Photo by Andres Herren
Fourteen years ago in Florida, a correctional officer by the name of William Leonard Roberts II had grown tired of the long hours, low pay and disrespect that being a prison guard afforded. A fan of hip-hop, Roberts decided to try his hand at the craft and, to further pad his perceived ‘thug’ hip-hop persona, adopted the name of famed drug dealer ‘Freeway’ Ricky Ross, who at the time was in jail on charges of international cocaine trafficking. Soon, he popped up on Slip n’ Slide Records, discussing the finer points of moving large amounts of narcotics across the American borders with heavy bravado, big claims for a man who had been working for the man just months before. If you bought an album named Mastermind by an artist named ‘Rick Ross’ last week, you’ve been duped.
In 1998, while Roberts II was trying on the name Rick Ross, tailoring it to his needs, the man who’s name was hijacked was in prison, doing all he could to piece his life back together and right the connotations he had perpetuated for the moniker.
“I couldn’t sell drugs now, not knowing what I know today,” said Freeway in an interview we did over the phone last October. “At the same time when I look back at my knowledge and circumstances at the time, I really had no choice.”