Rick Ross: 'The Boss' Denies Prison-Guard Past Rick Ross' career has been built on the image of a swaggering, dominating hustler and drug dealer. But documents released to The Smoking Gun tell a different story about the rapper — and threaten to undermine his street cred.
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Rick Ross: 'The Boss' Denies Prison-Guard Past

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Rick Ross: 'The Boss' Denies Prison-Guard Past

Rick Ross: 'The Boss' Denies Prison-Guard Past

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(Soundbite of song "Hustlin")

Mr. RICK ROSS: (Singing) Every day I'm hustling. Every day I'm hustling. Every day I'm hustling.

ALEX COHEN, host:

That's rapper Rick Ross' song "Hustlin", and those are about the only lyrics that we can safely play on our air. Most of Ross' rhymes are pretty graphic. They chronicle his adventures as a drug-dealing criminal. But then news surfaced on the website, The Smoking Gun, that the real Rick Ross, whose name happens to be William Roberts, may be closer to the other side of the law. Apparently, Rick Ross worked as a prison guard in Florida. To find out what this revelation might mean for his career, we're joined now by Jon Caramanica, who writes about music for the New York Times. Thanks for joining us, Jon. And for those of us who aren't familiar with Rick Ross, who is he?

Mr. JON CARAMANICA (New York Times Music Writer): Rick Ross is a rapper from Florida, and the Carol City section of Miami, which is one of the rougher sections of town. Been involved in music-making for quite a few years, but really has only come into the public consciousness in the last couple of years with his last two albums, which are "Port of Miami" and "Trilla." And he, sort of, made a name for himself as, as you say, someone preoccupied with the, sort of, minutiae of drug-dealing and the attitude that comes with all that.

COHEN: And now all, of a sudden, there are these former employment records for a prison guard with the same social security number as Rick Ross. They surface on The Smoking Gun. How did these allegations come to light?

Mr. CARAMANICA: What predated the employment information was a photo that leaked of a teenage Rick Ross, I believe he was 19, shaking the hand of someone at a Department of Corrections; it seems to be some sort of graduation ceremony. And Rick Ross goes on line afterward and says, oh, online hackers did that, that's not me, they put my head on somebody else's body. So that's actually what motivated The Smoking Gun to start chasing down all the information. And it turns out that it certainly is Rick Ross. And the life that he led when he was a teenager is not exactly what he's been discussing in his songs.

COHEN: Jon, why would this even matter, if he was a prison guard in his past? Why would people care?

Mr. CARAMANICA: I think there's two reasons. First, there's a historically fraught relationship between the African-American community and the police, of any form. And I believe that there's some skepticism towards people who represent the law.

Secondly, Rick Ross has positioned himself, in his entire rap career, as someone obviously moving in the shadows of the law. But for something like this to come to light throws the whole idea of authenticity into doubt. Now, obviously, you know, rap, like most art, is a form of performance. But, that said, when you've made your entire career premise upon something that proves to be false, that can be potentially damaging in the long run.

COHEN: So, now that there is this newer information that's surfaced, what has Rick Ross' response been to that?

Mr. CARAMANICA: Not very significant. He really used to freestyle that indicated that he still was not particularly interested in what was going on "on the net." Right now, Rick Ross has one or two songs that are on the radio, I imagine they'll still continue to be on the radio. But, is he going to come out and say, yes, you know what, that is what I did, I should have been up front and honest about it, and here's why. If he delivers compelling art about it, if he makes a great song about it, he could, conceivably, just move right past this, like another bump. But the fact that he lied about it is, unfortunately, a bad first sign.

COHEN: Jon Caramanica writes about music for the New York Times. He joined us from our studios in New York. Thanks, Jon.

Mr. CARAMANICA: Sure.

(Soundbite of song "Big Boss")

Mr. ROSS: I'm the biggest boss that you've seen thus far. Because it's just another day in the life of the goddamn boss.

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