Perhaps 2014 will be the year that the fates are kinder to Maybach Music Group bawse Rick Ross, who in 2013 was shot at, sued for a bunch of things, dissed by a South African billionaire, and dropped by one of his biggest commercial backers after tripping over his own flapping gums. But now the man born William Roberts II can rest a little easier knowing that his rap alias is protected by the First Amendment.
In 2010, Rick Ross was sued by “Freeway” Ricky Ross, a 1980s Los Angeles cocaine kingpin who did 13 years behind bars after his connections to the Iran-Contra scandal were revealed. He famously claimed to have moved $3 million of powder in a single day, and it’s widely accepted that such exploits inspired the Floridian MC to use the man’s name in concocting his on-album identity as a glammed up drug dealer.
Ricky, who was released from prison in 2009, brought a $10 million lawsuit against both Rick for appropriating his name and likeness, and also Warner Bros., Universal Music, and Jay Z for assisting in his career. But according to The Hollywood Reporter, a judge initially struck the original Ross down because he’d known about Roberts’ rap name since 2006, and waited four years before pursuing legal action.
So “Freeway” Ricky Ross appealed, alleging that since rapper Rick Ross continued to release new music with new record labels (and new management decisions), the infringement had also been made new time and time again. In his ruling, appellate Judge Roger Boren implied that Ross might have a point, but that it doesn’t matter anyway — the MMG star’s First Amendment rights render the entire case moot.
“We recognize that Roberts’ work — his music and persona as a rap musician — relies to some extent on plaintiff’s name and persona,” Boren wrote, quoted by THR. “Roberts chose to use the name ‘Rick Ross.’ He raps about trafficking in cocaine and brags about his wealth. These were ‘raw materials’ from which Roberts’ music career was synthesized. But these are not the ‘very sum and substance’ of Roberts’ work.”
He went on: “Roberts created a celebrity identity, using the name Rick Ross, of a cocaine kingpin turned rapper. He was not simply an impostor seeking to profit solely off the name and reputation of Rick Ross. Rather, he made music out of fictional tales of dealing drugs and other exploits — some of which related to plaintiff. Using the name and certain details of an infamous criminal’s life as basic elements, he created original artistic works.”
Speaking of original works, the rhyming Rick Ross has been mining other people’s hits of late to create his own “freestyle” and “remix” versions, some of which have been a little light in fresh content. The latest two entries? First, we hear the man loosely spitting over Kanye West’s “Bound 2” and second, we get the Bawse and crew-mate Whole Slab going in over “I Know” by Yo Gotti and Rich Homie Quan. These are solid: