By JC Poppe Special to Published Jul 26, 2011 at 3:03 PM

The subject of prison and rappers is something that has been in the news a lot lately, with such high-profile artists as Lil Wayne and T.I. battling a multitude of legal issues within the last several years.

Unfortunately, the list of incarcerated, or recently paroled, rappers doesn't stop at those two. Lil Boosie, a rapper whose popularity was rapidly climbing, is in jail fighting several charges. DMX, who was arguably at one time the most popular rapper in the country, has been in and out of jail over the last decade. Ja Rule, a rapper who scored several large hits, recently went to prison for criminal possession of a weapon.

As new rappers go into the legal system for the first time, or for a repeat visit, other rap artists find themselves released from their duties to the state.

One such person is New York City's Robert "Black Rob" Ross, a rapper who was once a member of a talented crop of artists found on Sean "Diddy" Combs' Bad Boy Records. Finding a hit in his first single "Whoa!" Black Rob enjoyed platinum sales status of his first album "Life Story," which was released in 2000.

After several years of living the rap life, Ross was sentenced to seven years in jail in 2006 after a grand larceny conviction. Rob served four years of the sentence and was released in May of last year, where he was finally able to part ways with Bad Boy and teamed up with independent hip-hop powerhouse, Duck Down Records.

At the age of 43, Black Rob feels that his time for further success is now as he deals with some health issues that lead to an ever-present sense of mortality and the understanding that time is now against him.

"I can't wait. I just can't wait, because I know what this music is capable of doing," says Ross, whom I spoke with on the eve of his newest release, "Game Tested, Streets Approved."

"Diehard fans of Black Rob couldn't wait for this sh*t here, so I don't even know, that once the people – the masses, the people that don't really even know about Black Rob – get a load of this project right here, they're definitely going to be like, 'Rob is the truth!'"

But, even with such a long time spent in jail, Ross feels that he's still viable in today's market because what he offers is something simple: good music.

"I always bounce back. It's nothing to me. It's really nothing to me. You know what I'm saying? So, what I'm going to do is keep making this good music 'cause at the end of the day that's all it is, is good music. Good music shouldn't have an extraction or expiration date on it. You feel me? Good music should never have an expiration date on it. Good music is good music no matter when you put it out. It doesn't matter. Because right now I feel that I'm relevant enough to come home and do what I do and still get multiple people that know me to be like, 'Yo I love it,' and be some real talk."

And what about bouncing from legendary mainstream label Bad Boy to legendary underground label Duck Down?

"It's a blessing. It's a blessing in disguise for me to go all in and be with a bunch of dudes that I know are the same types of person like I am. Street dudes. Dudes from the hood. I mean we all click on all four cylinders, we all click. It's like I already been here, but I just wasn't on paper with them. You feel me? So now that I'm on paper with them it's like a dream come true man to be able to come home and get with the illest underground clique ever. They could be the illest underground clique ever, in history."

"Game Tested, Streets Approved" is backed by first single "Celebration," a far lighter track than one might expect from the street rapper, that is perfect for the summer. To call the song a pop song would be misguided, but it has a genuine feel of relaxation and good times to it.

In a statement that assures listeners of his relevance in today's hip-hop game, Rob promises that his new album will be pleasing to people across the board:

"I'm going to tell you like this, there's something on there for everybody in the hip-hop game."

Talking about real-world topics like identity theft via technology and powerful songs about personal struggle, Rob's promise might turn out to be accurate.

And in response to the lack of creativity in today's rap music, Rob takes the chance to remind people of his skill level.

"The word play is bananas. The whole album, the word play is bananas. N*ggas is not doing that my man. They are not doing that at all. I know it. Come on, we got a lot of old-school rappers out here. Where they at? Make a record. Make a record."

Since he's been out of prison for over a year now, Rob has been able to settle back into normal life, and has no complaints.

"I couldn't complain if I wanted to. I have an album coming out, a good album that I'm proud I did it. You know what I'm saying? But I see bigger things in the future for me, as usual. You know what I'm saying? Now I got the chance to act on all those aspirations that I had coming up in the game, 'cause I'm more focused, I'm more smarter. Now I can I can get the money that Black Rob really deserves."

Where many don't like to take responsibility for their actions now-a-days, Rob is the opposite, taking full responsibility for what got him tossed into prison and off of the life path that he wanted for himself.

"The process is already been 12 years in the making. I f*cked up, you know what I'm saying? I f*cked up. So, I accept that, I accept my responsibility. I accept that I, that nobody else did what I did in that hotel. That was me, so now I gotta deal with that. Now I gotta come back stronger to make my statement, you know what I'm saying, with exclamation points. I have to. This album is like the first words out of my mouth right now. So, it's gotta be fire. It's gotta be fire, 'cause you're only as good as your last joint my man and I really feel this is better than "The Black Rob Report," and some of these records are better on "Life Story."

In a moment of true and honest reflection, Rob confessed to the sense of urgency he's taking toward his career being rooted in some health issues, even going as far as not being able to plan a standard five-year plan due to the uncertainty of whether or not he'll be able to maintain his health well enough or if he'll succumb to an unforeseen tragic turn of events.

"You know what man? I'm going to tell you man, with my health problems, my kidneys and all that, listen man, a n*gga might not make it to five years man. How about that? So you know, right now like I told people already man, this is an endgame. We recognize. We recognize. So we going extra hard. We're not making plans for four years or five years from now. We're making plans for right now. That's how we're doing it."

However, Rob still plans on touring as much as he can and promises to listen to the signs that his body is telling him so that he can maintain his health.

If any fan of rap can learn one thing from Black Rob's career and subsequent incarceration, it should be that no matter the level of success that one achieves, if you do something to derail the train you're on, by the time you get back on the tracks you might almost be to the station.

JC Poppe Special to

Born in Milwaukee and raised in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer, Concordia University Wisconsin alumnus Poppe has spent the majority of his life in or around the city and county of Milwaukee.

As an advocate of Milwaukee's hip-hop community Poppe began popular local music blog Milwaukee UP in March 2010. Check out the archived entries here.

Though heavy on the hip-hop, Poppe writes about other genres of music and occasionally about food, culture or sports, and is always ready to show his pride in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.