Few rappers have had the meteoric rise that Rick Ross had over the last 15 years. The rapper and entrepreneur has made his stage persona a lucrative business that blurs the line between performance art and candid lyricism.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Rick Ross is a stage name crafted by an ex-prison guard who wanted to create a character for the ages.
What is Rick Ross’ real name?
According to Biography, Rick Ross was born William Leonard Roberts lI. He led a relatively average life in Carol City, Florida, after his family moved from Mississippi. Roberts grew up idolizing Tupac, Biggie, and other A-list rappers as he tried to forge his own path to greatness.
By the time he was in college, he was closer to becoming a professional athlete than he was a rapper, but he started writing lyrics about the drug dealers he idolized growing up in his downtime.
Roberts had heard stories about a drug trafficker named “Freeway” Rick Ross while working as a corrections officer from some of the inmates. This became the perfect name for the rap persona he was forming in his notebooks. By 2003, he released his first single, and Rick Ross was born. However, those who didn’t know his story did not get the full thing.
Ross may be a character, but don’t tell him that his stories are made up. He spoke with XXL after coming clean about his past. While it took several years for Ross to open up about the fictional persona, he still claims that the sentiments are real. Ross told XX, per MTV:
“The stuff I talk about is real. The dope is real … the gun talk is official. Look up Kenneth ‘Boobie’ Williams. Look where he’s from. That’s not nothing to be proud of. I wish that on no man. But, just to let you know, that’s what I witnessed. It’s a reality. I cannot discuss certain people that’s still in the streets, and I will not. I took a street oath, and I’mma live by that, and I’mma die by that. And it’s not about a music career, ’cause that sh–, I’m good. It’s about me and being in the streets.”
The story, persona, or semi-autobiographical account of his past took off. From his first hit “Hustling” to a lifetime of success, Ross is now the character people know and love. However, MTV notes how his clouded past has drawn the ire of hip-hop rivals like 50 Cent.
However, what Ross’s story actually shows is the way that performers differentiate themselves from the art. This came full circle when the real Rick Ross sued the rapper for stealing his story for capital gain.
Rick Ross is born
As Billboard notes, rappers choosing stage names is nothing new. While Calvin Broadus’s Snoop Dogg is in line with the rapper’s everyday life, others see their stage names as characters. Nicki Minaj is a fictional creation who sheds light on real problems. Eminem, Marshall Mathers, and Slim Shady can all be differentiated, depending on the song. Ross, however, blurred that line by adopting a persona that existed and claiming it as his own until the truth came to light.
When the real Ross sued the rapper, many believed that the man who took the fictional Ross name was crossing lines creatively and personally. However, in the eyes of the law, it was a work of fiction that the real Ross had no claim to. As The Guardian notes, however, the judge saw it differently.
“Roberts created a celebrity identity,” Judge Boren’s statement continued. “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.”
While the real Rick Ross might have issues with this, the character created something that people loved. Right or wrong, Ross is still one of the biggest names in hip hop 18 years after his breakout single. Whether this ever comes back to haunt him remains to be seen, but Ross’s story is an extreme one that goes back as far as art itself does.