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Name game: Who is the 'real' Rick Ross?

Notorious Los Angeles drug dealer alleges Miami hip-hop icon stole his identity and likeness

“It’s kinda weird to take someone’s name and identity and claim it as their own,” reformed drug kingpin “Freeway” Ricky Donnell Ross told comedian Joe Rogan during a 2013 podcast. “If somebody steals something from you and it takes you 10 years to catch him, if it has all the makings on it that it’s yours, how can you not be made to give it back?”

The former dealer, who began dealing crack cocaine in early 1980s Los Angeles near Interstate 110, would go on to make hundreds of millions of dollars selling drugs.

Although Freeway Ricky spent much of that era in and out of prison — where he learned to read and write — he wasn't sentenced to life until 1996 when he was convicted in a federal sting operation of purchasing more than 100 kilograms of cocaine. Since the conviction was his third, the punishment was mandated by law. His sentence was later reduced to 20 years after a successful appeal based on the logic that numerous charges for which he was jailed actually constituted one “continuous criminal spree.” He was then released on parole Sept. 29, 2009.

But when Ricky Ross emerged from behind bars, he quickly discovered that famous Miami rapper Rick Ross had adopted his name to promote his musical persona and copied the trappings of his street life as a way of projecting a gangster image.

“He’s not even from the hood,” said Freeway Ricky, lambasting the corrections officer-turned-rapper.

The once-wealthy dealer’s financial state now pales to the rapper’s success. So Freeway Ricky launched a string of so far unsuccessful lawsuits with the aim of earning compensation for what he sees as a form of identity theft.

Like a ‘boss’

William Leonard Roberts II, the rapper whose stage name is “Rick Ross,” never was the drug-dealing hustler that his nom de musique — or his lyrics — suggest.

Freeway Ricky filed a $10 million lawsuit against Roberts in 2010 for copyright infringement, only to have it thrown out on a technicality in a preliminary hearing before the trial.

Two years later, the ‘real’ Ricky Ross lost a second case alleging trademark violations, and a judge ordered the dealer to pay the rapper’s legal fees totaling $490,000.

Rappers named after gangsters

   Rapper: William "Rick Ross" Roberts

Gangster: "Freeway" Ricky Ross

   Rapper: Leslie "Freeway" Pridgen

Gangster: "Freeway" Ricky Ross

   Rapper: Curtis "50 Cent” Jackson

Gangster: Kelvin "50 Cent" Martin

   Rapper: Nasir "Nas Escobar" Jones

Gangster: Pablo Escobar

   Rapper: Brad "Scarface" Jordan

Gangster: Tony "Scarface" Montana

   Rapper: Victor "Noreaga" Santiago

Gangster: Manuel Noriega

   Rapper: Kiam "Capone" Holley

Gangster: Al Capone

   Rapper: Nathaniel "Kool G Rap" Wilson

Gangster: Sam Giancana

   Rapper: Mario "Yo Gotti" Mims

Gangster: John Gotti

"The primary argument that ruled the day involved the statute of limitations," said Freeway Ricky’s attorney, John Younesi. “He would have been incarcerated during the period … when the lawsuit would have had to be initiated."

Rapper Rick Ross contended that his emcee name was a derivation of being called “Big Boss” during his time as a high school All-American football player. Freeway Ricky finds it hard to believe.

In late 2013, a California judge threw out the appeal, saying that the “defendants’ use of the ‘Rick Ross’ name and persona is protected expression under the First Amendment.” The opinion stated that “Roberts created a celebrity identity” and “was not simply an impostor seeking to profit.”

Judge Roger Boren said in his ruling that although the rapper’s persona relied partially on the drug kingpin’s name, it was not the “very sum and substance” of Roberts’ work.

“For somebody to say they never heard of me is erroneous,” said Freeway Ricky in response. “He’s supposed to be a connoisseur of gangsterism, and he never heard of Rick Ross?”

‘Everyday I’m hustlin’

Ross also claims that even the hook of one of Roberts’ top songs, “Hustlin,’” was plagiarized.

“‘Everyday I’m hustlin’,’ is something I used to say. He got that out of a book Gary Webb wrote called ‘Dark Alliance,'” said Ross about the investigative journalist who first identified possible CIA complicity in the crack cocaine trade in Los Angeles.

The former drug lord even takes issue with the moral content of Roberts’ lyrics.

“He’s giving kids the wrong impression that you can go out and sell drugs and parlay that into a record career,” Freeway Ricky told Rogan. “I believe that it’s gonna have a tremendous backlash on our young people.”

Though his attempts at wresting his name from Roberts have failed completely, Ross said he’s “relentless.”

“I believe that no matter what obstacles they put in front of me, I’m not going to let them stop me,” said Freeway Ricky, whose new career is focused on speaking engagements to prison groups and selling hip-hop merchandise.

“I made the name Rick Ross, and I’m gonna take it back.”

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Drugs, Music

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