Rapper Rick Ross has won a court battle against a former drug kingpin in order to keep his stage name.
In a real-life Cell Block 4 scenario, the hip-hop star (William Roberts II to his mother) was challenged by ‘Freeway’ Ricky Ross, a convicted gangster who ruled the Los Angeles drugs trade in the 1980s with alleged cocaine sales of up to $3 million a day.
He also had ties with the Nicaraguan Contras, and served 13 years in jail before he was released in 2009.
Now a ‘reformed’ character, Ricky claimed the rapper had appropriated his name and his image, and filed a law suit against him asking for $10 million.
Other defendants in the lawsuit included Warner Bros. Records, Universal Music and Jay Z as those who Ricky claimed were instrumental in the hip-hop star’s rise to fame using his stolen identity.
The trouble apparently started after Ricky saw a magazine article about “up-and-coming” rappers, which included Roberts, using the name Rick Ross. Outraged, he filed the suit against Roberts a year after he left prison in 2010.
However, the time technicality was an issue when the suit went to trial the first time round – the judge noted that the plaintiff had known about the rapper since at least 2006 but had failed to make his claim until 2010.
While there was some evidence in court that Rick Ross had Ricky Ross in mind when creating his persona (Roberts admitted the drug lord's life story had "grabbed him" but countered that by saying his adopted stage name was based on his high school football nickname of “big boss”), it was originally dismissed on the grounds of the first amendment of the US Constitution which regards freedom of expression, among other things.
Last week, an appeal trial went to court in California, but was thrown out.
Judge Roger 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."
How did Rick Ross celebrate? By free-style rapping over Kanye West’s “Bound 2”. Classic rapper behaviour. Listen to it here.
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