It's a crisp spring day in New York and a green Wingstop food truck is parked in front of Extra Butter, a boutique sneaker store in Manhattan's Lower East Side. There's a green carpet rolled out in front of the door of the shop, along with a security guard and a woman holding a clipboard. Outside, the city bustles with activity. Inside, rapper Rick Ross is getting ready to celebrate Wingstop.
The Miami rap kingpin has a long history with the Texas-based chain restaurant. Besides rapping about the company on song's like "MC Hammer," "The Devil Is a Lie," and "Thug Cry," he's also the proud owner of over 25 franchises, opening his first shop in Memphis back in 2011. In a brand-obsessed world where Outkast's Big Boi puts his name on a dog shampoo and West Coast legend Warren G hawks male-enhancement pills, Ross' arrangement with the company is a lucrative one, making him an effective avatar of what major-label rap stardom looks like in 2016.
But this celebration comes at a strange moment in his career. As a pear-loving meme, he's never been hotter, releasing his own emojis, threatening Donald Trump in his rhymes, and making important cameo appearances in the prestige TV drama that is DJ Khaled's Snapchat. But, as an artist, following the declining sales of his last three albums -- 2014's Mastermind and Hood Billionaire and 2015's Black Market -- and his recent departure from longtime label Def Jam for Epic, it feels like the boss has lost some of the lemon-pepper zest that made him one of hip-hop's biggest stars of the last decade.