Good news for the man born William Leonard Roberts II: Rick Ross the corrections-officer-turned-rapper gets to keep his name, despite legal action from Rick Ross the cocaine kingpin. And appeals court dismissed the lawsuit the convicted drug dealer filed in 2010, which alleged the rapper appropriated his image and likeness, arguing for Rick Ross’s First Amendment right to use the name.
The judge’s explanation, via Pitchfork:
We recognize that Roberts’ work—his music and persona as a rap musician—relies to some extent on plaintiff’s name and persona,” writes Judge [Roger] Boren. “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,” says the ruling. “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.
In other words, Rick Ross gets to stay Rick Ross because his art and persona is based on more than just the name “Rick Ross.” Say what you will about the man’s music, but it’s a victory for artists’ freedom to appropriate and use existing culture. Part of me wishes the rapper had lost, though, if only to see what new moniker he would have chosen. Would a Ross by any other name smell as much like burning rubber?