MMG founder on reuniting with L.A. Reid, 10 years in rap and what it means to be a boss.

Rick Ross is in a positive state of mind today. It’s been a long morning of press and currently he’s snowed in at his Manhattan hotel, but the Boss Don has never been one to complain. On the contrary, he’s extremely grateful.

Early last year Ross made the move from Def Jam Recordings, the label he’s called home for the last nine years, and signed with Epic Records. Under a new roof and with a fresh outlook on music he reunited with friend and collaborator L.A. Reid (CEO at Epic) to mould his ninth studio album Rather You Than Me.

“This album is more than just another project for me. It’s a product of strength, perseverance and determination,” Ross declares in an open letter to his fans.

It’s these values that Ross exudes through the booming bass of his lyrics on each record he puts out, but in being the boss he’s never shy to flaunt his fortunes and for him, he says, it’s what keeps him inspired. His breakout track “Hustlin’” became an anthem back in 2006 for people working everywhere from an office to McDonalds, making them want to work hard for their money. Even with all the success Ross has had in the last 10-plus years, he’s still hustlin’ to be the biggest, baddest boss around.

Even in his most casual outfits he’s fresh, often blinged out from chain to watch, shades set neatly in position, beard artistically chiseled to perfection. That’s Ross. Arriving at this point in his career — not only as a Grammy-nominated artist, but as the CEO of his own record label imprint, Maybach Music Group, and owner of several fast food franchises — it’s been an extensive journey. And as he tells it, there’s a certain set of rules he lives by in order to maintain his mogul status.

Rather You Than Me is for the survivalists, for the ones that refuse to give up, the ones that won’t quit against all odds.”

Tell me a little about the album Rather You Than Me. What does that title mean and how does it relate to what we can expect from the project?

Well you know the title, Rather You Than Me, that’s a brother’s natural instinct to survive. Rather You Than Me is for the survivalists, for the ones that refuse to give up, the ones that won’t quit against all odds. That’s what that vibe is. The music is that hot, top tear Maybach Music.

It’s common knowledge that you and L.A. Reid have been tight for about a decade. What has it been like working with him this past year since signing to Epic Records?

Honestly, I feel like it’s been the same. The couple times I went and sat down, gave him my vision and my ideas, he gave me his full support. And here we are, getting ready to roll out an amazing project.

I read your letter to your fans that you released about your new album Rather You Than Me and your 10-plus years in the game. And it sounds like you tackle a lot of important topics and share some of your pain and struggles. If you had to choose your favourite track off the album, which one would you choose and why?

I think one that you guys will feel a lot of pain and me opening a lot of new doors would be “The Apple of My Eye”. I think that’s most definitely one to keep note of.

In your music, you consistently promote the message of overcoming obstacles and entrepreneurship, clearly applying those values to your everyday life with losing over 75 pounds, starting your own label and becoming the proud owner of several Wingstop franchises. What has it taken for you to become not only a successful entrepreneur, but a bona fide boss?

I think what makes you the biggest boss possible is when you’re doing what you love, dealing with something you love to do. When it comes to this music I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else and all of the other ventures like the Wingstops — and I just purchased my first two Checkers hamburger joints — and whatever it is. I’m a fat boy at heart. These are all the things we did coming up and we just getting are hands on them now. We buying back the block so that’s really cool.

“That’s what being a boss is all about. You have to start with your family. That’s what it’s about.”

Within hip-hop, bravado has always been a recurring theme. With artists such as yourself, Big Sean and DJ Khaled, among others, I’ve noticed that you’re able to still express bravado, but with other topics like providing for your loved ones, being able to give back and pushing people to be the best they can be. Why do you think it’s important to discuss these themes in your music?

For anybody that doesn’t get these family morals, these very important traditions, hopefully you’ll absorb it in the music. Take care of your family first, regardless of who you are, where you are, what colour you are. We all need the same things. Take care of your team, feed your family, keep your face clean, that’s what we’re doing over here. That’s what being a boss is all about. You have to start with your family. That’s what it’s about. You feel me? You gon’ hear that in my music at all times.

You know I love jewels too. Growing up I ain’t never had a watch. Of course, I dream of having the finest watches and that’s what it was and that’s what it takes to inspire me to keep going. I’m going to use it as inspiration, but there’s most definitely a big picture and I think that big picture is clearer now more than it’s ever been.

There’s not a single success story that was all gains and glory on the way up. As you hustled and worked your way to the top, what has been one major setback in getting to where you wanted to be?

You know majority of the time, as an artist, your major setback is yourself. You have to learn to deal with more people on a larger scale. It’s how eager you are to do this. What kind of person are you and what kind of person are you going to allow yourself to become? At the end of the day those are [questions] that every individual has to answer for themselves.

What’s your answer to that? What kind of individual did you want to become?

You know I want to be the boss. In being a boss, you got to embrace everyone. It’s got to be love unless you’re stepping on our grass. Don’t step on the grass; stay on the cement. We good as long as you stay on the cement.

I’ve read recently that with your last album it was difficult to execute a promotional and marketing strategy as you were on house arrest at the time. How do you plan to re-connect with your international fan base this time around?

We worked out something. I have to thank my judge. We worked out something where I can move internationally now so everybody that wants to see the boss get ready ’cause the boss is coming.

A lot of artists coming out now aspire to be signed to a label like Maybach. What do you look for in an artist you sign?

What I look for in an artist is one that’s going to out-work me. [They] should always stay up later than I do. You have so much more to do than I do, but to me that’s the key. How much are you willing to sacrifice?

What are three tips you’d give to someone who’s at the bottom right now and thinking of starting their own business/brand?

I keep it simple. Put God first. Teamwork makes the dream work. You can’t do anything by yourself, nothing. And maybe a third one is go hard baby, you got to go hard.

Photos courtesy of Sony Music Canada