Rick Ross and Questlove on Why Health Is the New Wealth
On his 2006 debut album Port of Miami, Rick Ross made the self-assured declaration: “I’m the fuckin’ boss.” The record established him as the authority on all things lavish, with songs like “Hustlin'” and “Push It” studded with references to private jets, Phantoms, and six-figure nights on the town. Over the course of his 15-year career, Ross has elaborated on this plush, diamond-studded universe with 10 albums rippling with even more of his signature extravagance. So, it’s only fitting that the Mississippi-born rapper would title his upcoming album—out December 10—Richer Than I Ever Been. The money, the cars, and the lifestyle are as central to Ross’s music as ever, demonstrating yet again that the 45-year-old artist has mastered the elusive alchemy of a “rich and gritty” sound. But this time, Ross sets his sights on a different kind of wealth. To mark the release of Richer Than I Ever Been, the rapper hopped on Zoom with Questlove to discuss the joys of going barefoot, their shared love of gardening, and why spending time alone alone has made the rapper feel the richer than ever.
QUESTLOVE: What up, though?
RICK ROSS: What’s happenin’, family?
QUESTLOVE: I see you got the James Brown Learjet photo behind you.
ROSS: Anytime you can celebrate a nigga buying a plane from the white man, you gotta blow that bitch up. And when I walk into the room, that’s what’s there.
QUESTLOVE: Where are you calling from?
ROSS: I’m speaking to you from the Promised Land, Fayetteville [Georgia].
QUESTLOVE: There are two things that you’ve done that are inspirational to me. First, no one is touching your opulent estate. I believe you’re on an estate that’s over 200 acres.
QUESTLOVE: During the pandemic, I had no desire to live on a farm whatsoever, but now here I am buying my first farm.
ROSS: Congratulations, brother!
QUESTLOVE: [laughs] Mine is smaller scale, though. It’s only 10 acres.
ROSS: Woo! That’s nice, baby.
QUESTLOVE: It’s a lot of work. I know you’ve said that cutting grass relaxes you. Why would you want something so large? I can’t even take care of 10 acres.
ROSS: Growing up, I remember we would cut our yard or the neighbors’ yard. It was something we could do in 30 minutes. When I purchased the estate, it was originally 280 acres. I purchased an additional 89 acres that was on the west side of it. Then I went and purchased one of the biggest John Deere tractors that was for sale on the lot. Me, and three or four of the homies, get out there every two weeks. For me, it’s just nice to spend time alone, because that’s something I never do.
QUESTLOVE: That’s relaxing for you.
ROSS: Very relaxing. I’m one of those people that feels like I can get more accomplished if I have three or four people around me, helping me strategize. Whatever it is, I just want to do a lot. Just getting out there, I cut the phone off, I put the music on, have me five blunts rolled up, and I get out there for eight hours at a time. I look at the birds.
QUESTLOVE: That’s your meditation process. I got to figure out a way to make household chores fun.
ROSS: Without a doubt. Play a record or two and you’ll be in the zone. The tractor I bought came with a radio built-in, and it’s glassed-in. I got it tinted. I’ll be down the street, and people don’t even know it’s Rick Ross behind the tints. I enjoy doing it. It takes me back to my younger days. It’s us staying in touch with the youthful version of ourselves. Ain’t nothin better than that. That’s what music does for me. I’m thinking of Run-DMC and LL Cool J. I’m going back to that innocent and young Rozay.
QUESTLOVE: Wow, I’m glad you said that. I’ve been in this business for about 25 years. When Black Thought and I started The Roots in high school, it was fun. Then after a while, it became work. Last year was the first time in my adult life that I had to stay put and really get to know myself as a person without any distractions. One of the lessons I learned was that I had to get back to the passion that young Ahmir had for music.
ROSS: Is it still passion? I’m not saying that your passion shouldn’t be profitable, because it should. But at some point, you should still have that innocence when it was just about being creative and realizing, “Wow, I’m gonna do it again tomorrow. I’m gonna do it again every day. I’m gonna rush home to see Yo! MTV Raps just to see others who could do it.”
QUESTLOVE: True. During the pandemic, all of us had to tap into another part of ourselves that we didn’t know about. For me, I spent the last year directing movies, which I didn’t know I had in me.
ROSS: Not to cut you off brother, but we need to have another conversation. I got a film in my head. We just need somebody to write it down and you need to direct it. It’s gonna be next level. We gotta do this.
QUESTLOVE: [Laughs] I feel you. Well, I wanna know, did you discover any hidden talents last year?
ROSS: This year I was in the yard more—pulling weeds out of the flower beds and spending time with my horses. I found myself to be a very peaceful person. I’m walking around barefoot and telling myself, “Give the universe an opportunity to touch you. If you have shoes on every time you’re walking, you’re not giving it the opportunity. Touch the trees.” That’s what I found myself doing. I was just communicating with myself, on some cool shit.
QUESTLOVE: Speaking of your house, I know that production for Coming 2 America was filmed on your property. Was your house large enough that you could stay there while they used it?
ROSS: Without a doubt, they could be filming scenes and I could be at the other end having sex with a real cool chick. I would walk out, take a picture with Eddie Murphy, say what’s up, and keep it moving.
QUESTLOVE: [Laughs] This leads to the second thing that inspires me about you—your health journey. You were definitely one of the paradigm shifts that I saw that made me think, “Yo, I could do this, too.”
ROSS: Congratulations to you, man! You look wonderful, brother. To see you living in reverse—that’s what I call it—is a blessing.
QUESTLOVE: Thank you. What was the place that brought you to your health journey?
ROSS: Unfortunately, it was me waking up in the ICU with my mom crying next to me. My health wasn’t a priority. I was staying up three days in a row, sipping lean, traveling back and forth—for years. My body couldn’t take it anymore. It forced me to acknowledge the situation. I had a seizure on an airplane. Shit was real. I said, “I got to get a hold of this. I have to get back in control of my life.” My biggest enemy was Dr. Pepper. Those had to go. I was drinking 6-8 a day.
QUESTLOVE: What is it with Dr. Pepper and us? Everyone I know is addicted.
ROSS: Man, there’s just something about glass, ice, and Dr. Pepper. I shouldn’t even talk about it. Goddamn. A blunt and a Dr. Pepper?! On ice? In glass? Don’t disrespect me and force me to drink it out of styrofoam.
QUESTLOVE: [Laughs] Man, I gotta try it.
ROSS: Don’t do it!
QUESTLOVE: I do want to get into your creativity. It’s been 15 years since you released Port of Miami and every two years since then you’ve released a record. What inspires you to keep making music? Because usually by the 15th year, a person has their next pivot ready.
ROSS: It’s just a passion for dope-ass music. The dope-ass raps, the instrumentals, the beats. I was listening to instrumentals last night till 4:30. I really love the music. I doubt that will ever die.
QUESTLOVE: You ushered in what I call Pacific Coast Highway music. Whenever I go to California and have a day off, I’m riding up the highway and I have a mix of the original “Maybach Music” with Jay-Z all the way to six. “Maybach Music III” is one of my all-time favorite songs. That’s the standard of excellence. Whatever kind of amalgamation that rappers do with mixing grown folks’ music with classical music, it’s a lush sound that’s somewhere between Atlanta trap and Philly international classic ‘70s Gamble and Huff music.
ROSS: I love Gamble and Huff.
QUESTLOVE: Is there a “Maybach Music 7” on this record? Have you continued the series?
ROSS: So last night, I was in a studio in Atlanta. One of the last records I was listening to was “Maybach Music 7” and man, I gotta let you know, Ronald Isley is on it. He went there for me.
QUESTLOVE: Oh, man. You know, how football players want to hear rock music or something that gets them hype? All those “Maybach Music” cuts put me in the mind state of something aspirational. It sounds futuristic and classical at the same time. What was behind the title of the album—Richer Than I Ever Been?
ROSS: Just for all my homies who know how I get down, we’re most definitely stronger than we’ve ever been, both mentally and financially. After spending time with myself during the pandemic, it convinced me to make sure that that was the title. The time I’m really spending with myself is when I feel the wealthiest. That’s when I feel like, “Yo, you’re the most valuable.” These moments are priceless. What makes you feel rich? What’s wealth? Me on the couch with my kids on my lap. That’s me feeling the richest I could feel. It ain’t no doubt we gettin’ big bags, but it’s a higher place than that. It ain’t even about the money, it’s something else out here. Let’s make history.
QUESTLOVE: I know that you worked with 21 Savage and Jazmine Sullivan on a song called “Outlawz.” Why did you choose that particular song as the lead single?
ROSS: For one, I feel like I have a connection with the streets that could never be broken. Now, when I think of the title and the space I’m in, I want to give the fans something opulent off the top. To me, Jazmine’s voice is extravagant.
QUESTLOVE: Absolutely. She’s had that voice forever, yo.
ROSS: It’s as extravagant as it gets. Just because of the title, don’t let it confuse you and make you think it’s violent. No, this is rich and gritty.
QUESTLOVE: Quincy Jones once told me that when he records his music, he always sets his recording dates late on a Friday. He deliberately feeds his musicians so they’re tired by midnight and then, once they’re falling asleep, he records them. He said he does this on purpose because he believes that when artists get in front of the mic, they get in their own heads. You start overthinking. But if you’re sleepy, you don’t stand in your own way. So what’s your process?
ROSS: Well, I love to begin early in the morning. I write throughout the day. I make sure I have something to eat in the morning. I get the best smoke. The smoke is extremely important because then I can travel the world as I’m sitting in that chair. I could be in Paris, Haiti, Egypt, or Miami. I just allow the music to take me there.
QUESTLOVE: Who’s on your bucket list of people to work with that you haven’t got a chance to work with yet?
ROSS: Ron Isley was definitely on the list. Sade is there. She may be my favorite female artist of all time.
QUESTLOVE: Who do you listen to in order to relax?
ROSS: Sade and Curtis Mayfield. I could just go through the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s. I’m one of them types of dudes, man.
QUESTLOVE: I was 34 when I got my driver’s license and I learned that you recently just got your driver’s license.
ROSS: My sister and my mom have been on me about getting my license.
QUESTLOVE You got 100 cars and no driver’s license?
ROSS: It was just one of those things. I walked into the DMV and I’d never seen a place so packed in my life. It was like the airport.
QUESTLOVE: One final thing. Most Philadelphians can acknowledge that you are synonymous with what is known as the Philadelphia beard. You damn near own that now. Before you came along, if a brother had a full beard like this, you instantly knew they were from Philadelphia. I always wanted to know, is your barber in the tri-state area?
ROSS: Most definitely. Let’s hear it one time for Pedro. He’s from New Jersey. But the homie that began cutting my beard was the real yard boy from Miami. Peter.
QUESTLOVE: You’re an honorary Philadelphian, man.
ROSS: I appreciate it. I love Philly.
Special Thanks: Polaroid and Freehand Hotel