In early April, Rick Ross, the Miami-born rapper known for highlighting his coke-dealing past, found himself in Medellin, Colombia—a city known for its coke-dealing. Sporting a white linen suit, his staple dark shades and an iced-out bracelet, Ross was filming the video for the single “All I Really Want.” At one point, a sun-kissed woman wearing a gold bra-and-panty set caressed the shoulders of the 300-pound self-proclaimed boss as he sat on the edge of his bed, overlooking the city.
Last weekend, when he shot a video for the promo single “Cold Blood,” Ross traded the sunshine of Medellin for the darker tones of a funeral parlor. Clad in a black suit, black leather gloves and another pair of shades, he sat in a back pew and watched a makeshift ceremony. It was a memorial for the death of Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent.
Since the beginning of this year, Ross and 50 Cent have taken verbal and visual jabs at each other. While this beef hasn’t—and hopefully won’t—escalate to physical confrontations, the release of Ross’s first promo single “Mafia Music” led to an onslaught of Web-released diss tracks, cartoon spoofs, comedy skits, music videos, photos, Web sites and more from both sides.
The real winner may be Universal Music Group, which owns Island Def Jam and Interscope, the labels the rappers are signed to. Since the dispute started in January, the sales of Ross’ two previous albums have increased by 62%, while sales of 50 Cent’s three catalog titles grew by 74%, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And the more that bloggers wrote about the battle, according to the online chatter tracker Nielsen BuzzMetrics, the more the two artists reaped the benefits. “Deeper Than Rap” looks as though it will debut atop the Billboard 200 next week with sales of about 150,000 copies.
“For Ross, the beef actually elevated him to a national platform, but his music is incredible enough to back it up,” says Chris Atlas, senior VP of marketing for IDJ, Ross’ label. “If it was just purely beef and we had wack music, there’s nothing to sell. But the beef got him even more national attention, and when those who hadn’t checked for him went out and heard his previous music, Ross was able to back it up. And now, controversy aside, the music is speaking for him. There is a lot of anticipation for this album.”
Some critics question if the beef was a publicity stunt by Ross to draw attention to “Deeper Than Rap,” but the album has its own bona fides; it features production work from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, the Runnerz, the Inkredibles and Tricky Stewart, as well as guest appearances from Lil Wayne, Kanye West, T-Pain, Nas and the-Dream, among others. The first single, “Magnificent,” is No. 7 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and features John Legend.
“People made plenty of assumptions [about the beef] but my name was mentioned before I ever did anything,” Ross says. “And where I grew up, if I have a homeboy that gets shot at every time he goes down a certain street and if I’m riding in the car with him one particular day and we go down this same street and they happen to shoot at the both of us, I’m involved now. When someone mentions my name because they’re attacking someone that I’m close with, it’s my problem now.”
That’s how the feud got started, according to Ross. First, he released “Mafia Music” online, which referenced the public rift between 50 and his son’s mother about child support and the house she lived in with their child, which mysteriously burned down after a court ruling in 50’s favor. 50 struck back with “Try Me” by way of his blog site, thisis50.com, in which he rhymed, “Officer Ricky! Radio for backup/See his ass anywhere, you know I’m gonna act up.”
“We’re going to act like we didn’t hear that,” an unimpressed Ross said during a radio show interview about the comeback. “We gonna give him 48 hours to come up with another one.”
A few days later, 50 posted another video, which warned, “There’s nobody in control of me. I do what I want to do. Rick Ross, I’m-a fuck your life up, for fun. You’re gonna really understand how resourceful I am.”
At the beginning of February, Ross released the video for “Mafia Music,” in which he flaunts his mansion, cars, jewelry and handgun, among other things; he also put out another diss track, “Kiss My Pinky Ring.”
Despite the apparent animosity behind the feud, Ross says “Deeper Than Rap” isn’t an angry album. Other tracks include the reggae-tinged “Yacht Club”; “Lay Back,” with vocals from Robin Thicke; and “Bossy Lady,” which features Ne-Yo and may be the third single.
While IDJ’s Atlas says the beef may help sales, he isn’t relying on it to promote “Deeper Than Rap.” A strong viral campaign featuring videos of Ross doing everything from recording a track in the studio to sending direct messages to fans has also taken off on Ross’ site, DeepInTheRap.com, bolstering the banner ad campaigns on other sites like WorldStarHipHop.com, AllHipHop.com and TheLifeFiles.com, among others.
To hear Ross talk, it sounds as though the video for “Cold Blood” just metaphorically buried 50 himself—not their feud. “Money doesn’t make me—I make the money,” he says. “That applies to my opposition. If you rely on your money, you’re engaging in something that won’t work. If you aren’t making music that people want to hear or are in the streets with the people, you’re going to run out of things to do. Cartoons can only take you so far.”
Read the full story at Billboard.biz.