When the world met Rick Ross (born William Leonard Roberts II) in 2006, the first thing that he told us on his debut single was every day he’s Hustlin’. Two years later, the now-44-year-old Grammy Award-nominated rapper told us that he was the “biggest boss” we’d seen thus far. For the past 15 years, Ross has consistently shown himself to be a man who hustles hard on and off the track.
As the founder of his own record label, Maybach Music Group, and owner of 24 Wingstop franchises throughout the South, the veteran rapper has always been thinking about ownership and building for the future. And while he’s still making chart-topping songs and even hinting at a joint album with Canadian rapper, Drake, he’s expanding his career and entering into the healthcare industry.
His health scares led him on a newfound health and wellness journey, so when former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed introduced Ross to Detroit native and healthcare entrepreneur Tommy Duncan, it was the perfect connection. They learned that they had many things in common, but the one that stood out the most was their health battles at an early age. Ross then made a $1 million dollar investment in Duncan’s startup Jetdoc, a mobile virtual urgent care application established to provide affordable coverage for people without access to healthcare, specifically those in underserved Black and brown communities.
They launched Jetdoc in Florida less than two months before the pandemic. Recently, they added Georgia to the roster, and by this winter, residents from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Maryland, and California will also be able to join.
ESSENCE spent some time with Ross and Duncan in Ross’ illustrious 45,000-square-foot estate that sits on 235 acres of land in metro Atlanta. Two fun facts—“The Promise Land,” which Ross has affectionately coined it, was built by Evander Holyfield in 1994, and it was turned into the Zamundan palace that we recently saw in Coming 2 America.
What made you start Jetdoc?
DUNCAN: Through working in the healthcare industry, one thing became abundantly clear, and that is politics dominate. It’s not about the people. It’s not about helping people, whatsoever. Insurance is supposed to be something that will encourage you to go see a doctor, encourage you to use the system, encourage you to get your medications. But instead, it discourages you from doing those things by making it so expensive for you to do them.
You actually started at the perfect time. At the start of the pandemic when it was extremely hard for anyone to get into the doctor’s office or hospital for things that weren’t life threatening.
DUNCAN: Right, and at the time that we started, about a month and a half before the pandemic no one was doing telehealth. And those that were doing it were doing it as a concierge, so it was expensive. Maybe $100 bucks a visit, and it was catered to folks that already have insurance. So, my set out was, okay, if people are being ignored through telehealth because it’s expensive and you have to have insurance to access it, I’m going to build a system where it’s super inexpensive, $10 a month.
We built it to provide access. We built this business to be a volume-based business and to give people access to healthcare as quickly as possible.
Ross, how did you get involved with Jetdoc and why is this so important to you?
ROSS: I’m involved for different reasons. I think first and foremost, me going through what I went through personally is the reason I’m ultimately here. Me losing my father to cancer, me watching Black and Brown people not really stepping up to the plate and accepting our role in this healthcare market. I’ve been successful in different areas, and I feel it’s my obligation to make sure the youngsters that connect with me understand what’s going on, and that staying alive and having options is most definitely being a boss.
Can you share a little more about what you went through?
ROSS: I had a seizure where I threw up and some of it went back into my lungs, so I had to have my lungs shut down and pumped out. So, I was actually under for two days. I got up out of those two days and had more health questions than you’d ever imagine.
We don’t see healthcare and hip-hop intertwined often and definitely not at the level that you’re involved. But with the fast lifestyle and drug use that we see in the hip-hop culture, understanding the importance of healthcare and talking about it is crucial.
ROSS: Most definitely, and I believe I’m a perfect example of that. When you talk about hip hop, when you talk about the use of drugs, that’s something that I once did. I suffered from that, and that’s why I make sure I speak openly about it.
I made those changes. Even when it comes to me eating, I once weighed close to 350 pounds, and I’m now down to 265. Also, the drug use is going to lead to poor health. It’s going to attack you, sooner or later, and that’s most definitely what I went through. So, I feel that it’s my responsibility to talk about it. And that’s why I’m here standing next to my brother Tommy in spreading this word. Jetdoc is the app that we all need. I got to say that louder than anybody else, just for those reasons.
I think it’s important for both hip-hop culture and the Black community to see you adjusting your lifestyle, taking your personal health seriously, and investing in the healthcare industry.
ROSS: Absolutely. I began taking it more seriously once I began suffering from seizures. To go from being perfectly healthy all my life and being an athlete to having seizures and not understand what the situation was, I knew I had to take control of that. Being the boss is being the leader, and the first thing you got to lead is yourself.
Over that time, I lost a good friend of mine. He was a road manager for me. And we went out one night and got back in at 6 AM. 9:30, I woke up and my brother was dead. And so, when I think about my close friends, my father passing to cancer, me waking up out of my situation two days later, breathing tube in my mouth, I’m like damn, what can I do?
Many people within the Black community tend to handle so much on our own and keep things to ourselves, particularly when it comes to health issues.
DUNCAN: You’re right. I had a stroke at 30. And the thing is, a lot of people have had real health issues, themselves, or someone close to them, but it’s a secret that people don’t usually talk about. And the worst thing you can do is just go to Google and start searching the issue.
So, we’re going to revolutionize the healthcare system in this country. There’s so many of us that don’t think about healthcare until it’s too late. And there’s a lot of talk in the system around being preventative, right? Yes, exercise, diet, and things of that nature are very important, but what most people don’t talk about, which is even more important, is early detection, identifying your issue as soon as possible, and then doing something about it.
It’s hard for people with no health care to identify what’s going on with them when they can’t afford to go see a doctor, so the Jetdoc platform could be a game changer for underserved communities.
ROSS: Because we’re not being represented properly, touching on what the brother said. A majority of our people can’t afford health care or you’re afraid of it, just like my dear friend. All of his arteries around his heart were clogged. This was something that he was going through, suffering, fighting, and never discussed with me one time. And I found out that his mother passed away at 23 from the same thing.
So, I got to do as much as I can to bring recognition to healthcare right here, right on the phone. When he explained to me what Jetdoc was, it was amazing. Because I know my body and what I’m feeling, if I had someone to speak with, in many cases, I could bypass the hospital right now.
Jetdoc is only one years old, but it’s growing quickly. Can you share any plans for the future?
DUNCAN: Right now, we’re in Jetdoc 1.0, but Jetdoc 3.0 replaces health insurance for many people. We are going at the entire health insurance industry, which has propped up and inflated the cost of healthcare in this country since the beginning of time. And we’ve started Jetdoc with doctors and pharmacy, but over the next 30 days, we’re adding vision discounts, dental discounts, and hearing. And then we’re wrapping in hospitals, so now folks will get inpatient care at significantly discounted rates. Now, some people may really need insurance. That’s okay. But for a lot of people, Jetdoc would be a better alternative for them, a lot less expensive and a lot more accessible.
Ross, you’ve accomplished a lot in many different spaces—now healthcare. What do you hope your impact is in the end?
ROSS: Ultimately, my goal is making history, touching lives. I’ve been grinding hard. I came in the game many, many years ago, and I’ve won in a lot of different things. This here is a long-term commitment, and something that’s going to impact the communities where I’m from. And not just Black people, not just Brown people, but everyone. That’s what it’s about for me—and being a partner with a brother like Tommy.
For the next reign of youngsters that came up the way I did, I would love to set that example because I understand there’s a lot of youngsters that do look at my success as a major motivation. Let’s make healthcare a point in that equation.