Dante Ross, the trailblazing former A&R for Tommy Boy Records, helped launch the careers of numerous Hip-Hop legends, including De La Soul, Queen Latifah and Digital Underground. At Elektra Records, where he became the company’s first Hip-Hop A&R, he worked closely with MF DOOM (KMD), Del The Funky Homosapien, Busta Rhymes, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Pete Rock & CL Smooth, to name few. Simply put, he was living the life.
But as Ross’s career continued to soar, so did his alcohol consumption. It took the 2011 death of his father to realize he needed to put the bottle down and stop the destructive behavior that was beginning to take its toll. With meticulous detail, Ross explores his relationship with his parents, tumultuous childhood, storied career, addiction and much more in his first memoir, Son of the City, which was released on Tuesday (May 23).
Speaking to AllHipHop in a recent interview, Ross opened up about what led to his decision to take a different route. His father—who inspired the book—was a big part of that.
“I always knew I was an alcoholic,” Ross said. “I just didn’t stop drinking until 2011 when my dad passed away. I was just super depressed the entire time. When he was dying in 2010, I spent a lot of time with him, and it was took a lot outta me. Drinking was no longer fun. You know, it’s fun until it’s not fun anymore, right? It works until it doesn’t work. Well, it wasn’t working anymore. I would just get more depressed, inactive and antisocial. I wouldn’t even wanna be around people anymore. I felt my world getting very small.”
It wasn’t until he was doing what he called a “victory lap of memorial services” for his father that he got the wake up call he so desperately needed.
“I was hammered the entire time and my sister was like, ‘You might wanna do something about that,'” he remembers. “As soon as I did a eulogy, I’d go get hammered. It was pretty apparent to me that I probably always had a problem ’cause all the dumbest s### I’d ever done was done while drinking, particularly when I was younger. As I got older, I did less stupid s### because I became a ‘better drinker.’ But I was probably genetically predisposed to be an alcoholic. I was relatively aware I was an alcoholic when I was pretty young.”
Ross ultimately cleaned up his act a few months later and has been sober ever since. In fact, he just celebrated 12 years on May 9. The fact Ross was able to juggle such an impressive career while battling his own demons was a feat in itself. But there was a method to his madness.
“I didn’t drink during the day,” he said. “I drank on my own time, if that makes sense. I think I substituted my bad behavior with alcohol for relatively detached behavior with weed. I smoked a ton of weed. I smoked so much weed. I was legendary for how much weed I smoked. I was never not high.”
Ross admitted giving up weed was way more difficult than quitting alcohol. He continued, “The detrimental factors aren’t as apparent. You don’t get a hangover, you lose your keys. You don’t get in fist fights, you sit on your couch and watch bad T.V. or you hang out with dudes who talk about nothing all day and just smoke. It makes you lazy and kinda slow, but I never punched anyone in the nose because I smoked too many blunts.”
Ross himself even seemed surprised by his old behavior. Even before big meetings with the president of Sony Music, he’d get high. Looking back, it sounds ludicrous: “I don’t know what the f### I was thinking.”
Despite Ross’s extracurricular activities, he managed to get a lot of work done. One of his crowning achievements is introducing De La Soul to the world.
“I had never heard anything that sounded like it before,” he said. “It was like totally unique and original and just super cool, almost psychedelic.”
Ross was among the many who attended the celebration for Trugoy The Dove at Webster Hall in New York City on March 3, the same day De La Soul’s first six albums were finally uploaded to streaming services. The event was bittersweet and doubled as a memorial for Trugoy who died unexpectedly just weeks prior. But it’s a night Ross will never forget.
“It was life-affirming and emotional for me,” he said. “I didn’t go to college. I went to the School of Hip-Hop, so it was kind of like my college reunion, but I liked everyone who was there. I saw people I hadn’t seen forever. I saw Monie Love, who I hadn’t seen in forever. I met some people like Common. I got to see Pete Rock and Lord Jamar, who are like family to me because we did so much together. I hung out with Pete Nice. It was really beautiful.”
Son of the City (Rare Bird Books) is currently available here. A description on the Amazon website reads, “Dante Ross, born and raised by political activists on New York’s pre-gentrified Lower East Side, would play a pivotal role in the golden age of hip-hop. Named as one of Complex Magazine’s Top 25 Greatest Hip-Hop A&Rs, Ross got his start at Tommy Boy Records, where he would sign and handle the careers of De La Soul and Queen Latifah. At Elektra Records, he would go on to sign Brand Nubian, Grand Puba, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, KMD, Busta Rhymes and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
As a producer, he has worked on a range of hit records by artists such as 3rd Bass, Del the Funky Homosapien, Run-DMC and Everlast—including the multi-platinum album Whitey Ford Sings the Blues and the gold follow-up, Eat at Whitey’s. Ross earned a Grammy in 1999 for his production work on Carlos Santana’s Supernatural and also produced and co-wrote two songs featuring Macy Gray and Young Z for the soundtrack to Eminem’s 8 Mile. In this highly entertaining memoir, Ross pulls no punches as he details his chaotic childhood, his life in Hip-Hop, and all the hard lessons he learned growing up in New York as a true son of the city.”