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The bold letters in black ink frame his image — bald, bearded, and somewhat bug-eyed with the fervor of his comeback. The gold ink requires a second stencil. Depicted on his head is a crown, cocked just so and perfectly aligned, the kingpin in exile, and below that his autograph, the excessively flamboyant signature of a man who once made millions a day selling cocaine but only began learning to read, behind bars, at age twenty-eight.
Eventually he would read himself to freedom. Advertisement - Continue Reading Below On a sunny morning in southern California, Rick Ross is driving from his cramped but rent-free apartment along tony Ocean Avenue in Long Beach toward some pressing new business in blue-collar Riverside, an hour away. Freeway Rick Ross… as opposed to the rapper known as Rick Ross, a blubbery former college football player and corrections officer whose birth name is William Leonard Roberts II.
When Roberts entered the music game, he appropriated the name and tattooed it across his fists: He rose to prominence rapping about a fictitious criminal past while the real Rick Ross, Freeway Rick Ross, a man iconic enough to have his name jacked, was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in a federal penitentiary. Having brought suit against the rapper for copyright infringement and failed in several courts, Ross came up with the idea of these T-shirts.
Offered in a rainbow of colors, in sizes up to 6XL, they are folded painstakingly and fitted into plastic bags by his older brother in a mini-warehouse to which Ross has managed to secure the key, one in a seemingly endless series of fuzzy handshake arrangements through which he operates his portfolio of legal enterprises.
Wholesale is ten dollars. On the Web the price is twenty-five dollars. Sell those shirts, pay him back a hundred dollars, and you get to keep the profit. Between and , federal prosecutors estimated, Ross bought and resold three tons of cocaine. Converted roughly to present-day dollars: This was partially due to his exponentially increasing network of distributors, as Crips and Bloods struck out across the country to franchise the trade, spreading their gang culture with it… and partially due to his sweetheart connection with a Nicaraguan national who would later be said to have ties to both the CIA and the contra rebels supported during the s by the Reagan administration.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below Advertisement - Continue Reading Below Fueled by the findings of an investigation by San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb in , many would come to believe that the CIA had actually created the crack epidemic in America by allowing or turning a blind eye to massive shipments of cocaine into the country, the profits from which went to arming rebels fighting a Latin American regime disfavored by our government.
Webb also theorized that much of the contra coke cultivated in Colombia ended up in the hands of Freeway Rick Ross. Webb left the paper in disgrace; he was later found dead with two bullets in his head, an apparent suicide. Even many of those who vilified Webb now acknowledge that much of what he reported was true. Deliberate or not, crack spread like a brush fire through the desiccated urban landscape, causing what USC law professor Jody Armour calls "the crack plague and its festering aftermath.
In , when homicide rates due to gang warfare across the country had reached all-time highs, mandatory federal sentencing minimums were established, making the penalties for possession of crack by weight a hundred times more punitive than those for possession of powder cocaine.
Many say this is one of the reasons for the disparities of race in our prison population. Only recently did President Obama sign legislation reducing the crack-to-powder-coke ratio to 18 to 1. Advertisement - Continue Reading Below The way Rick Ross sees it, he was a banker in a shadow economy, working with the only currency available to a disenfranchised segment of society.
By giving out unsecured microloans, he created jobs. The real Rick Ross. But he probably did more than anyone else to cause its spread. The War on Drugs.
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This is his legacy. Say hello to my little friend. He is traveling seventy miles per hour in the middle lane of the Freeway, heading for the 91 Freeway, chatting nonstop to a series of callers on a BlackBerry cell phone with a cracked face that the mother of his two youngest children — Mychosia Nightingale, a former Army sergeant who did three tours in Iraq — found for him on Craigslist for twenty-nine dollars.
The steering wheel vibrates beneath his driving hand. The vehicle is slightly out of alignment; it was purchased at auction on his behalf by another of his partners, this one a reformed bank robber who is helping him learn the business of flipping low-end cars.
Prior to jumping on the freeway, Ross stopped at a junkyard and scored. After his release from prison in more on that below , Ross tried long-distance trucking.
He was up to seven rigs when the repair bills crippled him. Then, he says, two of his cousins ran off with the last two viable trucks. Next he tried the hair business — human hair for extensions. Another cousin, who was supposed to go to India to buy more hair, ran off with a suitcase full of money. Ever upbeat, Ross keeps trying.
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A social-media campaign freewaysocialmedia. If you want to be signed, you have to sell T-shirts. A sports training and management agency specializing in troubled athletes.
His potential partner made a fortune selling faux marijuana and bath salts. By far his biggest hopes lie in Hollywood. The calls come in every few minutes: The hugely popular English comedian is taping his last installment of the season tonight. Ross is scheduled to appear. His initial customers were the D Boys. They liked to mix a little crack into their blunts—street name: This shot on national TV is just what he needs, a big-time arena in which to push his shirts and his various campaigns, a chance to explain a little bit about himself, to put things in context, to explain his situation — how he was really more of an entrepreneur giving microloans than a drug pusher peddling death.
How the CIA practically put the drugs in his hands. The caller sounds superfriendly; the two have spoken before. The routine of arrival is explained. A medium-sized Real Rick Ross T-shirt is requested. Then talk turns to plans for the segment. His tone is reminiscent of a cheerleader pumping a fist in the air. It runs through the eastern side of the city, paralleling the coastline, passing near the Watts Towers, the L.
Today the area is best known for gangs, drugs, and economic despair. After the riots, people of color began to refer to a place called Soweto South of Pico Boulevard — the geographical line of demarcation between the haves and have-nots in Los Angeles. By eminent domain, construction claimed the house, at West Eighty-seventh Place, where Ross grew up. Today if you go there, the ground still trembles.
Homeless people live in makeshift tents beneath the overpass. Back in , when Ross was nineteen and the house still stood, he would arrive home with his buddy Ollie "Big Loc" Newell to find the usual friends and family hanging out in the garage that Ross and his brother had converted into a bedroom.
Ross and his mother came to South Central in , when he was three. At first, they lived with her brother, George, and his wife. One night George became enraged and attacked his wife and sister. After what Ross remembers as a long and painful separation, Mauldin was released from jail and mother and son were reunited. Mauldin cleaned office buildings, did landscaping, worked for a lawyer soliciting auto-accident cases.
Eventually, the family went on welfare. Ross remembers collecting canned food from looted stores after the Watts riots. Mauldin is now in her mid-eighties, a sprightly woman with a quick laugh who drives a minivan and likes to gamble in a nearby casino.
She remembers Ricky being embarrassed by government handouts, always hustling. He cut lawns, sold lemonade, pumped gas for tips, shoplifted, ran errands for neighborhood pimps. He fought with classmates, sassed teachers — the little guy with the big temper.
There was experts on burglary, there was experts on how to rob somebody at the ATM, how to get a gun, how to file off the serial numbers — all this information was readily available in our community. Criminal enterprise was the only work we had. Started initially as a sort of neighborhood-watch brigade by muscleheads who prided themselves on a fly style of dress, the Crips would mutate across South Central and further spawn the Bloods.
One day at Bret Harte Junior High, after putting his books into his locker, Ross turned around to find himself staring down the barrel of a.
Somehow his homies defused the incident, but Ross was deeply shaken. He resolved to never join a gang. Ross went to the park nearly every day, despite the fact that he and his pals had once discovered a mutilated body floating in the swimming pool. In later years Ross would never be known for violence. Too small for football or basketball, the quick and tenacious Ross found in tennis a legit place to excel. By ninth grade he was recruited to play for Dorsey High School, a magnet school in Baldwin Hills, an exclusive residential area known as the black Beverly Hills.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below Ross dropped out before receiving his diploma. As his jock friends went off to college scholarships, Ross ended up playing for the tennis team at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College while he was studying auto upholstery, inspired by his newfound passion for lowriders. He bought a Impala convertible and set about restoring and customizing it — juiced, lifted, and sporting fancy rims, the vehicle could hop three feet off the ground.
To pay for his hobby, Ross fell into a network of auto thieves who became known as the Freeway Boys. He also became part owner of a chop shop.
Around the spring of , Ross was arrested for the first time and charged with possession of stolen auto parts. Mike was staying in the guesthouse of a nice place in Sugar Hill, an area popular with wealthy black folks prior to Baldwin Hills. It had its own kitchen and everything.
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Ross had never even had his own room. Greeting Ross and his boy Ollie at the door, according to Ross, Mike pulled out a plastic baggie filled with white paper bindles. He removed one and opened it—inside was a small amount of white powder that sparkled beneath the lamplight. At the time, the most common drugs to use or sell in the ghetto were black-tar heroin, marijuana, and PCP — phencyclidine, a powerful anesthetic.
The only time Ross had even heard of cocaine was in the movie Superfly.