It’s been 11 years since Rick Ross broke out onto the hip-hop world as a solo artist with “Hustlin’,” the first single off his debut album Port of Miami, and the Maybach Music Group leader has hardly slowed down since: eight solo albums, three MMG compilations, a handful of mixtapes and an untold number of guest features tell that story plainly. But now, with his ninth album, Rather You Than Me — his first with Epic Records after a decade at Def Jam and drops March 17 — Rozay is beginning to write the next chapter in his career.
He’s already begun writing the narrative with lead single “I Think She Likes Me” feat. Ty Dolla $ign and the street anthem “Summer ’17,” and he’ll be continuing that promotional run by hosting the 2017 MTV Woodies at SXSW on March 16, which will be broadcast live at 11 p.m. from Austin, Texas.
It’ll be the 13th edition of MTV’s emerging artist festival and awards show this year, and Ross’ first time in the host role for any similar event. With Rather You Than Me on the way and his new gig just three weeks away, Rick Ross speaks with Billboard about this year’s Woodies, his evolution as a rapper in his 10-plus years in the game, and his advice for up-and-coming artists.
You’re hosting the 2017 MTV Woodies at SXSW this year. How did you get involved?
That was a big play; the Woodies have always been cool, I performed at the Woodies with the Clipse [in 2009] and I’ve been back a few times. But my new album Rather You Than Me will be up in stores on the 17th, so it just felt right to mesh all the dope concerts, a lot of dope artists and really just the culture. The fans that make the world go ’round at the Woodies, so I felt like that’s what we should touch.
Have you ever done a hosting gig like this before? Got a comedy bit lined up for it?
No, not at all. To me, that’s what’s gonna make it dope, the fact that I don’t know what the f–k I’m doing. I’m gonna go out there fly as a motherf—ker and it’s gonna be boss. You know me, I just go off the energy, I’m gonna do a wonderful job. I could be a funny motherf–ker off the rip just by myself, so I can imagine me gettin’ in the crowd — I’m gonna have a lot of s–t I can talk about. But to me, it’s just all about the music and the crowd and the fans. I’m gonna interact with the crowd, so that’s what it’s gonna be about with me.
You mentioned your album comes out the next day, on March 17th. What can people expect?
Oh, man, this is my ninth album and quite possibly my magnum opus. And that’s not a word I throw around, but it’s just the highest level of Maybach Music. I’m excited for the streets to hear the collaborations, the records, the production. I feel like this is definitely, for anybody that ever, ever doubted Rick Ross, this is most definitely going to solidify that I’m one of the greatest. And this album, Rather You Than Me, will be the album that crowns me king.
This being your ninth album, you’ve also got a slew of mixtapes and collaborative projects under your belt — what can you bring this time that you haven’t already done?
Every day the approach to life changes. And that’s what music is all about to me. Music is about giving game, and every day that the game change, you gotta update your s–t, you gotta update your playlists, you gotta update your programs and your data. And that’s what this music is. What I did in ’06 with Port of Miami was classic for that era, for that time frame, and in 2017, Rather You Than Me will be the same.
This is also your first album for Epic after eight with Def Jam. Do you feel like it’s the beginning of a new era in any way?
As far as starting fresh with a new re-invigorated team whose ambition is as big as yours is most definitely always dope. But by L.A. Reid being at the helm of the label, our relationship has always been the same and all we’ve done since ’06 is win and put up No. 1 records. And I expect no different from this album.
What was the inspiration behind the title Rather You Than Me, and what does it mean to you?
Rather You Than Me just speaks for my natural instinct to survive, but it’s also me being a writer, me being a poet — there’s also a beautiful side to Rather You Than Me. And that could be just as simple as when I’m boarding a flight and I see an elderly person and I stop, “I’d rather you than me, go before me,” you know? Those small things, the way I can flip ’em 360 degrees on a record I think is dope as f–k and it’s gonna f–k the streets up.
I’ve got a record titled “Idols Become Rivals” and it’s basically me writing a letter to someone in the game that I looked up to damn near the most and I hate what things have come to. So I have so many different records, approaches. Me and Nas, the way we rapped on “Powers That Be” — we not in control, is it the higher-ups? Or are we the higher-ups? Are we the powers that be? I’m just really ready for these records to get into the streets so that people can hear the excitement in my voice and the music, the way me and Future, the collaborations… I did a record titled “Dead Presidents,” I’m so excited for that to hit the streets.
“Dead Presidents”? Is that a call back to the Nas and Jay Z tracks?
Nah, not at all. This is some 2017 s–t.
How do you feel like you’ve evolved over the past 10-plus years you’ve been in the game?
I think a testament to how I’ve evolved is when you hear “Buy Back the Block” [featuring 2 Chainz and Gucci Mane]. That’s a record I felt I owed the culture, a debt that I owed the culture. Me being in my position on the mountaintop, me being the golden eagle, we gotta celebrate, we gotta live, because that’s what it’s about. When you hear me say, “Ballin’, gettin’ money,” that’s about celebrating comin’ from nothin’ and being able to hold your head up high, your momma can go in the grocery store and put anything in the basket she want without even thinking twice about it. That’s what I’m really talkin’ ’bout. But man, the 17th is gonna be crackin’.
How have you seen the game change in the past decade?
I mean, there’s a new dope artist that come on the scene every week. But to me, I think what makes me a boss is, it’s not just myself and a record. I represent a whole era. I represent a whole generation. When Rick Ross made “Hustlin’,” Rick Ross also helped those producers become some of the biggest producers in the world. When I make hit records, I change the sound as well. When I did “BMF,” Lex Luger produced that record and Lex Luger became the most sought-after producer in the rap game — I mean, Kanye West, everybody you could name — for the next four years, or whatever it was. So for me, that’s what’s dope about what I do. When I bring a sound, it’s not just a dope record, it’s also a sound that’ll also alter the sound of the game for that moment, for that era. And that’s what I want to do again.
The Woodies are ostensibly a showcase for emerging artists. Who are some of the younger artists on the rise who stick out to you?
You know, me coming from Miami and not doing fast music or whatever, a lot of times people didn’t connect with my records, so I’ve always been one that’s been open and receptive to someone that’s new, even if it’s different, as long as I see that your heart is into it and you’re going hard. So if you Lil Boat, if you Young Yachty, I’m always gonna leave the door open and show you love, the same way I did with Wale and with Meek Mill, or whoever. If there’s a new artist, a youngster, whether it’s Kodak Black or whoever it is, me being a boss I’m always there to support and give them advice. And that’s what I believe my role in the game is, other than keeping this s–t on fire. We still do what we do, but we have to definitely give advice to the youngsters and keep encouraging them to go hard as well.
What advice do you give to younger artists?
In 2017, you gotta be even more independent and self-reliant than even I was. That’s why I love when I see some artists like Lil Uzi Vert or whoever and I asked about them a few months before they were signed and they’re already signed [to their own labels] — man, that’s dope. I love to see the artist create a movement without the financial backing of a record label. To me, that shows me your heart and your hustle. It speaks for itself, and the music speaks for itself.
You mentioned Kodak, also Denzel Curry, there’s a wave of young rappers coming out of Florida right now. What do you think about that scene?
Man, I love it. I love Denzel Curry, he’s from my hood, from Carol City. I was just featured on his remix [for “Knotty Head”], that’s my lil homie. I got him on a record that MMG will release, the next project, that he’ll be up on it as well. So I support — I ain’t just talkin’ about it, I actually support [young artists].
Are you heading out on tour this year?
You know, I was just having a conversation about my tour with Lyor Cohen a couple nights ago, we were just sittin’ around and I was brainstorming how I wanted to do this tour. Because I want it to be big, I want to have everybody in, put it on the right platform and bring it around the world.