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Still Hustlin'

"I wrote that song in about an hour on some good kush," Miami-born hip-hop superstar Rick Ross says as we sit in the entertainment room of his new mansion in Davie on a recent Saturday night.

He's talking about his 2006 breakaway hit "Hustlin'," which catapulted Ross into the hip-hop mainstream.

"My definition of hustlin' is: Handle your business. I'm gonna handle mine. Believe that. To really hustle, you gotta be sure of yourself." We're watching standup comedian Katt Williams on a large-screen TV, but my eyes are still adjusting to the brightness of the large chandelier dangling from the high ceiling. "My next crib, I'm gonna have some pet tigers," Ross says, laughing, in the same slow-and-low, Barry White-style pitch in which he raps. "They'll come up and smell you.

"As long as you break bread," he continues, "everything we do is like a partnership. You gotta make it happen, though." He stands up, and I follow him into the kitchen and dining area, where a tattoo artist is setting up ink and needles on a glass table. Ross takes off his shirt and puts his hand over his rib cage: "I am getting the head of the Statue of Liberty right here." Why? "God loves me. I started with nothing, and here I am." He points to the TV set, indicating Williams. "This nigga right here got his DVD called American Hustler with my song on it. We damned near made Def Jam break the bank... That is what a hustler is."

Rick Ross — AKA the Bo$$, Chief of Miami, Rick the Ruler — was born William Roberts almost 31 years ago in Carol City. His debut, Port of Miami, released on Slip N Slide Records last year, celebrated the 305's legendary reputation as the cocaine capital of America. It went on to become certified platinum, selling more than a million copies and reaching number one on the Billboard album chart. For awhile, you could not go anywhere in the country without hearing the mantra-like chorus ("Every day I'm huss-a-lin"). The song was produced by the Runners from Orlando and set a record in ring-tone sales (more than a million sold).

"Ring tones are a really good source of income," Ross says, pointing to a cell-phone-shaped plaque on the wall, given to him by the Recording Industry Association of America. "Good money. Believe me, I know."

Beyond music, Ross has his hand in various other lucrative pots. In 2006, he established Rick Ross Charities Inc., which offers educational, social, and mentoring programs for inner-city youth. He owns a restaurant in North Miami called Hip-Hop Grub Spot — try the Lil Wayne Fish and Chips, T.I. Fried Macaroni, and, for dessert, the Trina Mango Pie. His Ringleader brand of clothing will be available soon. He has also designed shoes for Converse with Dwyane Wade, and he owns a hair salon in Atlanta.

Various awards and plaques decorate the wall between the foyer and entertainment room in Ross' home, and those turn the conversation to football. After graduating from Carol City Senior High School, he attended Albany State University on a football scholarship. This leads to a discussion of the recent murder of Miami native and pro football player Sean Taylor. "Rest in peace," says Ross, shaking his head. "That man dead and gone." As we step outside through a glass door, he continues. "It is fucked up... You are a major-league athlete... an entertainer... You gotta be able to protect your family and your home. I'm pretty sure it would've been a different outcome, come around here with that. I'm shooting through the walls. I ain't lookin'." He holds up his thumb and pointer finger and says, "His girl and his baby was already in the bed. Everything on the other side of the wall deserves to die. Dogs and pets included. I would've shot all through that shit. Two hundred-plus rounds. Some young punks come and break and enter for a watch or something. I would've shot the shit out of them.

"Whenever you are in the public eye," he continues, "you become a target to some extent. So you gotta always be ready for that. Where I come from... I'm ready anyway, for no reason. Just know that." Standing six-foot-two and weighing around 300 pounds, Ross just looks like he means business. "This is fair warning to everybody. I'm strapped, boy, and I'm gonna let your ass have it, period. Ain't no sugar-coatin' it. That goes for every man of a household. It is an amendment right to bear arms. Protect your life and your family's."

In the backyard, although it is nighttime, the swimming pool's outdoor lighting system is so bright that I have to put on my sunglasses. As I do so, Ross informs me that MTV Cribs is expected in a few weeks, so the decorating is still in progress. A man-made waterfall pours into a large oval-shaped swimming pool from a bubbling hot tub atop a small cement hill. Fresh pineapples grow in well-manicured gardens. Trails of marble pieces arranged in geometric patterns snake through the grass, forming walkways between the patio and pool area.

Ross picks up an electronic box with knobs and a blinking red light. "If the sun gets too hot in the daytime, you can still walk barefoot on the marble out here," he explains, pressing a button that adjusts the temperature on the outdoor marble deck. He points to a tall and exotic-looking plant. "That tree cost $25,000," he declares. There are a number of these sprinkled around the estate's perimeter. He turns and points toward the black abyss beyond the waterfall. "That is going to be my own private golf course. You can look up and see all the stars out there." He puts his hand on my shoulder and imparts what he says is his most important piece of advice: "Save your life — that is my advice to you. Do whatever you have to do to save your life. That is the best advice I can give you and all of my loyal readers."

We walk back inside the house as the tattoo artist plugs in his ink gun. We discuss his upcoming album, Trilla, and the recent video he made with R. Kelly for the song "Speedin.' " (In the video, Ross jumps off the old Rickenbacker Causeway after being pulled over by a cop.) Although not yet available in stores — the release date has been pushed back to February 19 — songs from the sophomore effort can already be heard on 99 Jamz (WEDR-FM 99.1). "The Trilla album is already legendary," he says. "I am recording songs right now as we speak. I just keep adding some new shit; we ain't finished with it." He turns down the volume on the TV set with a remote control. "I remember when Michael Jackson's Thriller came out. I remember like it was yesterday. That album sold 130 million copies. That was like the first vinyl record that my mama ever gave me." He pauses. "Trilla is about winning... Trilla is here forever."

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Jason Handelsman

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