Rick Ross Speaks on Leaving Def Jam to Sign With Epic Records (Exclusive)

Joel Barhamand
Rick Ross photographed on Thurs, Nov. 12, 2015 in New York, NY. 

A decade ago, the landscape looked familiar: L.A. Reid was Chairman/CEO of a legendary music company, Jay Z was in charge of his own roster of artists and Rick Ross was hungry for a new record deal. But in January 2006, Reid's company was Island Def Jam Music Group, Jay was signing talent to Def Jam as its president, and Ross was a budding star out of Miami with a local club hit, "Hustlin'," steadily climbing the charts. Ten years later, Jay is running his own company Roc Nation, Ross is one of the biggest rappers on the planet, and L.A. Reid heads up Epic Records, where he signed Ross to a new record deal earlier this month.

It's a big move for an MC known for making grandiose statements. Ross spent 10 years as one of Def Jam's marquee artists, delivering eight solo albums -- all of which debuted in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 -- and has been a vocal supporter for the label repeatedly through the years. But his last album, Black Market, marked the end of his Def Jam deal, and the Bawse began exploring his options. Black Market and its predecessor, November 2014's Hood Billionaire, are his only two LPs to date to miss out on the top two spots on the chart, and coming off a year of legal issues, house arrest and limited touring opportunities, Ross tested the waters.

Epic announced the Rick Ross deal in January, reuniting Rozay with his former label chief Reid. “Rick and I have been close friends and musical collaborators for more than a decade,” Reid said in a statement provided to Billboard. “It’s an honor to be back together and to kick off Rick’s second decade as one of hip-hop's bona-fide kings.” As Ross begins his second decade as a marquee artist, he speaks to Billboard about what brought him to Epic, the influence of L.A. Reid and the future of Maybach Music Group.

You met with a lot of different labels. What made you choose Epic?

Yeah, once again in a few interviews I let people know that I had discussed my potential future over at a few labels. The different possibilities, the different approaches. You know how optimistic, how excited these companies and the brands [are] and I got a lot of good conversation from a lot of different people, but at the end of the day, I based my decision on reality, and reality was history with L.A. Reid. When I first came to Def Jam, in '06, all we ever did was win, put up big numbers. He always understood my vision and my creative; every time I came in his office, we sat down and discussed different approaches. We always ended up on the same page and we always won big. And at the end of the day, that's what I based the decision on. Man, we made this a real big positive thing. I'm excited.

You've spoken a lot about the importance of ownership in searching for a deal. Is that what Epic offered? What can you do with that?

I think that's who seen the vision -- by L.A. Reid being there from the beginning, he understood my desires I believe more than anybody, as well as the vision and helping making sure it was executed. There's a lot of things that we're gonna do and I'm excited to see it happening on that side of the fence. So it can match with what I do artistically and creatively to go to that next level and continue to do what we doing through a new lens, and enjoy the atmosphere.

What did learn from L.A. and what do you still have to learn from him?

I think the difference between L.A. and a lot of other executives, he is actually an artist. He actually has a vision. He actually knows what it is to be an artist himself. So he bridges that from an executive side to being an artist and we have realistic creative conversations, and they always go somewhere. I think that's the dope shit about him.

Is there a plan to eventually bring MMG with you to Epic?

MMG is still signed to Atlantic Records, but I'm having -- we most definitely having different conversations. I just had a sit down over at Atlantic. Our 2016 is most definitely looking strong as can be. But we always, you know, out here on the business front, we looking for what's best, what's going on and what's best. We gonna stay focused on the music, but I do have my eyes open for opportunities. And L.A. is most definitely interested in bringing MMG over to Epic Records.

Was it tough for you to leave Def Jam after spending 10 years there?

Not at all. Not at all. It wasn't anything that was personal. We made a lot of history and we had a lot of fun. Def Jam is an iconic label. Great years at Def Jam. A lot of great friends over there, a lot of employees that I became cool and friends with, but at the end of the day, it's all about the art, and me continuing to love what I do. And there's only one way for me to continue to love what I do, and that's continuing to do new things and get bigger and better. And this was most definitely a bigger situation to step into.

What do you feel like Epic can do for you that Def Jam, or some of the other labels you were talking to, couldn't?

I don't really think it's about what they can do that Def Jam couldn't do. I wouldn't even want to put a quote out in such a way. Like I said, it's all about the visions and the plans, and L.A. Reid, I feel me and his relationship supersedes anything else. So if I have a vision or a plan -- if I wanted to film a movie with this next project -- if that was it, I could see down and creatively make some strong points, and I believe I can get that done. And those are the different things, just having that type of relationship. At the end of the day, I believe it's the business relationship, the speaking relationship that's formed. And you know, it's time to go get it.

What are your first plans with Epic?

I'm close to a year not being overseas; I was on house arrest this whole last album. The promo I did was really limited. I may have had one month where I could actually go do limited radio runs, and so on and so forth. But you know, it was cool. But I want to be able to move and go back international, go overseas. With the next project we're gonna touch those overseas markets, all those other markets that have been missing me for such a long time. You know, we just gonna continue to build on that. As far as the music and everything else, I got that sewed up. I just need to build it to concentrate more on the things that they do.

So are you looking at setting up a tour? What do you have planned now for 2016?

In 2016, I'm back in the studio already recording some new material. I want to hold off on actually touring until I can tour the way I want to without restrictions, without possibly having to cancel a date due to a potential court date. So we're doing spot dates now where everything is cool, and we're ready to just get this legal situation behind us. But all the requests for us are there to go to all these different places and put the tours together. But I just want to do it right. We got a little time, we just did our new situation, and by the time the summer come around we should be able to go into full gear.