enter the entrepreneur

Rick Ross.

The corporate name suggests solidarity. So does the title of the package tour being sent on the road this month. But make no mistake about who is running the show in both instances. When you’re talking about the Maybach Music Group, you’re talking about Rick Ross.

Dubbed “the William Howard Taft of the rap game” by Rolling Stone in an August cover story, Ross is the next great hip-hop entrepreneur. A Southern rap stylist who has been a sensation ever since his 2006 debut album, Port of Miami, entered the Billboard 200 chart at No.1., Ross is as unafraid of shying away from lyrics that embrace rap’s more sordid vices as he is of flaunting the riches a series of charttopping albums (including the recent God Forgives, I Don’t) and mixtapes (the even newer The Black Bar Mitzvah) have brought his way. But he is also revealing himself as a keen businessman and talent scout, hence the formation of MMG and the placement of labelmates Meek Mill and Wale on the recent Self Made compilation albums as well as the November tour that hits Rupp Arena tonight.

“He’s smart,” said Devine Carama, one of Lexington’s most visible hip-hop artists. “He’s all about building his brand. And I think that’s why he is signing so many other artists. He’s trying to take a Diddy-type role by building his brand so he can later sit back and watch Wale and Meek Mill and some of these other artists do their thing.

“Honestly, he kind of reminds me of a Notorious B.I.G. back in the day. And the only reason I say that is a lot of his (lyrical) content is negative. But very seldom do you have that kind of content with such great music. And he has that. I think his content is actually what keeps him from probably reaching a level of Drake or Jay Z. But the reason he has been so successful is that he makes good music. If I can use this metaphor, I would consider him to be kind of a gangsta rapper. But with the imagery he provides, he is like the Scarface for the average guy on the corner. His music is real dramatic, and it’s real big. It’s almost like a movie. I think that’s what attracts people.”

“To me, Rick Ross’ music is very specific,” said Rob Jackson, a Lexington rap artist who has collaborated with famed producer L. A. Reid after signing to Arista Records in 2001. “As far as hip-hop goes, it’s skillfully done. I can see where people might have a problem with the subject matter. But this is young people’s music.”

Having the MMG concert in Lexington, as opposed Louisville and Cincinnati, where many arena acts have been taking tours in recent years, can also be viewed as something of a coup. Aside from a show that will be exclusive to the region, this is Rupp’s second major hip-hop bill this year. A February performance by Drake was the first.

While Ross may not possess the kind of pop crossover appeal of artists like Drake, his Rupp appearance can’t help but be seen as a positive among hip-hop enthusiasts.

“I think the majority of hip-hop is supported by the African-American community,” Carama said. “But there is about a 10-15% group that crosses over and supports a wide range of artists like Drake, Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne. I think Rick Ross falls right under that.

“The demographics in Lexington alone are not going to allow him as successful a showing as one of the crossover artists would have. But hip-hop artists are always looking for new markets. So I think that’s why they come in here, like with 2 Chainz being in Frankfort (for a Kentucky State University Homecoming concert) a couple of weeks ago. I think that kind of opens up the market for artists like Rick Ross. It will be interesting to see how his show goes here.”

“This is overwhelmingly positive for our community, culturally as well as economically,” Jackson added. “We can’t afford to turn anybody away from Rupp Arena that’s going to put bodies in there and generate some capitol for the local economy.

“It’s something new for the area. That means it’s also positive as far as diversity in the area goes, and diversity in the music scene.”

Maybach Music Group featuring Rick Ross, Meek Mill and Wale perform at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at Rupp Arena. Tickets are $29.75, $49.75 and $69.75. Call (859) 233-3535, (800) 745-3000 or go to www.ticketmaster.com.

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