Six jewel-encrusted gold chains jangle on Rick Ross's neck as he lays out his plan to stay "rich forever."
Tours and top-selling albums have set the Miami rapper's net worth at between $25 million and $35 million. Now, he's expanding his empire beyond music, buying up chicken wing franchises, signaling interest in smoothie shops, and even taking a puff of the burgeoning e-cigarette industry.
The 38-year-old rapper, whose real name is William Leonard Roberts II, sat down with The Huffington Post earlier this month to talk about his business endeavors, offering a rare glimpse into the personal values of a man who has made millions rhapsodizing drugs, materialism and womanizing.
Ross has followed a well-trodden path for many rappers, going from music and merchandising to the food, drink and hospitality industry.
“The art, the music, the clothes we wear, the things we drive, the things we discuss is all a part of a lifestyle,” Ross said, adjusting his sunglasses in a dimly-lit conference room at Def Jam Records’ Manhattan office. “I feel what we drink, what we eat, all falls in that category.”
It started, as many life events do, with champagne. Luc Belaire Rare Rosé soared in popularity last year after the rapper, who sometimes calls himself Ricky Rozay, endorsed the black-bottled booze in songs and music videos and on social media. Ross has even helped with word-of-mouth marketing for the sparkling wine, which sells for about $35 a bottle. According to Brett Berish, whose company, Sovereign Brands, sells Belaire, Ross has delivered bottles to “dozens of friends, family and music industry influencers” to help promote sales.
Then, in April, the rapper made his first foray into the food industry, buying 25 franchises from Wingstop, a Dallas-based chicken chain.
“I’ve been loving Wingstop for well over five or six years now, I believe,” Ross said. “If it’s something that you love, something that you love being a part of, something you love representing, you know, it’s limitless.”
The eatery was a natural fit for Ross, who, despite recently touting his “Ross-fit” workout routine, frequently talks about his large physique and not being “a slim thug” in his songs.
“It’s not necessarily a stretch for his image -- he’s a big guy and you could imagine him eating a lot of food,” Zack O’Malley Greenburg, who covers the music business for Forbes, told HuffPost.
Greenburg said Ross’ brand -- defined by lyrics that oscillate between describing lavish scenes of decadence and the harsh hustle of selling drugs to survive -- is “not prohibitively high end or low end.”
“Rick Ross is more mid-market,” Greenburg said.
That sentiment seems to align with Ross' most recent endorsements. Last month, he became the official brand ambassador for mCig, a cigarette-shaped device used to consume vaporized cannabis or other plant-based potables. And earlier this month, he posted a cryptic photo on Instagram, hinting that he might make some kind of investment in the Louisiana drink chain Smoothie King. His publicist declined to comment.
Ross' partnerships mostly amount to product plugs and investments -- the company gets celebrity endorsement, and Ross gains an asset. But Ross has some opinions on the industry in which he has bought himself a seat at the table.
For starters, Ross said he believes minimum wage workers need a raise.
“When it comes to minimum wage, you’re only really talking about a certain class,” he said. “It’s only really a certain demographic and that’s who really needs it the most. Most definitely, help is needed in those areas.”
Most hourly wages reported for Wingstop on workplace review site Glassdoor hover below $9. But Ross explained that his franchise group, Boss Wings Enterprises, is actually run by his sister, Tawanda Roberts, and he has little control over that matter. “I don’t really deal with that,” he told HuffPost.
Roberts is one of the many “powerful women that surround me at all times,” Ross said.
“They’re great examples of great business leaders,” he said, as the woman who manages his reputation in the press listened intently just feet away. “I learn a lot. The majority of my team is made up of women.”
That may seem surprising given the uproar last year over a lyric in his song “U.O.E.N.O.” that seemed to glorify date rape. In response, sportswear giant Reebok dropped him as a brand partner. Dave Vernon, Wingstop’s chief development officer, told HuffPost the company has a clause in its contract with Ross that allows Wingstop to cut ties with the franchise owners if Ross says or does something illegal or reprehensible.
“We don’t endorse his music; we know some of his lyrics don’t necessarily reflect our brand,” Vernon said.
Perhaps the most contentious opinion Ross expressed was about guns in restaurants. In March 2013, Ross was ambushed by gunmen who shot at his Rolls Royce on a Florida street. According to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department report, Ross was carrying a 9 mm handgun with 12 live rounds.
“I support the right to bear arms, I do,” he told HuffPost. “I’m a licensed carrier.”
Ross' Boss Wings franchises mostly dot the South, a place where some welcome the National Rifle Association's near-religious fervor for Second Amendment orthodoxy. But the rapper doesn’t want guns in his restaurants.
“When I go into public places, when I go out and I enter certain places, I believe it’s best to leave your firearm in your vehicle,” he said. “Go in and enjoy your meal.”
Gun rights activists in Texas and elsewhere have recently staged rallies at retailers and chain restaurants, openly carrying weapons such as assault rifles in an effort to promote laxer gun laws. The protests have led to no-gun policies at Target, Chili’s, Sonic, Chipotle and others.
“That’s their personal choice, and that’s depending on the laws -- that’s in Texas,” he said with a laugh. “But, me personally, I believe bringing a rifle into any closed building is too much.”