When Freeway Rick Ross was building his drug empire in the 1980s, the Rap world took notice. Pomona, California group Above The Law mentioned him on the album cover of its debut album, 1990’s Livin’ Like Hustlers, which was co-produced by Dr. Dre and released on Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records.

By that time in Los Angeles, Ross had become a hero to at least a certain segment of the population, one that marveled at Ross’ cocaine-fueled business that, according to an Esquire magazine article published in October, made a $300 million profit in the 1980s. Adjusted for inflation, the figure would be an estimated $850 million profit today.

Ross was sentenced to life in prison for his criminal activity, but after teaching himself how to read while incarcerated, he discovered that he was sentenced inaccurately and was released from prison in 2009.

As Freeway Rick Ross was fighting for his freedom, his visibility got a bump when a Miami rapper borrowed his name and became one of the genre’s biggest acts. Freeway Rick Ross has been outspoken regarding his disdain for the rapper who has used his name as his moniker.

Now, in an exclusive interview with HipHopDX, Freeway Rick Ross explains why the criminal justice system works perfectly and how the money from drugs helped rappers launch their careers.

Free Rick Ross Explains Rappers’ Affinity For Him

HipHopDX: Why do you think the Rap world has been so interested in you and your story?

Freeway Rick Ross: Well I’m kind of like the pioneer for young cats. When I first started selling heroin, I was considered young at the time. When I started selling cocaine, I was only 19-years-old, and by the time I was 22, I had a million dollars. I was independent, and I didn’t have anybody over me telling me what I could do or how I could do it. I basically did everything the way I wanted to do it, so I showed a sense of independence—being able to do whatever I wanted to do. If somebody walked up and they needed to borrow $40,000, I could just give it to them if I wanted to. I didn’t have to get on the phone and call an agent, a manager or an accountant. I was the accountant, the agent—I was everything. I would say it started a mindset that changed the way young black men looked at business.

One day, somebody told me I started this thing of thinking big instead of thinking small. For instance, when I first started selling cocaine, most people who sold drugs would just keep buying the same amount over and over again like an 8-track. But when I started, I went to buy $100,000 worth of drugs and then $1 million worth of drugs. I was always thinking bigger. I needed more, and I think that started a whole new mindset.

DX: When did you realize that the Rap community started embracing you?

Freeway Rick Ross: When I heard about how Above The Law had put me on their [Livin’ Like Hustlers] album cover saying, “Where’s Freeway Rick?” When I heard about that I was already in jail and on the run…

DX: So were you in jail or on the run?

Freeway Rick Ross: Even before that though… When Mix Master Spade said, “Old grey-headed granny ain’t here no more,” [on Toddy Tee’s “Just Say No”] I believed that when he was talking about, “You go to the man and get a 8-track / Spend $300, you get 900 back,” I believe he was talking about me. So even as far back as Spade, but definitely when Above The Law let it be known they were definitely talking about me by putting my name on the album cover, I knew the guys from L.A. recognized I was a pioneer in the game.

Why Freeway Rick Ross Says The Drug Business Funded Hip Hop

DX: When that happened there was a lot going on. Were you still on the run, or were you already incarcerated?

Freeway Rick Ross: I was already incarcerated when they did that.

DX: Being that you were incarcerated, you obviously had other things on your mind. Did it matter to you? Did you think that was cool?

Freeway Rick Ross: Well no, I was fighting for my life at that time. I was looking at a possible life sentence in three or four different states. So the last thing on my mind was what some rapper was talking about or what anybody else on the streets was talking about. My whole focus was getting this thousand-pound gorilla off my back and getting my life back.

DX: Given that so much of the imagery of Rap—especially gangster Rap—was inspired by the enterprise you helped build, what do you see as the pros and cons as you look back?

Freeway Rick Ross: We gotta be honest. The drug business funded Hip Hop. Most guys didn’t have money to buy $1,000 turntables or mixing boards, so Hip Hop was funded by drugs. Even if you look at the way the cycle moved from state to state, it was usually the states that had just got a hold of cocaine and were booming in the drug business. The game kind of gelled out of those areas, so when you look at it, it was vital.

Nobody else was going to give us a loan. Nobody was going to give a young Eazy-E a loan to go out and do records, rent a studio or any of the stuff he had to do. Nobody was gonna loan him that money to pay someone to introduce him to Jerry Heller. So he had to get his money by any means that he could. By any means necessary.

DX: That being said, when did you first start listening to gangster Rap and rappers talking about dealing drugs? Do you remember any early songs beyond Mix Master Spade after you became popular?

Freeway Rick Ross: Yeah, we listened to Toddy Tee’s “The Batterram.” That was kind of about us and what we were doing. The Eazy-E’s—we listened to N.W.A from jail—and they played that a little bit on the radio.

DX: What do you remember about those records—what you thought about them then?

Freeway Rick Ross: I felt they were rapping about our life and the stuff that we were doing and living. I had been beat up by cops while I was handcuffed. The same thing that happened to Rodney King happened to me, but there was no cameras. When you hear guys like Ice-T or “Fuck Tha Police,” all those songs kind of resonate with you. They’re right there with you, and you can feel them and understand them because you’ve lived the things these guys were talking about.

DX: Now there’s also been criticism of rappers who rhyme about things they don’t live or haven’t done. So why and when do you see rappers crossing the line?

Freeway Rick Ross: I look at it like this here: drug dealers have a personality… And when they punish drug dealers, I believe they’re the only ones being punished. But the whole community benefitted off of what they were doing—their mothers, their girlfriends, sisters, brothers, uncles. All these people benefitted. These young guys making this money shared this wealth with everybody, but they take the brunt of the punishment.

I think you cross the line when you get a guy saying he sold drugs and he made it, but he doesn’t show any sympathy to the guys who didn’t make it. You go out and use a guy’s name like Big Meech, but you’re not hiring attorneys to help Big Meech get out of prison. Guys like Larry Hoover—you’re not trying to help them with their cause of getting free. We’ve got 600,000 black men in prison right now for non-violent drug offenses. You don’t ever speak out about that, and you know that you did the same thing. So you gotta know that drug dealing is not as bad as they say it is…

Freeway Rick Ross Calls Rappers’ Imagery Misleading

DX: So are you speaking directly to Rick Ross or in general?

Freeway Rick Ross: Just in general. He never sold drugs. I don’t know if he ever saw cocaine other than putting it up his nose since he started rapping. So I really don’t believe he’s a drug dealer at all. But I’m just saying in general, how can you come from this, but now you’re here on top of the world, and you’re not showing any sympathy to the guys who were right there in the trenches but didn’t make it? It’s like a soldier who comes from Vietnam or Iraq and he made it, but another one got his legs blown off. They have sympathy for each other.

They understood why this guy sold drugs. But now, here you are saying you did the same thing, but you don’t have any sympathy or admiration for the guys who tried to make it. Right now, they’re trying to get me to talk bad about the guy who’s selling drugs now. I can’t do it! I understand what they’re going through. I understand what it’s like to be hopeless, not have a clue to what you’re gonna do and walk in and there’s no food in the house. I understand what it’s like to have a baby and they’re talking about evicting you from the house. I know what that’s like, and I been there before. So I have to have empathy for people who are in that life. I can’t turn my nose up to them and say, “Get yours like I got mine.”

DX: Given a lot of the racially-based or racially-motivated sentencing…

Freeway Rick Ross: Oh, absolutely. We used to say the system was broke, but now I say, “No the system is working perfectly well for the people who put the system together.” They’re not getting incarcerated, and they own the prisons. They’re sending people to prison and getting paid from the whole ordeal. So, I believe it’s not about people being high, because they don’t care if you’re high. They allow people to sell cigarettes, and cigarettes kill more people than anything else. But they allow big corporations to do it because they’re able to tax it, and their people are in control. Illegal drugs are a different scenario. They’re not in control of the supply. That’s just my personal opinion.

DX: I want to go back to something you touched on earlier. You talked about the benefits and the communities being hurt when the dealers are removed. What about the people in the communities trying to become accountants or teachers that are also impacted by the negativity drug dealing creates? Some people never make those decisions and do what society deems the right thing, and they become doctors, dentists or whatever.

Freeway Rick Ross: They do, but in South Central those are rare. No matter what situation, some are gonna be able to make it out for whatever reason—maybe a mom was smart or a teacher takes interest. But what I’m saying is, “Why do we have to leave so many to try and fend for themselves?” They have to try and figure out what this one figured out on their own.

I don’t think it should be like that. I think we should have a system where there’s something there that anyone can get if they have the right information. I believe there’s a lot of wrong information being taught in our communities.

DX: What is that?

Freeway Rick Ross: One is selling drugs. Now selling drugs has become sexy. They’ll take a guy who never sold drugs—went to college, got a degree, never been in trouble or had handcuffs on him—and he says, “Oh, I’m a drug dealer.” Why? What is triggering this? It’s not a guy who grew up poor, illiterate and didn’t have any other choices. We’ve now got a guy who says he did it, and he really didn’t do it. They’re putting this guy on the radio. What message is that sending to our kids? You can go sell drugs and parlay it into a record career.

What I’m saying is that there’s no record career at the end of the rainbow. There’s shackles, handcuffs and bars or the graveyard. They’re not telling our kids this. They’re telling our kids, “Oh, you’re gonna get to ride in Rolls Royces, and you’re gonna get pretty women and be on tour.” I think that’s the wrong message to be sending out.

Freeway Rick Ross Explains How Prisons Work

DX: Earlier you mentioned the prison industrial complex. What do you think of mandatory minimums and the powder to cocaine disparity given that corporations are making a profit from putting people in jail and prison?

Freeway Rick Ross: Well once they allowed the prisons to be privatized, it turned everything on its head. Now you have people who make money if the prisons are full. The other day there was an article in the paper about these private prison owners were suing a city because the city promised them so many bodies. Now that the prison wasn’t getting those bodies, they sued the city. They said, “We had an agreement, and we was gonna be making these arrests.” So what it does is make people try to get arrests that maybe are not there. It makes them turn things into crimes that are not really crimes.

I think what’s happened with the crack and the powder cocaine was obviously racially motivated. When I went to prison and Hutch and them put that out saying, “Where’s Freeway Rick?” not one white person had been federally prosecuted for selling crack. There had been a few arrests, but they allowed them to go to the state where they received drug diversion. In federal court, you’re going to get a mandatory minimum of five to 10 years. So we definitely knew it was racially motivated. And then we found out that crack and powder cocaine were both identical drugs. One was no stronger than the other, and you didn’t make more money selling crack than you did off of powder. An ounce of cocaine was an ounce of cocaine whether it was cooked or in powder form.

Even now after changing the [Fair Sentencing Act] to reduce the disparity down to 18:1, they still have it 18 times worse than the powder [offenders]. On top of that, they have guys who have been in prison for 20 and 30 years, and they didn’t make it retroactive. Those guys would be released immediately if they said, “OK, we’re gonna give you the 18:1 disparity sentencing.” If it’s illegal now, it was illegal when they first implemented it. So why not make it where everyone who was ever illegally sentenced under it would get the shorter sentence? They don’t want to do that because they say it’s going to cost too much money.

I believe once they get these guys in prison, they train them to do certain jobs. They train guys in prison to do certain jobs that they would pay guys $25 or $30 to do. But these guys do it for 25 cents an hour. Once they train them, they don’t want to let them out and lose their workers. So what do they do? They make these laws that’s gonna keep guys for decades.

DX: I took a criminal justice class in college partially based on all the things you just said. We went to a medium security prison north of Cincinnati with a wood shop, and they were making furniture. They wouldn’t tell us the stores it was in, but they said it was stores we would be buying furniture from…

Freeway Rick Ross: Yeah, and they do everything—tennis shoes, pants, jackets, cables. It’s crazy. They herd these guys off, and under the thirteenth amendment, you can still be a slave in America if you’re duly convicted.

DX: So how can that change?

Freeway Rick Ross: What I’m doing now is going around and spreading the word. I let kids know that there’s a trap out there for them. They already have a survey that allows you to tell which kids are going to prison by the time they’re in the third grade. So when I talk to the kids in schools, I say, “Look to your left, and look to your right. When you look at each other, know that one of the three of you are going to prison.” The kids respond like, “What?” And I tell them how the statistics say one out of three of them are going to prison. I let the kids know that they need to make sure they’re not that one to go. It gives them a heads up, because I believe that once they know more, they can do more.

DX: That being said, if you were able to make an exit from the game, would you have done so?

Freeway Rick Ross: I could’ve made an exit when I was 22.

Freeway Rick Ross Says, “I Would’ve Never Sold Drugs.”

DX: Why didn’t you?

Freeway Rick Ross: I got pulled in because my friends didn’t have the financial stability I had. When you’re rich and your friends are poor… I don’t know how guys feel being the only person with money. With me, I like it when all my friends can say, “I’m buying dinner tonight. I’m buying everything. You ain’t spending your money here.” I enjoy that. I don’t think it’s cool when you walk in and you’re the only one with money.

DX: If you could go back to the situation that got you caught, what would you have changed, and what would you be doing now?

Freeway Rick Ross: If I could change my life, I would’ve never sold drugs knowing what I know today. But I was at a different point. Then I was illiterate, had never read a book and didn’t know that I was special. Now I know all that. I know that I’m special. I know that I can compete with anybody and that I can do anything that I want to do in life. All I have to do is put my mind to it and take the necessary time to accomplish the goals I want to accomplish.

Even in the drug business, I wasn’t successful at first. It took some trial and error for me to learn, but I was committed. And once I committed myself, no matter what went wrong, I was going to see it through. It was to the point where I almost got killed. People shot at me, and I still didn’t quit.

DX: So when did you make the distinction between, “I wouldn’t have sold drugs” versus doing it for years?

Freeway Rick Ross: Sitting in prison. I started to read entrepreneurial books, and I started studying some of the other people who really run this country. I read over 300 books before I left prison, and I figured out that the same skills I was using in the drug business could have been used to sell anything.

Freeway Rick Ross Reveals T-Shirt, Hair & Motivational Speaking Ventures

DX: Explain how that ties into what you’re doing now.

Freeway Rick Ross: Well one of the things I’m doing now is with my new T-shirts. They say, “The real Rick Ross is not a rapper.” I’ve almost sold 10,000 shirts out the trunk of my car in nine months. What I’m doing is the same type of concept. I give people my shirts at a discount. I front them to people who I think are hustlers and want to improve their life but don’t have money. So what I’m basically doing is microloans.

I could’ve been doing that with T-shirts. It takes a matter of time before you grow, but most people tell me in the matter of time that I’ve been doing it, I’m moving at lightning speed. Sometimes it takes 10 to 15 years to build a brand, but my brand is moving along pretty good. I’m also doing it with the record label. I believe I’m setting up a national distribution chain for music where in a matter of weeks my music can be all over the country with people selling it underground. I’m not chasing stores with my shirts or my music. I’m gonna make them chase me in basically the same way it happened with the drugs. People started chasing me for drugs to the point where I didn’t have to go out looking for customers and begging people to buy. That’s basically what I’m doing now in everything I do down to my motivational speaking.

DX: Let’s talk about both of those. As far as the shirt, how did the concept come about, and what does it mean to you?

Freeway Rick Ross: This shirt came about because a young guy came up to me one day, and he was like, “Man, you need a T-shirt.” And I was like, “Huh…what?” I told him I didn’t have a concept, but he came and gave me, “The real Rick Ross ain’t a rapper.” So I took that concept, did a few shirts, and then I ran into another designer. He told me he could make the shirt better, and I said, “OK, show me what you can do with it.” He came up with the letters you see right here and put the crown on my head, because he said I’m really the king in exile. That means on the streets I’m the king, but in mainstream society, they don’t want me around.

I feel that what I’m doing is more important than Rap. I believe that now I’m gonna be able to save a generation of our kids, and he said that what I’m doing is more important than Rap. So he put that on there.

DX: And with the motivational speaking, how did that start? Why is that something important to you?

Freeway Rick Ross: I started when I was in prison, because I started seeing dudes that were in the same boat I was in. They looked up to me. They felt that they wanted to be Rick Ross and accomplish the things I accomplished. I thought, “Wow. What if I teach this young guy what I know right now today? He wants to know what I used to know, but is he willing to learn what I know today, which is more valuable than what I used to know?”

A lot of people tell me they wish they knew me when I had all that money. And I’ll say, “I’m about to have more money now than I ever had back then. And nobody’s gonna be able to come and take it. Nobody’s gonna be able to chase me down, put a gun in my face and all the things that went with having that other money. I’m not gonna have to wear a bulletproof vest everyday. I’m not gonna have to worry about having to kill somebody, being killed or going to prison for the rest of my life. What if I could teach you how to do that and still have all the money?” The young guys like that idea.

DX: What’s the best place you’ve gone to speak, and what made that the best?

Freeway Rick Ross: The biggest place I ever spoke was Louisville, Kentucky at the University of Louisville. It was about 700 or 800 students there. That happened two or three years ago, and I basically gave them the story of how I got out of prison and what I planned on doing with my life. The speech then wasn’t as good as it is now, ‘cause now I’ve had some accomplishments. I’ve been featured in Los Angeles magazine. They did an eight or 10-page story, and they said it was the biggest story they’ve done in a few years. Esquire did a story on me. And then after I read the story they wrote on me in Los Angeles magazine, I didn’t know that the reporter had considered me dead. When he came and saw me at Lompoc, he felt the last time he came to Lompoc to interview me, that was the last time he was ever gonna write about me. When I sat down and heard the interview tapes, it was mind-blowing.

I really think I do well at juvenile detention centers. One of my goals now is to get inside the prison system where I get to talk to grown men—men who are more like me than anyone else. Juveniles are like me, but they’re still only about 16-years-old. It ain’t like talking to a grown man that knows exactly what you’ve been through, and he’s going through exactly what you’ve been through. But I think I really relate better to those people. I do really well at halfway houses; those are guys who just got out of prison.

DX: So how did the Louisville thing happen? Did they pay you and fly you out?

Freeway Rick Ross: Yeah, they paid me. That’s my biggest payday ever as a motivational speaker. They flew me out, put me in a five-star hotel and gave me a car for four days.

DX: How’d they find out about you?

Freeway Rick Ross: I don’t even know. I guess they found me on the Internet, and they just reached out. They booked me. I have about five or six people always looking for gigs for me at clubs, for motivational speeches and for non-profits.

DX: Earlier you brought up the term hustler, which used to have a real negative connotation. How has the term evolved to the point where people look to emulate hustlers?

Freeway Rick Ross: Back in the days, a hustler meant somebody robbing, selling dope or something like that. But hustle is not a bad word, and it’s all about how you use it. For instance, the gun is not the bad thing, it’s who’s behind the gun and pulls the trigger. So hustle has become a way of identifying someone willing to go the extra mile to get what they want out of life. That’s the way I believe the word hustler is used now. It used to be somebody that was pimping girls, selling dope or robbing. Now you can hustle bottles and cans or cardboard boxes. There’s so many ways to hustle now.

DX: Esquire and the Los Angeles magazine story both talked about all the businesses you’ve been working on so far—some successful and some not. What’s going on with the hair business?

Freeway Rick Ross: I had a setback in the hair business, and it ain’t where I want it to be right now. But I’ve got a lot of knowledge about hair right now. I’m just sitting on it and waiting until the day my finances get back to where they once were. Then I’m gonna pop with the hair if the girls don’t stop wearing it [laughs].

One thing I found out about myself is that I’ve never failed. A lot of people feel like when they go to prison, they messed up. When I look back at my life, I knew I was gonna go to prison. I worked to go to prison. I found out anyone can’t go to prison and just turn them themselves in. You have to do something. You have to commit a federal crime, and it’s like a certificate that you gotta earn in federal prison. Sitting in prison, I realized that, and that’s how I got myself out. I realized they don’t just let people in federal prisons. You can’t just go knock on the door and say, “Hey I wanna go in this federal prison.” No. It don’t work like that, and you have to go out and do something. So I know now that whatever I want to do in life, I just have to go and do it.

Freeway Rick Ross Details How Reading Set Him Free

DX: I want you to explain the process of teaching yourself how to read and then learning how you basically got your second strike twice. Did you learn to read because of that, or were you in the process?

Freeway Rick Ross: The first page [of anything] that I ever wanted to read was my federal indictment. In the indictment, it tells you all the overt acts you’ve supposedly done. Once you read those, you can basically tell who’s telling on you. It says you were on this street on this specific day at this hotel, and I sold this amount of dope. So you say, “Who is that [laughs]?” So for the first time in my life, I wanted to read something.

DX: What year was that?

Freeway Rick Ross: That was 1989. Once I started, then reading became fun. It became a way for me to escape prison. I read books and I could be in China in the sweatshops with Nike. I could be in Indonesia, and so many other places. I started to meet people I never could’ve met in the ghetto like Sam Walton. When I read his books, it was like I was sitting in his old truck with the spring sticking out. I started to know things about him that most people don’t even know today. When I meet people on the street, they don’t even know who [Walmart and Sam’s Club founder] Sam Walton is or that he started Walmart with a $10,000 loan from his father-in-law. So reading became fun. I found out I always had the ability to read, but nobody was able to show me why I should read and why reading was important.

DX: So how did you find out you were charged twice for the same crime?

Freeway Rick Ross: When they indicted me, I had indictments from several states. They never caught me. They had these secret indictments where nobody could get the paperwork until the federal agents wanted to release it. So I’m committing these crimes, and they can’t catch me. I’m just jumping around from city to city committing crime—boom, boom, boom. Once they arrested me and got me in custody, all these states started saying, “Hey, we want him here.” Once I was found guilty, I said, “I’m gonna fight. If y’all run the time concurrent, and I don’t have to do more time, I’ll take it. I don’t want to have to pay more money for lawyers, and we’ll just get it over with.” I just pleaded guilty, and I got out again.

After I pleaded guilty, they already had it lined up that my partner and ex-supplier would agree to set me up. They knew they would be able to get me and give me a life sentence, because I had the prior convictions. Once I read the law, I understood a prior conviction is only a prior when you get out of prison and commit a crime again. In my situation, that never happened. I only went to prison one time, and they just took me from state to state. My lawyer thought since the crimes were in different states, that made them separate prior offenses instead of a continuous criminal spree. I was like, “Nah, the state doesn’t matter.”

A guy could wake up one morning having never committed a crime before. If he goes out on a block that’s hot and making money like some of my blocks used to do. A guy could go out and make $30,000 in one day. When you do that, you may make 100 or even 200 sales. Would that guy be a career criminal in one day because he made 200 sales? Or was that a continuous criminal spree where he was never brought to his senses where nobody told him what he was doing was wrong? That’s what I won my appeal on.

DX: Where did you find this out or think of it? Where did you have access to this while you were incarcerated?

Freeway Rick Ross: They have law libraries.

DX: Of all the books they could have in a prison, why would they have law books?

Freeway Rick Ross: There’s guys who have died for us to have law libraries.

DX: I know that, but why would they allow them? If they’ve done all this other stuff why do they continue to allow them in there?

Freeway Rick Ross: There’s guys who would go crazy and die if they take out those books. How do you know if you’re getting justice if you don’t have the information to fight with?

DX: But it’s not about justice ultimately.

Freeway Rick Ross Says Incarceration Is Not About Justice

Freeway Rick Ross: Well it’s not totally about justice. But, at the same time, they’re gonna make it appear there is some justice. If they just took it away like you’re saying, the whole prison would go up. As long as guys believe they’re getting justice, they’re calm. If a guy thinks it’s hopeless and he doesn’t have a shot, then you’ve got a desperate person who can turn animalistic. That’s when you get a person who can get violent and can kill without thinking about it.

That’s why so much happens in South Central with the gangs and stuff. These people don’t feel like they have hope. They don’t have hope of going to a Harvard University or graduating or getting a job where they’re gonna make $80,000 a year. Nobody can tell them that, and they can’t see that. They’re hopeless, so what do they do? They join gangs, go get high and sell crack or whatever else they do—grab a microphone and rap or play basketball. They don’t see themselves as doctors, lawyers, judges and all that. I guarantee if you go to a school in South Central and ask the kids, “How many of you want to be a judge?” None of them will raise their hand, because they don’t see that. They can’t relate to a judge. The first role model you’re gonna see in most ghettos is a drug dealer.

DX: Why do you think he’s considered a role model, and why should he not be one?

Freeway Rick Ross: He’s the only person in the neighborhood that’s doing something.

DX: That’s not true though. Other people are doing stuff, but it may not be glamorous.

Freeway Rick Ross: In South Central, very few people are doing other things. When you add the skin color to it, blacks don’t own nothing.

DX: What about the black people in South Central that own their houses?

Freeway Rick Ross: They’re losing them like crazy. Right now, in this country today, blacks are broke. They have a few they put on TV—Kobe Bryant, Jay Z, William Roberts a.k.a. Rick Ross, Lil Wayne. But you’re talking about what, 1,500 people at the max? That’s out of 40 million. What are the other 40 million doing? They say the average black woman has less than $5 in savings. And if the black woman only has five, that means the black male is doing worse than that, because they will give a black woman a job. The black male can’t get a job.

DX: So what should certain people in the Rap community done last time you got released?

Freeway Rick Ross: Ideally, some should have stepped up and said, “Hey, I’m gonna give you a hand.” Right now with my documentary, I’m trying to raise the funds to finish it. This documentary is really about black America and how we were treated after slavery. What was the second leg to slavery? What happened? Why do we have 600,000 black men prison? And I don’t know how many millions have been incarcerated on paper? Big Hutch from Above the Law is one of the first ones from the Rap community with a name to step up. Now a lot of the underground guys—I’ve got plenty of them stepping up…but I’m saying, guys who in my mind should be stepping up to assist.

DX: Aside from Big Hutch, who has stepped up?

Freeway Rick Ross: A lot of them reach out. But when you reach out, and I reach back and the hand just lets go, that’s not really reaching out. That was a fake out. I’m talking about a situation where guys genuinely say, “You know what, man? This guy is really trying to help our people. Yeah, mainstream and the people in power don’t like him. But if I don’t come out in public and give him some help, I’m gonna sneak and give him some help.”

I give books to kids. I don’t have no money, but I’m able to give books to our kids in juvenile hall. These dudes don’t even give books. It was a little, black girl playing in a national tennis tournament—Sachia Vickery. She was a finalist in the biggest national tournament in the world, and nobody’s helping her. I had to go in my pocket and give her some. She ain’t never sold drugs. She ain’t never did nothing. But we as a people just don’t understand how important it is for us to help each other. That’s what I believe the black drug dealer exemplifies—helping the black community, helping each other and trying to get the whole community to thrive.

DX: It’s interesting you say that. Did you ever hear a Boogie Down Productions song called “Drug Dealer?”

Freeway Rick Ross: Nah, I never heard it.

Why Freeway Rick Ross Says Most Black Drug Dealers Don’t Have Money

DX: I’ll get it to you, because you need to hear it. It basically says, “Black drug dealers, you need to start a school.” That’s the whole song. It’s saying, “You have all this money, and you’re in the community. You should actually help us.”

Freeway Rick Ross: Well most black drug dealers don’t have a lot of money [laughs]. Most of them don’t make a million dollars.

DX: That was something interesting you brought up earlier. It sounds like what made your approach so successful was looking at cocaine like real estate and leveraging it instead of flipping it one time.

Freeway Rick Ross: That’s how it’s supposed to be leveraged. It’s just a tool. All it was for me was a tool to get financing to start my own business and do the things I wanted to do.

DX: And where did you get that understanding?

Freeway Rick Ross: I don’t know. It just came up. When I first started, I wanted to help pay for some tennis lessons, fix my car and do a few things I needed. Then the idea just came, “Hey you can start a business with this. You can get your family out of poverty.” Then it got to a point where it wasn’t just my family, it was my friends and their friends. It just kept escalating.

DX: OK, so back to the documentary. Do you have a title for it yet?

Freeway Rick Ross: Crack in the System.

DX: How did you come up with that?

Freeway Rick Ross: Well we’ve been shooting for four years…since I got home. And while we were shooting, somebody said, “Man it was crack in the system.” And then somebody else was like, “Wow, that’s a good title.” And then it had another meaning like the system is cracked. It’s leaking [laughs]. So it was just a double title, and I felt it was an ideal title for my story to really nail home all the strong points. Yeah, I was selling crack, but the system was cracked at the same time. We had Nancy Reagan saying, “Just say no.” And at the same time, Ronald Reagan was saying, “Just act like you don’t know.

DX: Right. Hip Hop is obsessed with conspiracy theories and the so-called Illuminati. But your story is a real life conspiracy theory, and…

Freeway Rick Ross: Well it ain’t a theory no more. We have hard facts. We have the CIA admitting that they sold drugs.

DX: Why do you think more people aren’t focused on that than some of this fanciful stuff?

Freeway Rick Ross: Well people don’t want to look. It’s like, “Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who’s the fairest of them all?” They’re looking for somebody to tell them they’re great and things are wonderful. If you have to look in the mirror and see what’s really going on, then you gotta deal with real life. Most people don’t want to do that. That’s why they would rather go and have somebody rap a fantasy to them instead of saying, “You know what? I’ve gotta do something about my life. I gotta make a change and start living differently, otherwise I’m going down the drain.”

DX: When things were at their peak in the ‘80s, drugs, gang banging and Hip Hop were all either burgeoning or thriving. What’s the common thread that made that happen?

Freeway Rick Ross: Money…the money from the drugs. The drugs allow gangs to get money, and money allowed them to travel and take the gang culture across the country. Now you can go to any state in the country, and they have Crips and Bloods. Those guys switched because they saw these guys with money. They saw some guys with $10,000, and one might have said Crip or Blood. But it made them feel that they had to do what they gang members were doing in order to get that money. And Hip Hop just sprung up off of it. Now guys had money to go get the studio time, buy radio time and press up CDs. All that stuff costs money. In America, money is a valuable tool. Without money, you can’t even get educated in this country.

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