Releasing a rap album with a guest list that reads like the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 is a common move, but not without its risks. Big-name guests can move units and chart positions, but many rappers get overshadowed by their more famous counterparts, and the person who should be the lead winds up coming across as an understudy.
Rick Ross, however, avoids that impression on his new album, "Teflon Don," due July 20 on Maybach/Def Jam. It's no easy feat to hold one's own against Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake and T.I., but Ross manages to keep the album's focus squarely on himself.
"I'm fortunate enough to socialize with some of the greatest musicians around," Ross says. "So it made sense for me to go ahead and get them on my record. I wanted to pay attention to all the fine details on this album-I could have gotten someone no one had heard of to sing on certain tracks, but I wanted the best in the business."
With such an impressive list of guests and an outsize reputation to match his outsize size, it would've been easy for his label to sit back and let "Teflon Don" sell itself. But Island/Def Jam senior VP of marketing Chris Atlas says the label is rolling out an aggressive marketing effort.
"We took the fact that he had so many people working with him on the record and captured it on film and video, which we are releasing around the Web," Atlas says. "Rick has been working nonstop since the last record [2009's "Deeper Than Rap," which has sold 434,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan], feeding stuff to his lifestyle and street base. He's put out three or four mixtapes, and there is constant messaging to his core."
Atlas says Ross is on a 10-city promotional tour and making club and radio station appearances. Those visits seem to be paying off: The first single from "Teflon Don," "Super High," is No. 32 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, while new single "B.M.F. (Blowing Money Fast)" moves 39-27 on the list. The video for "Super High," featuring Stacey Dash (whom Ross calls a "classy young lady"), has 900,000 views on YouTube; MTV, among other outlets, has just accepted the video for "B.M.F." The label will also release a limited run of Ross action figures, a nod to his passion for collecting them.
"Teflon Don" is also the subject of a heavy outdoor, online and TV advertising push. Atlas adds that Ross is starting to work with brands, due in part to his recent co-management deal with Sean "Diddy" Combs.
"We're opening him up to working with brands," Atlas says. "He did some smaller stuff before, and he's been doing some things with Ciroc [a vodka brand Combs endorses]. But now he's starting to attract attention from some bigger names. For instance, he's using the nickname 'Ricky Rozay,' so some champagne brands are expressing a desire to do something."
Ross is mostly concentrating on dispelling some of the negative press that has dogged him and steering the focus back to his music. He seems unperturbed when discussing a recent trademark infringement lawsuit filed by similarly named former drug dealer "Freeway" Ricky Ross. Ross the rapper says the suit was dismissed and even seems forgiving of the reformed kingpin, saying, "It's not personal. He's down on his luck."
As for a beef with Young Jeezy, Ross says it's a figment of the media's imagination. "I'm always a phone call away from Jeezy, and he's never called me," he says. He's also not planning on reigniting a long-running and often hysterically funny feud with 50 Cent, which at one point found 50 taking the mother of Ross' son shopping and Ross responding with gay-baiting dis tracks.
At this point, Ross would rather just enjoy the good life, cruising in his Maybach and getting his season tickets to see LeBron James play with the Miami Heat. And he offers advice to fans who haven't yet made it to the "livin' large" lifestyle.
"Blast my record out the windows of your Honda Accord," he says. "And if anyone gives you grief, you look them right in the eye and tell them Rick Ross told you wealth begins in the heart."