Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Obscure Debut of Rick Ross

Before I begin today's post, I'd just like to point out that I managed to resist the urge to title this entry: The Young & Rossless. You're all welcome.
Rick Ross blew up off of the song "Hustlin'." It came out independently on Slip N Slide and Poe Boy Entertainment in 2005, and that's what got him signed to Def Jam. They gave it a much wider release in 2006, Ross dropped his first album, and love him or hate him, you all know the rest after that. You surely also knew he was working as a prison guard before he blew up, because that story was broadcast any and everywhere until the press finally caught on that nobody cared. But he was also doing music for years before "Hustlin'." A quick look at discogs, and you'll see he has credits going back to 2002, including appearances on albums by Trick Daddy, Cognito, Cash Money Millionaires, and Trina's song from the All About the Benjamins soundtrack. But he actually goes even a bit farther back than that; his origins actually date back to being put on by one of the Young & Restless.

Young & Restless broke up after their second album (though they had plans to come together for a reunion album at one point); but both members stayed in the game. Dr. Ace put out solo records under the names Da Real One ("U Like Pina Coloada" on La Face) and Mr. Charlie, and became the front man for Southern Conference. And Prince P. scored a solo hit with "Give Me '50 Feet" (the "boom boom skeet skeet" song), before recording his debut full-length in 2001, The Power of Dollars. And that album features not one, but two songs (plus a skit) with guest verses by the then unknown Rick Ross. Yeah, P.O.D. put him on. Notice how Ross's first 12" of "Hustlin'" came out on Poe Boy Entertainment? Well, that's the label P.O.D. came out on; he was their lead artist and the first album they produced. In fact, the guy who ran Poe Boy (and still does... Flo Rida is their main artist now), E-Class, was P.O.D.'s producer all the way back on "50 Feet." Eventually, E-Class became Ross's manager and started the bidding war that ended with Ross being a major artist on Def Jam.

So, Rick Ross is on two songs here, you say? If you've got this CD in your hands, I couldn't blame you for being confused. The track-listing names some of the guests, but not others. They even leave out the most famous guest star at the time, Trick Daddy ...though as you see, he's mentioned on the front cover. So yes, don't let the incomplete credits fool you; he's on two songs (plus a skit).

The first song is "Wise Guys," a mafia-themed gangsta track just like its title suggests... not so much P.O.D.'s element (though I believe a major goal of this album was to show that he was versatile), but it's pure Rick Ross. It also features Brisco, who's still down with Ross to this day. It's a decent song, with an energetic and engaging, sample-free beat, and each MC bringing a fast and furious flow. P.O.D. actually comes the tightest lyrically, but Ross gets attention with his commanding voice. Disappointingly, though, some of the rhymes mumble their way into the depths of the sound-mix, and it has a hook about how they don't have a hook, which is the same stupid thing Shaq did in 1994, only worse, because this is a more distinct and refined, clearly delineated rhyming hook. It's still a good listen, though, and sure to please any Ross fan. I mean, who but Ross would come up with a diss like "ya little jet ski bums?" Some enunciation, or at least printed lyrics in the booklet, would've gone a long way, though.

Even better, though, is the next one, which is either titled "Somethings Going On" or "Something Going On." See? I told you the track-listing was messed up. Anyway, after a short skit with Rick calling the Prince on his phone ("this is Ricky with a 'Y;' what's goin' on?"), a massive, massive beat drops in. Produced by Spida Man, who also did "Wise Guys," it's one of the ultimate examples of Miami-style sample-free production, with deep bass, kicking drums, spacey key riffs and fake but powerful horns. An uncredited girl sings an ultra-catchy hook, plus subtle background work for the verses by P.O.D., Trick Daddy and Rick Ross. This song's not so much on the gangsta tip, though of course Ross can't help himself: The other two MC's are just coolly boasting about their lifestyles as rappers, "Ain't no caviar dealers for the Daddy Dollars; I'd rather eat chicken wings and collards. I'd rather drive my Impala, smoke and pop bottles; King of Miami, me, Mister Dollars. I be thinkin' 'bout runnin' for mayor, boy; look here. If I win that shit change 'round here!" It's just one of those songs you can put on repeat and listen to over and over.

"Something(s) Going On" was eventually discovered by Complex Mag, which listed it as one of The Top 50 Miami Rap Songs (also click there for an audio sample). But it appears nobody on the internet has figured out that Ross actually debuted on two songs here; and both are hot. This is what lead to his collaborations with Trick Daddy, Trina and those guys, his management, and the take off of his whole career. I'm not sure what led to P.O.D. dropping out of the picture just as everything was taking off, however. I keep hoping to at least see Ross throw him on a posse cut.

Update 4/29/13: Whoa! It turns out Ross's career actually dates even farther a little back than I realized. As has been most helpfully pointed out in the comments, Ross is featured under the name Teflon da Don on Erick Sermon's Erick Onasis album on Dreamworks from 2000. Seeing the track-listing back in the day, most of us probably just assumed it was that Teflon guy who was down with MOP, but there's no question it's our guy. We all know Rick often refers to himself as the Teflon don, and he shouts out his Carol City Cartel on the track. Plus, his voice and style are just unmistakably the Ross we know today. The song itself, entitled "Ain't Shhh To Discuss," is, eh, okay - definitely underwhelming compared to the P.O.D. tracks. The production is mellower and kinda limp, Ross's verse is pretty solid but the other guys really aren't bringing their A game here. It's absolutely notable as Ross's debut, but otherwise I wouldn't rate it much above album filler.

I never picked up this album back in the day (hence the cameo slipping under my radar, I suppose); I just grabbed the 12" with Slick Rick and ran... too many ill-advised east/west collabos with Eazy-E, DJ Quik, Xzibit, Too $hort (again!) and Suave House Productions. Nothing against those artists; but their styles were just to divergent to mesh well with the Def Squad's. And if you're wondering what the heck a then completely unknown Rick Ross is doing on an Erick Sermon album, that last collaboration explains it. "Ain't Shhh" was produced by Suave House; and any Ross fan can tell you about Rise To Power. That's the Ross album that came out after Port of Miami, but featured older, unreleased material he recorded for Suave House years before. In fact, you'll notice the third guy on this track, Noah, is also featured on a couple Rise To Power numbers. So it makes sense when you connect the dots.

This revelation had me going through my old Suave House tapes looking for even older Teflon appearances; but even though I'm far from having everything on that label (not that much of a fan, TBH) I really think this is it this time. ...Or is it? Will someone turn up a Rick Ross verse from - gasp! - the 90s?


  1. Sorry Werner, Ross actually debuted under the name of Teflon Da Don on Erick Sermon's album Erick Onasis. The track is "Ain't Shhh to Discuss"

    1. Well, damn, look at that. I stand corrected; I'll have to update this post. Well spotted and thanks for the assist!

    2. Surprisingly, that track is pretty hot as well. Weird that a lot of Ross' early stuff is better than his stuff now.