many Black men have bought into the thug mentality. We can’t make money our whole focus, if we do, then we can go sell drugs to our people.
Heed: There is a movie that’s in the works? A motion picture movie? The directors have signed on right?
RR: Reggie Hudlin has already agreed to direct it.
Heed: Do you know who will be cast to play you?
RR: No. We don’t know yet. I’ve talked to a lot of people about playing my role, Jamie Foxx, Larenz Tate, Don Cheadle. We are in pre-production.
Heed: I heard you were looking at Nick Cannon.
RR: Yea. Me & Nick talked about him playing the role. We talked to Mike Epps about playing the role.
Heed: I believe I heard you say in the media that you aren’t necessarily upset with the rapper Rick Ross (William Roberts) for taking your name. What is your exact issue with that whole situation?
RR: Just the way he carried the whole situation. He didn’t carry my name with appreciation. He was really arrogant, self-centered. He just didn’t show me homage.
Heed: You had a lawsuit against him?
RR: I felt the courts made their decision based on my background of who I was and not the merits of the case, not on the law. I even reached out to him after the suit to see if we could work together. He actually went on The Breakfast Club and said some nasty things about me, but I’m not holding it against him.
Heed: How old do you feel, because you have a young spirit!
Heed: How much longer do you see yourself promoting your book and your brand?
RR: I’m gonna do my book until I sell 1 million copies! I will be doing my brand for the rest of my life. I enjoy it. It’s fun! It’s showing younger people they can be different.
Heed: At this point, do you feel like you’re getting feedback from all different walks of life, different races?
RR: I do. The support I get is crazy! I enjoy it. I’m gonna keep pushing!
Heed: Do you have a youth program?
RR: I have Freeway Literacy Foundation. I’m not teaching tennis right now or working with tennis, but I do plan on doing that in the future!
CLICK HERE to purchase “Freeway Rick Ross: The Untold Autobiography”