“Nine interviews a day, going to the studio and doing two shows at night. Every day. It becomes like a job,” Meek says, alluding to his recent tweet about needing a break. “I gotta pace myself. This game, it’ll burn you out and then it’s on to the next rapper. I’d rather move at my pace and be here as long as I wanna be here.”
IT’S SELDOM THAT A plus-size man who appears shirtless more often than some WWE wrestlers feels out of place. Yet, here stands Rick Ross on a February afternoon at the 2012 Grammy Awards, donning a striped (is that velour?) sweater, blue denims and white-and-blue tennis shoes. He sticks out even more than his bushy beard. It’s the Miami native’s first time at the big show, yet gramophones are the furthest from Rozay’s mental.
“I was sitting there, looking around at people’s faces, accents, everyone wearing suits; there was talent on the stage, but I was really thinking about smoking some weed,” Ross remembers. “Those faces, names, I just don’t—it isn’t me. After 15 minutes, I left.”
In addition to his grandiose tunes, Ross’ caricatured likeness—those ubiquitous shades, the bossisms, grunts, moobs—has placed him at the cusp of the mainstream’s antenna. Still, he’s had a hard time bursting through the pop bubble. Figuratively (and physically), Ross is one of hip-hop’s biggest bosses, yet none of his first four albums have hopped that platinum hurdle. As he prepares for the release of God Forgives, Rozay makes it clear that charting Kanye’s and Nicki Minaj’s levels of Billboard success isn’t priority—he’s more concerned with street certification than RIAA’s. Perhaps that’s why the man born William Leonard Roberts II is so set on mantling his MMG draftees on his broad shoulders. Or, maybe, it’s simply the money. “It’s making me overwhelmingly wealthy,” says Ross of his brand’s value. “I’m good at this shit. It could be I was made for it.”
In the beginning, this MMG powerhouse was all a dream. Born beneath a Def Jam distribution umbrella, Maybach Music Group commenced with the foursome Carol City Cartel (Triple C’s), comprised of Rick, fellow MIA rappers Gunplay and Young Breed, and Torch from the Bronx. While Ross continued delivering successful albums (2009’s Deeper Than Rap and Teflon Don in 2010), his Triple C’s compilation project Custom Cars & Cycles stalled just above 10,000 copies. By the top of 2011, Ross signed a lucrative deal with Warner Bros. that positioned MMG as a multilabel venture. While Wale and Meek Mill were off to the races, the rest of the crew watched and learned.
“I just sat there and rolled with the punches,” says bubbling rhymer Gunplay, hours away from signing his solo Def Jam contract. “I played my position to the tee. I gotta roll a blunt, carry bags, and be a hype man—that’s what my job on the road is? Let’s go.”
As the outfit continued to expand with the additions of Stalley and singer Teedra Moses, Ross put his solo output on pause to don both coach and executive producer fedoras. And as MMG grew, so did Ross’ profile. “[Kanye West and Lil Wayne] were bigger when they created their crews than Ross was when he created his,” says Amanda Seales, cohost of MTV’s roundtable show Hip Hop POV. “They were already established. I feel Ross gained a lot of his accolades and grandeur by having a crew.”
Ross diversified his lineup by adding some forgotten R&B star power. He and Omarion crossed paths in North Carolina earlier this year, bonding at a strip club over clear heels and ticker tape bills. Once Rozay heard Omarion’s in-the-works material, he was sold. “If you go to [Rick’s] house, there’s a G-box with just a whole bunch of old songs,” says 27-year-old Omarion, who supplied Self Made 2 with its soul sheen. “Our music just gelled.” Ross concurs, insisting that you won’t hear O confusing himself for Big Meech or Larry Hoover.
“I need him to sing to those ladies, touch that crowd, have fun,” says the Don of his dance-crazy recruit. “He’s a songwriter and brings a lot of different talents to the table. I don’t want any pressures to feel you have to dress a certain way, talk a certain way. I love that individuality.” Ross’ enlistment process starts from personal admiration—he first has to enjoy your artistry. Today, during this interview, he’ll voice his fandom for rapper Rockie Fresh. By tonight, the Chicago upstart will ink paperwork and officially join the team. Not every MMG recruitment has proven fruitful, though. For all the talk of Ross’ selfless nature with his artists, former member and ATL spitter Pill openly protested his lack of attention from the team last December, announcing his departure from the imprint a month later. “Out of the whole time I was there, I only had two videos shot from MMG,” recalls Pill, who asserts that he never signed paperwork but toured and released music while rocking the Maybach chain. “It was just a ‘We ain’t fuckin’ with you’ [vibe]—it wasn’t in those words, but it might as well have been.”
Ross takes offense to the mere mention of employees who’ve been slipped that pink: “Don’t ask me nothing about no nigga that’s not on MMG or not winning,” he barks. “I don’t have nothing to say about other niggas.”