Upstairs in the Forbidden Room at the Jue Lan Club, Rick Ross sits at a round table covered with abandoned champagne flutes and plates of half-eaten shrimp tempura. In what was once purportedly New York nightclub impresario Peter Gatien's private office at the infamous Limelight nightlife venue, these remnants of an early dinner or perhaps a late afternoon snack barely earned a second glance from the tracksuited rapper, clearly satiated for the time being. Surveying me through opaque sunglasses in this windowless room, he reaches into a nearby ice bucket and pulls out a glistening bottle of—you guessed it—Belaire Rosé and holds it dramatically aloft.
"You see this?" Ross asks rhetorically. "This has always been my favorite. I was in the club drinking rosé—I was paying for it. And now, I get to embrace it. I'm going to hold it every chance I get." Smiling widely as he puts the bottle back down, he stresses that none of this display is for my benefit, but rather that it's just a part of being Ricky Rozay. "We had the bottles over there open before you came."
In hip-hop, alarmingly few artists get to where Ross is now. At 43, he's dropping his tenth album Port of Miami 2 exactly 13 years to the week that he released the first installment as his breakout debut. While most rappers who came up at the same time as him have burnt out, faded away, or otherwise fallen out of favor, the boss has outlasted the competition, his larger-than-life persona enduring with major label backing. Furthermore, having narrowly avoided prison, dodged attempts on his life, and overcome health scares, he's a survivor in several senses of the word.
With production by familiars including Beat Billionaire, Jake One, and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Port of Miami 2 is an album long in the making. Ross' hospitalization last March and the tragic death of long-time manager Black Bo just three months earlier not only delayed the project's release but changed its nature. "That made me tap the brakes," he says. "That made me just go, it's realer than this." Absent from the final tracklist are the 2018 singles "Florida Boy" with T-Pain and Kodak Black and "Green Gucci Suit" with Future, replaced with cuts like "Runnin The Streets" and "Fascinated," comparatively darker and more confessional. "'Fascinated' is not a record I wrote for nobody," he says. "It's like I was talking to myself."
Naturally, Port of Miami 2 also lives in the shadow of the 2006 original Port Of Miami. Released back in the days when CD sales still mattered and the legitimization of streaming music hadn't yet arrived, that earlier album topped the Billboard 200 and earned RIAA platinum certification. Leaning into the Miami Scarface tropes more so than rappers from the East or West coast could, Ross' cocaine-cowboy bars conjured up images of volatile drug cartel deals and the ins-and-outs of the Carol City street hustle. "I understood what everybody gon' respect, and that's a motherfucking winner, that's a boss," Ross says of his approach on that project. "That's somebody going from mud to marble, when they see somebody come from nothing and don't stop till they get it."
At the time, the crime-pays narrative behind Port Of Miami wasn't something hip-hop listeners necessarily associated with Ross' hometown. "Miami was a party city," he says. "You come down, you snort good cocaine, you fuck all the pretty bitches, you go jump in a beach, and you go back home." 2 Live Crew and the bass music scene had done a tremendous regional branding job, yet those vibes failed to convey what else was happening down there. Though he chose a different path, Ross maintains a level of respect for these predecessors, as well as for what his erstwhile Slip-n-Slide labelmate Trick Daddy brought to the table as well. And while he’s humbly unwilling to take credit for South Florida's current status as a SoundCloud rap hub, he concedes that Port Of Miami cemented him in the city's historic hip-hop lineage. "Did I most definitely do something major for where I'm from?" he muses. "Of course, the same way Uncle Luke did, the same way Trick did.”
Since Ross has been alive for as long as hip-hop has existed, he also credits some key golden age acts including Biz Markie and EPMD for shaping him while he was young into the kind of rapper he became in time for Port Of Miami. "I knew when I heard [Boogie Down Productions'] 'Loves Gonna Get'cha,' 'My Philosophy,' and all that," he says. "That's how I knew my music would be different. Because where I'm from, I was damn near the only one that cared about KRS-One." New York rap music made its way down I-95 in those crucial years, feeding the streets and providing a soundtrack for the game.
"Slick Rick, that first album, all the dope boys in my hood everywhere, that shit saturated the hood," he says, remembering hearing The Adventures Of Slick Rick down at the park. The eyepatched icon echoed Tony Montana on "Hey Young World," and that resonated in a major way with an adolescent Ross. Just mentioning his name prompts him to sing the classic hook, to me and me alone. "I really believed it," he says of its the-world-is-yours messaging, and that mentality ultimately fueled Port Of Miami over a decade-and-a-half later.
"That's the dope thing, to me, from album number one and seeing album number ten come to fruition," Ross says. "I really pray motherfuckers know and understand by now that I really was believing what I was saying. When I said I was the biggest boss, of course, I wasn't at that time. But most definitely I knew I wouldn't stop till I got there."
Thirteen years later, the actualization of Ross' outsized self-image is hard to deny. In person, he carries himself accordingly, confident and authoritative yet humble amid the self-made luxury. In conversation, he sometimes leans on tropes and turns of phrase that feel like personal brand sloganeering. But for the most part, he projects his status most authentically by speaking without pretense or arrogance. With the benefit of lived wisdom, this has become effortless for him. "The things I actually do are things that are a part of my lifestyle, things that I would do if I wasn't in [this] business," he says. "That way it doesn't have any weight on me."
With all of his prior nine albums charting in the Billboard 200's top ten and two Drake collaborations "Money In The Grave" and "Gold Roses" both concurrently charting on the Hot 100 right now, he appears well-positioned to see Port of Miami 2 live up to its legacy. One thing he may never quite top, however, is "Hustlin," a song that transcended its role as his signature hit and became a pop culture phenomenon, featured, for example, in broad comedic films like Horrible Bosses 2 and We're The Millers.
Even though the track took on a life of its own and moved further and further away from its original context, the mainstreaming of "Hustlin" doesn't seem to bother Ross in the slightest, who instead expresses pride in its ubiquity. "Without me taking too much credit, it spoke values," he says. "It basically broke down survival; on every level, you got to get up every day and hustle—regardless of how much paper you got, what you are." With his various business dealings, be that with Luc Belaire, his Rich By Rick Ross hair and beard grooming line, or his Checkers and Wing Stop franchises, he lives this ethos. "You're the CEO of your life, and your life is the biggest business you will ever run."
This article originally appeared on VICE US.