Rick Ross on Tupac: Hell 4 A Hustler

In 1996, Rick Ross’ role in Hip-Hop was simply a fan. Living in Miami, no doubt pushing to the limit, Ross felt understood when listening to the struggles of Tupac Shakur on All Eyez on Me and Makaveli. “The Boss,” as Ross calls himself, was emotionally affected upon the loss of rap’s most colorful character. […]

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In 1996, Rick Ross’ role in Hip-Hop was simply a fan. Living in Miami, no doubt pushing to the limit, Ross felt understood when listening to the struggles of Tupac Shakur on All Eyez on Me and Makaveli. “The Boss,” as Ross calls himself, was emotionally affected upon the loss of rap’s most colorful character.

A decade later, Rick Ross is among the brightest new stars in the game. However, some could argue that the rapper’s success is achievable only in the wake of luminaries such as Shakur. Tupac’s “Dear Mr. President” has become Ross’ “White House,” and the very connotation of “hustling” may’ve been lost in translation. Others may find the Carol City Cartel leader to have a natural progression from the Outlawz’ frontman. In a personal look at a fallen icon, Rick Ross shares his deep appreciation of Tupac, as well an analysis of the similarities and differences in the times, and the artists Hip-Hop has crowned. In the end, even Rick Ross agrees that Makaveli was the boss of all bosses.

AllHipHop.com: I know you were 18 or 19 years-old when it happened, but can you remember what your life was like when Tupac died, and your reaction to the news?

Rick Ross: I just came back from outta town, meetin’ a couple of my homeboys. We stopped in a gas station. When I walked in the gas station, the lady who was takin’ the money behind the cash register, she had tears runnin’ down her face. Automatically, I’m thinkin’, “Damn. We done walked into the middle of a robbery.” So I look around, and said, “Baby, what’s goin’ on?” She said that Tupac had just died. [pause] That whole day was just on pause for the rest of the day. We just went and rolled up with all of my homies, we got this lil’ park that we roll to if somebody we know passed. We’ll just blow and s**t. I went to the park, and everybody was already there like Tupac was one of our homies. We just set up and smoked weed and drank for hours.

AllHipHop.com: What was ‘Pac’s reach like in Miami? How did Southern Florida identify with him?

Rick Ross: ‘Pac ran the game, man! At the climax, it was Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. Tupac was always on the top of the game, man – just his aggressiveness and [his rhyming] about the struggle. Plus, his background and all that, it’s like you watched him grow. Down in Miami, everybody was ridin’ for ‘Pac.

AllHipHop.com: The term “hustle” or “hustler” has changed a lot in the last decade. With the Outlawz, Tupac had a great record in “Hell 4 A Hustler.” How do you think the term, the lifestyle, and the connotation have changed over the decade?

Rick Ross: Um…I ain’t gonna say it really changed, ‘cause it’s always gonna represent the same thing. It’s just that the people who have used it has changed over time. Tupac, he really represented the essence of the struggle, the heart of the hustle. To watch him be incarcerated and sign a deal on a small piece of paper, and come out and explode just to meet his requirements and move on, small things like that, that’s what I took from him. The work ethic: in two weeks, he recorded [All Eyez On Me], in seven days, he recorded Makaveli. To me, those are true definitions of a hustler, being capable.

AllHipHop.com: Do you have a favorite Tupac song, something that speaks personally to you?

Rick Ross: I love so much of his music, but when I listen to the Makaveli song, it’s weird, but "Just LIke Daddy". It’s like he did that personally for Rick Ross.

AllHipHop.com: Wow. In what sense?

Rick Ross: Just the whole vibe. When the song comes on, it’s like it’s player s**t, but the way he gets down, it’s authentic. He don’t overdo it, saturate it, or sugar-coat it. His music was just so realistic.

AllHipHop.com: When Tupac died, it didn’t seem that many people in mainstream Hip-Hop stood by his clique, The Outlawz. As you’ve built your Carol City Cartel, how would you feel if you were locked up or put in that position? Is there anything to learn from the way Hip-Hop treats its groups?

Rick Ross: Most definitely, man. Everywhere you go, you just realize that this is entertainment, but it’s real life. I know it’s hard for some people to understand that, but this is real life. When things like that happen, it just really shows you. Like Jay-Z said, “Where’s the love?” When you hear people ask those questions again and again, it let me know, being the n***a I am, it’s a vicious game. It’s chess, not checkers. I gotta be prepared for that. It’s part of my work ethic. It’s not only being hardworking and being committed to your music, but in this business, to all black entrepreneurs, I recommend you become a master thinker. You gotta prepare for those situations.

AllHipHop.com: Some critics were very hard on your album, particularly about the lyricism. Throughout his life, and after, critics also argue that Tupac was a rapper, not an MC —

Rick Ross: I don’t agree with them! I don’t agree with them, ‘cause being an MC is being able to deliver a message. And nobody could deliver a message better than Tupac. He had songs where he was just being so lyrical. [Rick Ross rhymes from Tupac’s "If I Die 2night"] “ Picturin’ pitiful punk n***as coppin’ pleas / Puffin’ weed as I position myself to clock G’s.” Every verse in that song started with different words of the same letter. He showed you right there that he was the best. That’s what The Boss here for!

AllHipHop.com: Certainly, Tupac rhymed with artists like C-Bo, Daz, Rappin’ 4-Tay and others who overtly rhymed about selling dope. But still, I was listening to “Changes” recently. In it, there’s that dialogue Tupac recreates, where he says, “I made a G today / But you made it in a sleazy way / Sellin’ crack to the kids / I gotta get paid / Well hey, that’s the way it is.” I could never figure out if ‘Pac is belittling the dealer or siding with society. As somebody who walks the line, what do you think?

Rick Ross: Nah. That’s what made him cool. What he did was, he put the pros and the cons in your face. So when you hustlin’ and you glorifyin’ it, just remember that ain’t the right thing to do; there’s a better way – that’s what he’s saying in the song. But the last thing he says is [basically,] it’s all about survival. He always put it right there for you.

AllHipHop.com: You worked with Daz and other people who knew ‘Pac. Have you ever learned anything interesting on him from these people?

Rick Ross: Yeah man, as soon as I got a chance to work with Daz, when he came into the studio I was workin’ in, he heard a few cuts of a Tupac mix CD I’m workin’ on, using some of his beats. Daz came in, and I was just askin’ him about ‘Pac. Once again, he touched on how ‘Pac would come to the studio with two hours to do three records. It just opened my mind up so much more; it made me expect so much more of myself. The quality of the music – his music still sounds the greatest to me.

AllHipHop.com: Rap-A-Lot Records just put out 2Face, a collaboration with Scarface and old ‘Pac vocals. Scarface has publicly removed himself from the release. As a fan, how have you felt on the posthumous releases since Makaveli?

Rick Ross: Um…there was a couple of ‘em I really wouldn’t agree with. To me, it’s simple: if I wasn’t a part of his program before he passed, I wouldn’t agree to do it. For other business reasons, other people do other things. To me, holding up the integrity of my brother, of my homeboy is more important than business or capitalizing off sales, but that’s just Rick Ross.

AllHipHop.com: No money involved, but if you could collaborate with Tupac on one of his or one of your songs, what would it be, and why?

Rick Ross: I might go back to the “Ambitionz az a Ridah.” That was one of my favorite ‘Pac cuts. The production was crazy. When he put his thing down, he most def let you know he was legendary.

AllHipHop.com: It was a hell of a way to open album, and I noticed you didn’t mess around opening up Port of Miami either…

Rick Ross: Yeah, I had to do it like that. I been waitin’ a long time for it. Came out, debuted Number One on Billboard charts, and my squad, Carol City Cartel, comin’ next. I’m just finna keep making good music, man.

AllHipHop.com: On your record, you’ve got “Hit U From the Back.” Tupac helped make love and sex records mainstream again with “Temptations,” “How Do U Want It,” and “Whatz Ya Phone #.” Do you think you learned anything from him on that?

Rick Ross: He showed you it was cool to reach out and address your female fans. Being a street dude, he gave you the blueprint on how to just be free and speak your mind – puttin’ it down how you put it down to music. When he did the “Whatz Ya Phone #,” he was like having the phone-sex with the chick – it was different, it was real. He kinda showed you you could do your thing like that.

AllHipHop.com: We haven’t seen you beef or battle. But as listener, what did you learn from the way ‘Pac handled his issues with people on the mic?

Rick Ross: On the mic, I loved it. I loved it! ‘Cause, growin’ up, I felt those same frustrations, and I still do to this day. I relate to his pain; I relate to his struggle. I understand when he was facin’ all the hate. Sometimes, you gotta lash out. I support dog.

AllHipHop.com: On Still I Rise, Tupac opened with “Letter to the President” – very politically charged. There’s not a huge correlation, but on your album, you’ve got “The White House.” Do you think that looking at these two records and what they’re saying shows us anything about how Hip-Hop has changed in the last decade, and what will it take to bring back people like ‘Pac?

Rick Ross: You really just gotta support artists and watch ‘em grow. ‘Pac, man, those are some real big shoes to fill because he was really educated in the background, and he really understood politics. He was more up on the f**kery than a lot of the dudes. But in my songs, I touch ‘em in a different way. I touch them differently, but I most def be havin’ issues like that on my mind. My next album is gonna touch on a lot more different things.