Rick Ross took his rap name from “Freeway” Ricky Ross, the 1980s cocaine kingpin whose crime career ended when he spent 13 years in prison. Shortly after his release, the drug dealer Ross sued the rapper Ross for appropriating his image and likeness, and the two have been waging a legal battle over the rights to the name for several years. A California trial court initially dismissed the lawsuit because Ricky Ross first heard of rapper Ross in 2006 but waited four years to file the lawsuit. And now a California appeals court has upheld the trial court’s decision, giving us a fascinating piece of rap criticism in its verdict.
As The Hollywood Reporter points out, Judge Roger Boren believes that rapper Ross — William Leonard Roberts, to the legal authorities — is entitled to use the name because of First Amendment reasons:
We recognize that Roberts’ work—his music and persona as a rap musician—relies to some extent on plaintiff’s name and persona. Roberts chose to use the name ‘Rick Ross.’ He raps about trafficking in cocaine and brags about his wealth. These were ‘raw materials’ from which Roberts’ music career was synthesized. But these are not the ‘very sum and substance’ of Roberts’ work… Roberts created a celebrity identity, using the name Rick Ross, of a cocaine kingpin turned rapper. He was not simply an impostor seeking to profit solely off the name and reputation of Rick Ross. Rather, he made music out of fictional tales of dealing drugs and other exploits—some of which related to plaintiff. Using the name and certain details of an infamous criminal’s life as basic elements, he created original artistic works.
And in other Rick Ross news, we now get to hear him wheezing regally over Kanye West’s “Bound 2“:
Ross’s new album Mastermind is coming sometime this year from Def Jam. No word on whether “Freeway” Ricky Ross will now attempt to sue Freeway.