The Rise and Fall of a Super Freak
Rick James, known as Super Freak, was the first American performer to wear African-inspired braids; his powerful funk beats powered the rollicking 1980s and can still be heard today. He was one of the biggest names in the music industry—until he discovered freebase cocaine. An interview with the former King of Funk at historic Folsom Prison leads to a friendship with the author. His autographed copy of the original book containing this story, Scary Monsters and Super Freaks, was found beside his deathbed.
It must have been very late, around the time that night begins to turn on an imperceptible pivot and 2 o’clock becomes 6 in the morning. The place, if hazy memories serve, was the Red Parrot in New York City. The year was 1981. Or maybe it was ‘82. Definitely one of those, ‘81 or ‘82, toward the end of the Disco Era, a jangled, fuzzy, grandiose time when sex partners were changed more often than bed sheets and brain cells were slaughtered by the hundreds of millions. At clubs like Studio 54 and Xenon—the Studio for the Warhol Crowd, Xenon for the Eurotrash—beautiful people with pin-hole pupils were doing the Hustle and even the wild thing on strobe-lit dance floors, snorting crystalline cocaine out of little plastic bullets, gulping Quaaludes and champagne to dull the edge. What month? What year? Who the fuck can remember? The pace hadn’t slowed since 1974. If you can remember exactly, you weren’t there.
Rick James was there. His first rock and roll band had included Nick St. Nicholas, later of Steppenwolf. His second included Neil Young. He was a staff writer/producer for Motown when the Jackson parents brought their five sons through the door. Prince was once his opening act. James’s trademark song, “Super Freak,” sold more than 40 million copies in 1981. Later, a rapper named MC Hammer would cop the bass line of Super Freak for “U Can’t Touch This.” It sold millions more internationally.
By the time this night had come, Rick James was known around the world as the King of Funk, one of the biggest names in the music business. He had written and produced songs or albums for Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, Teena Marie, Chaka Kahn, the Stone City Band, Eddie Murphy, and many more. His live shows were legendary. His long braids dusted with glitter, he strode the stage in thigh-high boots and spandex, crouching to accept joints and kisses from his adoring fans.
“Between Parliament and Prince, Rick James carried the banner of black pop over that fertile territory known as funk,” wrote critic David Ritz. “As the seventies melted into the eighties, Rick was bad, superbad, the baddest of the bad. His orchestrations were brilliant, his shows spectacular. He worked in the celebrated R&B instrumental tradition—percussive guitar riffs, busy bass lines, syncopated horn punches—extending from Louis Jordan, Ray Charles, Ike Turner, James Brown, Sly Stone, and George Clinton . . . His funk was high and mighty, while his attitude stayed down and dirty. His eroticism was raw. He was an early gangsta of love, outrageous, unmanageable, both benefactor and victim of his own inexhaustible energy.”
So, it must have been sometime in 1981, because James was at the height of his powers. He was in New York to celebrate the conclusion of a long national tour to support sales of Street Songs, the album that launched “Super Freak,” as well as “Give It to Me Baby,” “Ghetto Life,” and “Fire and Desire.” Sitting with him around the table at the Red Parrot—drinking Courvoisier and Perrier-Jouet, chatting up a seemingly endless stream of women—was James’ usual coterie: seven or eight or nine of the boys in his Stone City Band, each one, like James himself, a black man standing over six feet tall, wearing long extension braids, leather pants, a rhinestone belt, a parachute-silk shirt, and python cowboy boots. They didn’t call it a crew back then, but Rick James had one; he never went anywhere without the boys in his band. They were somewhere between a family and a musical commune.
For a while, they’d all lived together in the Hearst Mansion in Beverly Hills. Then James bought a ranch in Buffalo, and they all moved in together there. They rode James’ Arabian horses (his favorite black stallion was named Punk), raced his ten snowmobiles, swam in the indoor pool, meditated amidst the jade sculpture and banzai trees in the “Oriental Room,” played full court basketball or marathon games of Bid Whist, recorded in the basement studio, did drugs, lots of drugs, all the time. Rick James believed in drugs. As he’d said to the crew when he’d first assembled them: “Look at my lyrics to my songs. All of the songs are about drugs. They’re about women and about drugs, and they’re one and the same. That is the persona of this band.”
When it started feeling a little crowded in the 28-room “ranch house,” James bought the house next door, let everyone live there. He took care of his crew. If someone’s momma had a medical bill, he’d give them the down payment. He never let a birthday pass without a catered party, though none bested the one he gave for the comedian Eddie Murphy, with hundreds of guests and a different kind of food in each of the themed rooms of the house.
James also let the crew drive his cars—he had more than a dozen, from Jeeps and Mercedes to an Excaliber and a vintage Rolls. Often, he’d give them upwards of $80,000 in cash to go shopping. He loved shopping. He’d stand in the middle of a store and point. Thirty pairs of cowboy boots. A half-dozen Cartier tank watches as gifts for different women. Ten exotic hides—including a lion, a bear, a zebra—for his “African Room.” Intricately carved wooden furniture for his “Sausalito Room.” Three hundred and sixty-five suits, one for every day of the year, even though he never wore suits, seemed to live in the same old pair of leather pants. He’d go to Bloomingdale’s, in Manhattan, just to cause trouble. He’d walk through the store. A riot would ensue as women rushed for his autograph. One trip through Bloomies brought him face to face with Linda Blair, grown up considerably since her role in The Exorcist. Though he never talked about any of his women, other than to say how sweet or beautiful or thoughtful they were (he was known in private as a romantic), he did allude once to Linda’s talents: “It’s not just her head that swivels,” he’d been heard to say.
Sometimes he’d get a buy and fly the whole crew to New Orleans for gumbo. He rented a yacht for a Caribbean cruise—fuel alone ran $30,000. Moonlit dinners for sixty on a terrace at a hotel in Hawaii. A $5,000 sushi dinner at Yamamotos in L.A. Along with the crew were the others, a cast of luminaries that included Dizzy Gillespie, Rod Stewart, Louis Farrakhan, Princess Elizabeth von Oxenberg, Steven Stills, David Crosby, Donny Osmond, Duane Allman, George Clinton, Sly Stone, Diana Ross, Willie Nelson, OJ and Nicole Brown Simpson, Denise Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye.
And, wherever James went, there were women. They threw crotchless panties on the stage when he played. They climbed the gates and knocked on his door at 3 a.m. They arrived in cars sent for them. Teena Marie, Catherine Oxenberg, Catherine Bach, Grace Jones, Jan Gaye, hundreds of others: groupies, twins, mother and daughter teams, one time five women at once. All he had to do was open his bedroom door and point to someone at the party going on in his living room.
Now, at the Red Parrot in 1981, the security manager came over to James’s table, told him there was someone upstairs who wanted to meet him.
“Who is it?” James asked.
“Can’t tell you right here,” said the manager.
“Well, whisper in my ear,” said James.
“I think you’ll want to meet him.”
James shrugged his shoulders, Why not? He made a motion in the air with his finger like a trail driver: Head ‘em up, move ‘em out. The crew began to rise.
“Just you and one other person, if you please, Mr. James.”
Rick James hovered there a moment, half out of his chair, slightly taken aback. Who, he wondered, could command more juice than the King of Funk himself? Now he was really curious. He gestured to his friend Taylor Alonzo, the manager of Xenon. They’d met one night at the club when the bouncers had refused to let James and his crew inside. Their friendship was solidified the day James took Alonzo along with him to buy a Rolls-Royce. James settled on a vintage silver blue Corniche. Then he asked the salesman to install wire wheels. “Rick,” said Alonzo, “only a pimp would put wire wheels on that car.” From that point on, James had come to rely on Alonzo to help him, as he put it, “separate the flash from the trash.”
Now James and Alonzo followed the manager upstairs to the private room.
“Rick James, this is Mick Jagger.”
Jagger rose unsteadily from his seat, at a table strewn with bottles of Cristal and Jack Daniel’s. He was totally drunk.
“Rick James!” slurred the legendary front man of the Rolling Stones. “Oh man! Super Freak! I just had to meet you!”
Requiem for a Gangster
Eric “Eazy E” Wright was a crack dealer who formed, along with icons Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, the seminal rap group Niggas Wit Attitude. Eazy’s lifestyle set the bar for hip hop culture. But in the end, it wasn’t guns or rivals that got him—shockingly, he succumbed to AIDS.
The bass beat faded, the video screen turned to snow. The CEO of Ruthless Records thumbed the remote, tilted back in his leather chair, adjusted his wraparound shades, inhaled deeply on a fragrant blunt. The next move was his.
He regarded the gentlemen before him, then regarded them some more. At 30, Eazy-E was the founder, owner and president, as well as chief executive, of Ruthless Records. He said sometimes that the E stood for Eric; his full name was Eric Wright. Other times he said it stood for Encino, though the significance of a nowhere valley town to a guy raised in Compton, the heart of gang turf in South Central Los Angeles, was left unexplained. He was also heard to declare, in his sly, trademark, high-pitched voice, that the E was for entrepreneur. Eazy was always angling to make money. As a kid, he bicycled a paper route, mowed lawns. Later he graduated to burglary, selling rock cocaine. For the past nine years, he’d been a music mogul.
Eazy fingured the ends of his sparse mustache. It was a spring afternoon in 1994; his gold-and-diamond ID bracelet glowed in the midday light filtering through the tinted windows of his office suite. With his eyes shielded by dark green locs, his milk-chocolate face totally devoid of expression, you could never tell where you stood in negotiations with Eazy. He would read a magazine during a meeting, chew paper, toss spitballs. When you pitched him, you wound up and threw, then dangled there, hanging off balance at the edge of the mound, waiting for a call, waiting a little longer.
Eazy eyeballed the group fidgeting before him, some Mexican rappers called Brownside. He sucked his teeth. His Ebel watch ticked off the seconds.
What up with this nigga? wondered Toker, the leader of Brownside, seated at the moment across two long, black leather sofas. Toker, Danger, Trigga, Sharp, Junior, and Boxer were decked in full Mexican-gangsta regalia—neatly pressed Pendletons buttoned at the neck, white T-shirts beneath, khakis oversized enough to fold into pleats. Two of them wore hair nets, one a blue do-rag. Their gats were stashed outside, in the trunk of Toker’s ‘64 Impala low-rider. The scent of pomade radiated around them, mingling in the air with Eazy’s Jheri Kurl juice and the strong stink of indica bud.
Toker waited him out. He wasn’t goin’ to say squat. This was Eazy’s hood, all uppity-uppity, a place called Woodland Hills, with huge cribs looking like Swiss chalets and mini-Tara and shit, lawns like a golf course. Though it was only ten or fifteen miles from where Toker grew up, he’d never heard of the place. Toker and them had rolled all the way here in the right lane of the freeway, worried about missing the exit.
Brownside was up from 49th Street, South Central L.A., Crip county. Back in the day, in the mid-’80s, when Toker was first on the corner, having turned from gangbanging to slinging rock cocaine, everybody had just started listening to rap. You had Ice-T trying to come out hard-core, but mostly there really wasn’t nothing that nobody could relate to. They rhymes was wack.
Then Toker heard Eazy on the radio. He was kickin’ songs about what was happening on the street: drive-bys, dope sacks, police wacks. It was what they was living.
Beginning in 1986, with the release of a twelve-inch single, “Boyz-n-the-Hood,” and following up two years later with the album Eazy-Duz-It, by Eazy, and a year after that with Straight Outta Compton, by his seminal group, Niggaz Wit Attitude (N.W.A.), Eazy-E and Ruthless Records had pioneered what has come to be known as gangsta rap. Along the way, Eazy helped to remake the face of style, entertainment, and politics in America.
Like rock and roll in the ‘50s and soul in the ‘60s, gangsta rap has become the coin of the creative realm. The form can be seen in everything from the baggy look in fashion to the reality-oriented programming on television. Rap’s content of discontent—sanctified by the Rodney King beating, by crime statistics, by a general foment among minorities of every stripe—has contributed to the embattlement of the proverbial “old white men in suits,” an assault on the status quo in America that has translated into political upheaval and, recently, to direct attacks on rap by conservatives. To some, rappers like Eazy are the trumpeters of the apocalyptic hordes.
But to guys like Toker, to millions of kids across the country, Eazy’s was the ultimate success story. He was an explorer who opened up new territory, created new possibilities. He defied the old rules, made up new ones as he went along. He did megabusiness with a joint between his lips. He released songs with titles like “Fuck tha Police.” He made white people sweat. He giggled all the way to the bank.
Soon everyone in the ghetto was aspiring to rap stardom, buying drum machines and eight-track recorders, forming labels, rhyming about 9s and .40s and bitches and hoes. Then the folks in Hollywood discovered gangsta culture and the next thing you knew, white kids in Kansas were wearing falling-down jeans, greeting one another with a hearty “Yo!”
After a few years on the corner, Toker and his homies decided that there oughta be some Mexican rappers, too. They wrote a song called “Gang Related,” bought time at a studio. They rented video cameras, hired some white guys to play cops. Then they hired a music lawyer who got them this meeting with Eazy-E.
Now, sitting expectantly on the leather sofas, Toker and his boyz continued to fidget. Eazy said nothing, just kicked it in his executive chair, his chin hiked, giving him the proud effect of a king. He pulled on his blunt—a short cigar hollowed of tobacco and refilled with weed. He adjusted his bracelet. He picked a piece of skin off one knuckle. He liked to keep his hands rough, he told people, in case he had to mix it up. For such a little man—five feet four, maybe 130 pounds—he did have big hands. How many fights he’d actually been in was subject to some question. But it didn’t matter. What was strongest about Eazy was his bank. He always had a thick roll of dead presidents in his pocket. He paid for his Mercedes 600 SEL with cash. He told people his company was worth $20 million. His personal fortune, he said, was $60 million.
Finally, Eazy spoke. “Mannn,” he said, shaking his head, his moist ringlets tickling the back of his neck. “This is like some cool shit here, man. Who owns you guys?
“Don’t nobody own us, motherfucker,” said Toker.
“Who shot the video?” Eazy asked.
“We shot it ourself.”
“Man, you bullshittin’,” laughed Eazy, slapping his thigh. “Where you guys get the money?”
Toker eyeballed him. “Where you get your money when you started?”
Eazy regarded them a moment, refocusing. “Daaamn!” he exclaimed. “It’s like that!”
“It’s like that, motherfucker,” declared Toker. He folded his arms across his chest, raised his own chin a notch.
“So what kinda deal you want?” asked Eazy. “What up, man? I wanna fuck with you guys. Let’s do business.”
“Damn! They Gonna Lynch Us!”
Black motorist Rodney Glenn King’s videotaped beating, at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department, was a watershed moment in American racial history, focusing massive public attention for the first time on the issue of racially motivated police brutality and the perils of driving while black. King paved the way for movements like Black Lives Matter and worldwide calls for racial equality. A look at what happened that fateful night, from both inside and outside of King’s vehicle.
CHP Officer Melanie Singer approached the white Hyundai with caution. Behind and all around, twenty-six other officers stepped gingerly out of patrol cars.
“What’s your name?” Singer asked the driver.
“Glleeenn,” he slurred, exhaling a pungent cloud of malt liquor.
Singer reeled, took a step back. “Get down on the ground, Glenn,” she ordered, not unkindly.
Glenn, both hands out the window, looked quizzical, then hoisted himself out of the Hyundai. He seemed slow, a little stiff. He also seemed happy.
Glenn looked up at the helicopter, shielded his eyes from the blinding spotlight. He smiled and waved. He let out a full, deep belly laugh. Then he began to dance, shuffling his feet, a pitter-patter step. He smirked at Singer.
“Get down on the ground!” she commanded.
“Why you want me to get on the ground?” he asked. He danced a few more steps, then stopped.
He reached down with his right hand, fingers moving toward the back pocket of his pants.
“Get your hands away from your butt!” yelled Singer.
Glenn turned, about-face. He bent forward a little from the waist, grabbed a handful of his right buttock, jiggled.
Singer was flabbergasted. She drew her weapon. “Hit the ground!” she ordered.
“No. No!” came a deep voice. Singer cut her eyes right. A sergeant was stepping forward. Sergeant Stacey Koon, LAPD.
Koon was 40, a fifteen-year veteran of the department. Muscular, stern-faced, with a receding hairline, Koon was married to a nurse, the father of five children, a devout member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church. Neighbors remember the time a dog jumped his fence and entered his house. Koon had threatened the pet with his pistol.
Koon took an easy step forward, sized up the perp. He saw a big man, buffed out, very muscular. He appeared disoriented and unbalanced. Koon suspected PCP.
“Get back! We’ll handle,” rasped Koon to Singer. Then he addressed Glenn: “Get down on the ground!”
Koon pulled his Taser, a device that shoots darts connected by wires to a power source. Once the darts are implanted in skin, a 50,000-volt charge can be dispensed. “If you don’t start following orders, I’m going to electrocute you!” he commanded.
Glenn dropped to all fours. To Koon, Glenn looked like a lineman set for the hike. Koon didn’t know what this guy was going to do. He might rush an officer, take his weapon, get him in a death grip—anything was possible.
Now Koon noticed two other suspects in the car. He sensed a setup. He decided gunfire might be necessary. “Powell!” he barked like a platoon leader. “You’re the designated shooter!” Then he ordered some other officers to get Pooh and Freddie G. out of the car.
Glenn, meanwhile, was on the ground. He appeared to be doing push-ups. Koon signaled. Cops swarmed. Powell went in with the handcuffs. As Powell tried to cuff him, Glenn rose up, throwing off officers like rag dolls, according to one cop, trying to get away, according to another. In either case, in the shuffle, Glenn bumped against Powell, almost knocking him off his feet. Powell, falling backward, thought this was it. He reached for his gun. . . .
Koon fired the Taser. He scored twice, back and side. Then he hit the hot switch: 50,000 volts.
Glenn screamed for a full five seconds. A witness would later say it sounded like a death wail. A cop would later say “wounded animal.”
Glenn began crawling, scuttling across the asphalt.
“Anyone else have a Taser?” Koon yelled. Others were yelling now too. “Get down!” “Lie down!” “Put your hands up!” “Put your hands behind your back, nigger!”
The Real Rick Ross is Not a Rapper
Freeway Ricky Ross didn’t invent cocaine—as it turned out, the U.S. Government was selling it to him. What he did was turn crack into a business and share the model. The way he sees it, Ross was an entrepreneur in a shadow economy who created jobs and brought riches to his people, an American capitalist in the grand American tradition. Later came the flip side: deaths, addiction, police wrath, and mass incarcerations.
The real Rick Ross is not a rapper. That’s what it says on his T-shirt, silk-screened attractively in two colors. The bold letters in black ink frame his image—bald, bearded, and somewhat bug-eyed with the fervor of his comeback. The gold ink requires a second stencil. Depicted on his head is a crown, cocked just so and perfectly aligned, the kingpin in exile, and below that his autograph, the excessively flamboyant signature of a man who once made millions a day selling cocaine but only began learning to read, behind bars, at age twenty-eight. Eventually, he would read himself to freedom.
On a sunny morning in southern California, Rick Ross is driving from his cramped but rent-free apartment along tony Ocean Avenue in Long Beach toward some pressing new business in blue-collar Riverside, an hour away. We’re talking here about the real Rick Ross, born Ricky Donnell Ross in 1960, one of three Ricks from ‘round the way, this one the Rick who stayed on Eighty-seventh Place where it dead-ended at the 110 Freeway, in the shadow of a massive concrete abutment where you could feel the earth vibrating beneath your feet, hence his nickname: Freeway Rick Ross … as opposed to the rapper known as Rick Ross, a blubbery former college football player and corrections officer whose birth name is William Leonard Roberts II. When Roberts entered the music game, he appropriated the name and tattooed it across his fists: RICK RO$$. He rose to prominence rapping about a fictitious criminal past while the real Rick Ross, Freeway Rick Ross, a man iconic enough to have his name jacked, was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in a federal penitentiary.
Having brought suit against the rapper for copyright infringement and failed in several courts, Ross came up with the idea of these T-shirts. Over the past five months, with the help of a gangbanger turned silk-screener, he’s printed five thousand. Offered in a rainbow of colors, in sizes up to 6XL, they are folded painstakingly and fitted into plastic bags by his older brother in a mini warehouse to which Ross has managed to secure the key, one in a seemingly endless series of fuzzy handshake arrangements through which he operates his portfolio of legal enterprises.
Everywhere he goes—to give testimony in a storefront church in Ontario; to lecture a law-school class at the University of Southern California; to make a personal appearance at an open-mic night in Inglewood; to have lunch at Denny’s in Carson (he’s a vegan; the chain features a garden burger); to attend a party for a Korean rapper who worships Ross as an American folk hero; to take a meeting at Warner Bros. studios in Burbank or with an Epic/Sony vice-president in Beverly Hills—Ross rolls behind him unselfconsciously a battered suitcase full of merch, the zipper toggles missing, his Willy Loman smile unwavering as he digs through the slippery packages to find the proper size and color, no charge for a photo. If you don’t have the twenty dollars, more than likely he’ll sell it for less. Taken by the moment, by the recognition and adulation, he’ll often make it a gift.
If you meet Rick Ross and you tell him you’re broke, broker even than he is at the moment—there is $11.15 left in his savings account—he’ll spot you a ten-pack of T-shirts, a $200 value on the streets. (If you live out of town, he’ll mail you a ten-pack; someone else donates postage from his company’s postal machine.) His manufacturer’s price is about four dollars per piece. Wholesale is ten dollars. On the Web the price is twenty-five dollars. Sell those shirts, pay him back a hundred dollars, and you get to keep the profit. If you’re smart like Rick Ross, the real Rick Ross, Freeway Rick, you’ll reinvest. Just like that, you’re in business.
Back in the day, Ross would offer the same deal with crack cocaine—to start you out, he’d give you $100 worth for free, and you could sell it for $300. Between 1982 and 1989, federal prosecutors estimated, Ross bought and resold three tons of cocaine. In 1980 dollars, his gross earnings were said to be in excess of $900 million—with a profit of nearly $300 million. Converted roughly to present-day dollars: $2.5 billion and $850 million, respectively. As his distribution empire grew to include forty-two cities, the price he paid per kilo of powder cocaine dropped from as much as $60,000 to as low as $10,000. This was partially due to his exponentially increasing network of distributors, as Crips and Bloods struck out across the country to franchise the trade, spreading their gang culture with it … and partially due to his sweetheart connection with a Nicaraguan national who would later be said to have ties to both the CIA and the contra rebels supported during the 1980s by the Reagan administration. (Later this same connect—Oscar Danilo Blandón—would be hired by the DEA as an informant; it was he who would bring Ross into the deal that led to his life sentence.)
Fueled by the findings of an investigation by San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb in 1996, many would come to believe that the CIA had actually created the crack epidemic in America by allowing (or turning a blind eye to) massive shipments of cocaine into the country, the profits from which went to arming rebels fighting a Latin American regime disfavored by our government. Webb also theorized that much of the contra coke (cultivated in Colombia) ended up in the hands of Freeway Rick Ross.
Webb’s revelations were aggressively attacked by the country’s major newspapers, in reports heavy with unnamed government sources. Webb left the paper in disgrace; he was later found dead with two bullets in his head, an apparent suicide. An earlier inquiry led by then-senator John Kerry supported the substance of Webb’s allegations, as did a 1998 report by the CIA’s inspector general. Even many of those who vilified Webb now acknowledge that much of what he reported was true. A minority of the citizenry still believes there was genocidal intent in the CIA’s actions—that the coke was deliberately funneled toward black ghettos as a way of decimating a troublesome population.
Deliberate or not, crack spread like a brush fire through the desiccated urban landscape, causing what USC law professor Jody Armour calls “the crack plague and its festering aftermath.” Today, the ripples are still felt on all sociological levels; 30 percent of African-American males under thirty are currently incarcerated or on probation or parole. Along the way, crack also helped to enrich law-enforcement agencies and private security contractors and to elect politicians; being “tough on crime” became a necessary platform plank, a mind-set that would later dovetail into post-9/11 issues of domestic security. In 1986, when homicide rates due to gang warfare across the country had reached all-time highs, mandatory federal sentencing minimums were established, making the penalties for possession of crack by weight a hundred times more punitive than those for possession of powder cocaine. Many say this is one of the reasons for the disparities of race in our prison population. Only recently did President Barack Obama sign legislation reducing the crack-to-powder-coke ratio to 18 to 1. To date, various estimates place the cost of the four-decade-plus war on drugs between $500 billion and $4 trillion.
The way Rick Ross sees it, he was a banker in a shadow economy, working with the only currency available to a disenfranchised segment of society. By giving out unsecured microloans, he created jobs. By middling large quantities of this once-refined plant (similar to sugar or coffee, only illegal), he made himself and others wealthy—an American capitalist in the grand tradition of our country’s rags-to-riches folklore. Working with gang leaders he’d known since grade school, both Crips and Bloods, Ross created a sales model—a foolproof recipe for cooking powder coke into crack using household materials; a chain of organization; an army of Dope Boys; and standardized curbside service techniques that were exported around the country and continued to evolve one step ahead of police and their increasingly well-stocked arsenal.
The real Rick Ross. Freeway Rick Ross. He didn’t invent crack. But he probably did more than anyone else to cause its spread. Just Say No. The War on Drugs. Mandatory Minimums. The Wire. RICK RO$$. This is his legacy. Say hello to my little friend.