The most intimate audience a normal person could have with the rapper Rick Ross probably looks something like his waiting room backstage at The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore. It’s less than an hour before the taping begins, and the sunglasses Ross usually wears during public appearances are absent from his face. He’s seated in front of a mirror as his longtime barber Peter Graham meticulously sculpts Ross’ trademark beard—styled in a way that shows off the “Rich Forever” tattoo under his bottom lip—into camera-ready shape. He’s also shirtless, as I learn when the barber removes his bib and Ross stands up, revealing even more tattoos as well as a noticeably slimmer frame from his highly publicized weight loss. Ross wants to film his segment like this but doesn’t think the producers will let him go out without a shirt. “I’m pretty sure they won’t,” he laughs. “It’d get the ratings though.”
The scene is a good indication of where Rick Ross is in his career as he prepares to release his eighth studio album, Black Market, on Dec. 4: still a vigilant steward of his personal brand, but also willing to be a little vulnerable after making headlines this year with his engagement (to model Lira Galore) and some arrests (including one for an alleged assault and kidnapping incident, which resulted in a period of house arrest; the case is ongoing). “It most definitely made it a more personal record,” he tells TIME about his rollercoaster past few months. “I had a lot of time to just sit by myself, so I had a lot more things I wanted to address.”
Below, Ross chats with TIME about his new single “Sorry,” the Drake-Meek Mill feud and why he turned down a seven-figure endorsement deal.
You recently released an emotional remix of Adele’s new single, “Hello,” which caught a lot of people by surprise. Why did you choose that song?
I’ve been a fan of Adele since her first project. You know, she’s such a powerful singer, such a powerful voice. It’s incredible. I believe it’s been two or three years since the 21 project, so she gave us time to miss her a lot. She came back with the “Hello” record, and when I heard it, it was just like, damn.
It’s not the most obvious candidate for a rap remix. Did you know right away you’d put your spin on it?
As soon as I heard it I was like, “Woah.” Just a few months back I remember listening to the Sam Smith record. It had been out a few months by the time I absorbed it. I said, “You know what? I won’t remix it because I’m a little late on it.” That mean a lot to me. But when I heard the Adele record when it first came out, I was like, “This gon’ be a game changer, this gon’ be one of the biggest records in history of music.”
You performed at Jay Z’s Tidal concert in October along with Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne and others. That must have been one wild backstage area.
It was most definitely one of the things where you f-ckin’ wish you could Snapchat the whole event. You know what I’m saying? I got Meek Mill with me, I got French Montana with me, and both are MMG [Maybach Music Group, Ross’ record-label imprint] artists, so you know I got the squad with me. I’m back stage with Jay, we actually talking maybe five to 10 minutes right before he go on stage. I performed twice—I went out with my squad, my team, and I came out with Jay to perform “F-ckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt.” I was backstage, no shirt on, just kickin’ it, everybody talking sh-t. I was like, “I’m gonna go out like this!” We just went and rocked out, it was super exciting.
The first taste of your new album, “Sorry,” is more personal than your usual singles. What made you want to open up?
I just think it was the right time. When we got in the studio, it was such a powerful record. I think it meant a lot for all of us. You know Chris [Brown], going through his personal thing, it’s so public. His pain, he put it in his words and they became such passionate words. Myself, the things I’ve been faced with over the last few months—you know the type of strife that can cause in any relationship. As well as the producer Scott Storch, I believe this will mark a comeback for Scott Storch in a major way. [Storch filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.] I think this record is really powerful for a lot of reasons.
How did your time in the headlines shape the direction of the album?
It most definitely made it a more personal record, it made it a more—I don’t want to use the word serious, but more a topic-driven record. I had a lot of time to just sit by myself, so I had a lot more things I wanted to address. That’s what I did on this LP. I spoke on different things. One of them goes by the name of “Ghostwriter.” I finally wrote a record telling the way it feels for me to be a ghostwriter, and not only a ghostwriter, but one of the biggest in the rap game. Because of my own personal success I’ve always been able to keep that in the shadows. On this record, I just felt it was so current. It was needed.
Ghostwriting was a big topic this year with the feud between Drake and Meek Mill. Do you think that having someone write rhymes for you is necessarily at odds with being an authentic artist?
It depends on really the point you’re looking at. If you’re a battle rapper on the block, the emcee battle challenger, not writing your rhymes could really hurt you. When you’re an artist where maybe the focus is really the talent and the different things you bring to the game, I believe it’s more understandable. Someone who may have another vision or just ideas that are priceless versus someone who’s like, “I’m basing my entire career off the words I’m finna tell you right now over this 30-second period.” I’m not speaking to anybody in particular, but let’s say for instance if you was DMX and had a ghostwriter, it’d maybe change the [perception] versus if you was will.i.am. I think that’s more about the music, the records.
You’ve played peacemaker a few times recently—staying neutral during the Drake-Meek showdown and squashing some beef between Meek and Wale.
I’ve done that multiple times.
Do you feel more responsibility to step into that role at this point in your career?
Of course I do. It’s a responsibility for any real dude who has a relationship with two other dudes who may have a misunderstanding. If you understand somewhat the situation and respectably present something to both sides, I think that’s what you do.
What do you say to people who hear your personal side on “Sorry” and the Adele remix and wonder if you’re getting soft?
You can’t know Rick Ross if you think Rick Ross getting soft from doing a remix! Everybody who know Rick Ross know that, for one, I love creating music, and one of the biggest impacts we have on the game was the fact that when we came into the game, artists was waiting two to three years to put out albums. I was one of the few that put out an album every year along with two or three mixtapes. I created Maybach Films just to create so much content. Let’s give the fans the content, let’s show ‘em what the behind-the-scenes is like. Let’s give them visuals. Let’s give them videos, not only to every song on the albums we make, but let’s give ‘em visuals to the freestyles we make, to the blogs, to when we just kickin’ it on the beach. Anybody that really know me know that I love to make a lot of content, make a lot of music.
You sound like a media executive—more content!
Man, content, it is what it is. I was reading a blog today that was talking about my new video, and they called me a “diabolical marketing guru.”
That’s a great way to introduce yourself at parties.
It’s a cool thing to see when people acknowledge the vision, the art from different perspectives.
Man, you never know, man! I see the vision now.
You were in town for the grand opening of a Wingstop and own several franchises. What made you get involved with the business?
I always talk about this question and talk about me trying Wingstop for the first time at a barber shop that was in a plaza with a Wingstop right across from it. [Ross points to Graham.] This is the barber who owns the barber shop where I was at! When a dude walked in with lemon pepper wings, I don’t know the dude, I’m just like, damn, the f-ck is that? He walked right over to us and was like, “Lemon pepper wings from right there, it’s right across from your spot!” I went over and got me some, and I fell in love.
Speaking of the barber shop—your beard is probably the most illustrious in rap.
Oh, most definitely.
And you’re pals with Drake. Do you see his beard now and think that’s your influence?
You know, for anybody that grow a beard or have hair on their face, I welcome you to the beard game. We’re all family. I encourage that. I encourage beards.
You have your Wingstops, and you’re a big promoter of Luc Belaire rosé. Do you ever think about expanding the Rick Ross brand into a full-fledged lifestyle company and becoming the rap game Gwyneth Paltrow?
You know, we most definitely having some conversations because we have so many offers on the table to do different things. If it’s a part of the lifestyle that we live, I’m all for it, you know what I mean? I was offered a nice seven-figure deal to do business with a cigarette company, but I don’t smoke cigarettes, and I don’t want that small check to get me to start smoking cigarettes. If it’s something that I do and I love, I’mma do it. If it’s something to do with fashion, if it’s something to do with spirits, something to do with a little partying, I’m with that.
You’ve said your weight loss was partly the result of CrossFit, and now people use the #RossFit hashtag to document their exercise habits on social media. Is there room for fitness in the Rick Ross empire too?
Of course. We most definitely having discussions. Right now it’s all about encouraging. Let’s get the movement going, let’s encourage people, let’s get em to work out. So for everybody that’s using the hashtag #RossFit, let us know how much weight you dropped, how you lookin’, how you feelin’. Ladies, dudes. All aboard.
It’s a good mix, Wingstops and #RossFit.
It’s a balance! That’s life, it’s all about balance. That’s the best thing.
An interview in which you also credited your weight loss to eating a lot of pears went viral last year. Did you know your “Shout-out to all the pear” comment would inspire Internet memes?
Of course not. There was no way I could have imagined that. I had a good time, man. We was on tour [when I said that] and that really was closing our tour out. It’s a little thing we got on tour where we call ourselves SEAL Team Six, you know what I’m saying? Leave no man behind. Because on the last night we all get drunk. You can imagine it. That night, that was really the earlier part of the night. We start drinking Belaire rosé early during the day, of course before the concert, so after the show I was really feeling good and in a great mood.
I hope a pear-growers association sent you a check or something.
They actually did.
The pear association sent me a certified letter thanking me for the support. I thought it was funny. I believe they said that pear sales increased 18 percent 30 days after that.
[Note: In an email, Kathy Stephenson, the marketing communications director for Pear Bureau Northwest, applauded Ross’ weight loss and his support of pears but had trouble verifying his claim. “We did send Mr. Ross a thank you and a box of pears, but did not suggest our pear movement increased as a result of his statement,” she wrote.]
I hear your voice in the produce aisle now.
The funny thing is, the reason I love pears so much is when I’m traveling, when I’m over there [in Europe], a lot of people don’t realize eating is three different worlds [away] from America. When you go to these other countries, a lot of time I can’t even eat. But what I can eat is that good-ass fruit. Give me a bag of pears. Give me a lot of water and all those soft-ass pears.
What music are you listening to these days?
Other than my music, my team music. An artist by the name of Rockie Fresh. I think he gon’ be the next huge artist to really take off. A young kid from Chicago. As well as a young kid from D.C., Fat Trel. If I’m not working on my music, or sitting around [listening] to Meek music or Wale music, I’m interested in creating something new, bringing some new artists to the table and sh-t. After the New Year we gon’ announce a few new artists that we signed. I’m excited for that.
What else are you into, pop-culture-wise? Do you watch a lot of Netflix?
Big time. I just was on home confinement for a few weeks, however you want to categorize it, so I got real familiar with Netflix. I love Narcos. Oh my God. It’s amazing. I watched that in, like, three days. It was dope.
You show off your acting skills a little in the “Sorry” video, which also stars your fianceé. Are you going to do more of that?
Yeah, I just wrote my first film. So after we release the album, we gon’ start beginning to shoot a few trailers. Hopefully we may do some business with Netflix.
What’s the film?
It’s called G.A.B.O.S. — Game Ain’t Based on Sympathy.
Is it like an extended music video or a feature film?
I wrote it as a film, but after watching Narcos I believe I want it be one of those 10-episode things because it’s so powerful. It has so much history.