After interviewing Rick Ross, I remain convinced that the man born William Leonard Roberts II no longer exists. In his place is one of the most polarizing figures in hip-hop today: a self-made "big boss" who purposefully perpetuates the excesses the genre has been long charged with in the eyes of many.
Love him, hate him, it's all the same for the Miami-based rapper.
With new album -- the long-delayed "Mastermind" -- out this week, Rick Ross stands tall. The 16-track "Mastermind," his sixth studio album, features production by Sean "Diddy" Combs and is chock full of top-tier guest spots including Kanye West, Jay Z, Lil Wayne and Toronto's the Weeknd.
Song titles like "Drug Dealers Dream," "Thug Cry," and "The Devil is a Lie" show that Ross and a street hustler mentality are inextricably linked. And he's at the top of his game, a theme he underscores with album cut "Nobody," a bold reworking of "You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)" by Notorious B.I.G., the iconic rapper he's often been compared to.
Speaking with Ross, he's always in character: a blunt, unshakable personality true to the identity he's crafted for himself. If being outed as a former correctional officer a few years back couldn't tarnish his Maybach Music image, what makes you think recent controversies around lyrics that seemingly allude to rape or allegedly “revenge-speak” about Treyvon Martin's death will stop how Rick Ross flows? At this point, he's the one the media goes to when discussing Frank Ocean's sexuality and hip-hop's alleged homophobia, he's the one spotted hanging with Justin Bieber, and he's the one who commands the spotlight when it comes to mainstream hip-hop today.
Huffington Post Canada spoke with the "Bawse" about new album "Mastermind," working with artists like The Weeknd, covering Biggie and where he sees himself in hip-hop history.
What did you want to do differently on this album compared to the previous ones?
I just wanted to embody everything, you know, like, my experience, the music, the decisions I've made. And there were just a lot of different things that I thought would be really dope.
What keeps you motivated?
My love for the art.
So in addition to folks like Kanye West and Lil Wayne, you have people like The Weekend. How did you decide to work with the people you did on this record?
Because you know, that’s who I wanted to work with and who I wanted to collaborate with to execute that record. You know, it's why you make those kinds of collaborations. These are artists that I am a fan of and those are the artists that I wanted to create music with.
What was it like working with Weeknd in the studio?
You know, "Mastermind," that's the recording process. You know man. I spent a lot more time on this album and on this project in post-production and mixing, mastering, you know shit like that. I spent a lot more time on this project. You know, hopefully everyone feels those results you know? Feel that vibe.
Covering or reworking a track from Biggie, what was the reasoning behind it. How did you approach it?
Just that being a powerful record, and him being one of the greatest, I got in the studio and made it happen. You know. Shout out to Junior M.A.F.I.A. and Puff Daddy who gave me their blessings. Something for the streets my brother. Something for the streets.
How do you feel when people compare you to someone like Notorious B. I.G.?
I don't even think about that. Rest in peace B.I.G. He was the greatest and made incredible music. He was a powerful person even twenty years later. It's one of the highest honours an artist could ever get.
So six albums deep, how do you define success at this point in your career?
It's all about me and my fans right now. We are success. We are the culture, you know? So at this point it's about giving the fans what they want and everyone that's been supporting me from 2006. It's the looks on faces that I look for, you know?
So what was the different approach to this record then?
That's with every album. I hope every artist takes a different approach to every album. I most definitely want a new approach. You know, new music, new body of work . Something ill.
In terms of hip-hop as it exists today, what advice do you offer to younger, newer artists looking to make it in the industry? What's the template for success right now, on the level that you are doing it?
You just gotta have powerful product. Follow the example of those great artists that made it happen. Every story won't be the same but you just gotta put your passion into it.
So where you do see yourself in hip-hop history and the hip-hop landscape?
You know, I'm the biggest boss. That's how I see myself. So anything other than that, I've never really cared or concerned myself with. I just stay focused with what I do and my team. I never get caught up in none of the other shit.
So what's lined up in terms of new singles, videos, and touring this year?
You know, we got all things planned. We will be tearing the tour down. We'll be coming to your spot real soon. We come out March 4th. Make sure you get your own copy so you can see what the mind of a boss like.