In just three years, chart-topping Def Jam rapper Rick Ross (born William Leonard Roberts III) has built a label, a franchise and a movement powered by a sharp ear, a signature sound and a strong Internet presence. Through Maybach Music Group, Ross' reach stretches from Def Jam, where he's signed as an artist, to Warner Bros., which signed on to distribute MMG in February 2011 and houses the bulk of the label's roster, including rappers Wale, Meek Mill and Stalley. In a show of strength, the label's recent press conference announcing the signing of R&B singer Omarion and detailing a packed summer release schedule, including a new release from Ross himself (fifth album God Forgives, I Don't arrives July 31), as well as the debut from fire-starter Meek Mill ( Dreams and Nightmares is due Aug. 28), was attended by the heads of Def Jam and Warner Bros.
Online, the label's strength shines bright with in-house video production team Maybach Films consistently producing music videos, and a strong social media presence across the brand. "Ross is a trendsetter when it comes to the viral game," Warner Bros. VP of A&R Dallas Martin says. "We get content out there for all of the music that we do." And interaction on the Web translates offline. Wale's 2011 sophomore LP, Ambition, bowed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 434,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. According to Martin, the collective is in talks with "one of the biggest touring companies" to hit the road later this year. "We're pretty much the first brand that took it to this level with social media," he says. "I feel like we reaped all the benefits from it, just by how active everyone is and connected they are to their fans." - Steven J. Horowitz