Rick Ross allowed to keep name after US court ruling

Rapper had been challenged to use of his stage name by Los Angeles drug kingpin

A US court ruling has allowed Rick Ross to continue using his stage name.

The rapper, real name William Roberts II, had been challenged by a former drug kingpin, ‘Freeway’ Ricky Ross, for appropriating his name and likeness. Using the First Amendment in the United States’ Constitution, which regards, among other things, freedom of expression, the $10million lawsuit by the reportedly reformed Ricky Ross came to nothing.

‘Freeway’ Ricky Ross’s drug empire was worth around £1.5billion, adjusted for inflation, and was connected to the Nicaraguan Contras. He was imprisoned in 1996 and served 13 years before being released in 2009. It was then, according to The Hollywood Reporter, he came across a magazine article about “up-and-coming” rappers, notably his namesake. There was also some evidence in court to suggest that Rick Ross had Ricky Ross in mind when creating his persona. Rapper Ross admitted the drug lord’s life story had “grabbed him,” but countered by saying his adopted stage name was based on his high school football nickname of “big boss”.

Despite this, a deciding factor in the case appears to be that the lawsuit was filed in 2010 even though the former felon had known about the rapper since 2006. The lawsuit was therefore deemed “untimely” by the judge. Other defendants in the suit included Warner Bros Records, Universal Music and Jay-Z as those who helped the hip-hop star succeed with his adopted identity.

Judge Boren, who oversaw the case, said in a statement: “We recognise 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 synthesised. 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.”

Rick Ross caused a storm of controversy last year with a lyric from ‘U.O.E.N.O.’ which appeared to condone rape. He apologised, but was later dropped from a Reebok advertising campaign who issued a statement saying: “While we do not believe that Rick Ross condones sexual assault, we are very disappointed he has yet to display an understanding of the seriousness of this issue or an appropriate level of remorse. At this time, it is in everyone’s best interest for Reebok to end its partnership with Mr Ross.”