At the mention of the phrase “cash cow,” a likeness of a wealthy individual with seemingly endless supply of money instantly comes to mind. That's not necessarily the connotation that Justin Ross had in mind when he chose the moniker as his rap alias. However, it's not like the Elmira, N.Y.-based rapper had aspirations of working in the dairy industry ether. Following a decorated high school football career and college, Cash Cow the rapper figured the phrase simply made sense. “I got the name from one of my friend's, who said 'you're big like a cow but you like to get money, and not necessary illegally,” Justin “Cash Cow” Ross says. “I think a lot of people name themselves after something they're trying to be. I was always simply the person you can bet on.”
The level that Ross wants to reach isn't exclusive to reaping millions of dollars as a successful rapper. Growing up, he absorbed the music of ‘90s Golden Era emcees Notorious B.I.G., The Lox, Erick Sermon and Redman and was further inspired to take rap as more than a hobby. As an emcee, Ross feels a responsibility to describe what he, his friends and family experienced growing up in Elmira: poverty, drugs and incarceration. “People can't get jobs, so they turn to the drug game,” Ross says. “They get so comfortable, it's like second nature because if they can't find anything legal – they can survive illegally.”
Of course, there are repercussions for these choices and that's something Ross captures in his songs. One of the gems in his young discography so far – besides a locally well-received mixtape I'm Dope – is a remix of Wale's “LoveHate Thing.” Inspired by the Marvin Gaye-esque hook provided by Roc Nation singer Sam Dew, Ross offers vivid, emotional bars about his father's incarceration and how the absence affected him. The song is motivating and inspiring and Ross points out that isn't by accident.
“As an artist, I have a responsibility to teach and do something for the community,” he says. “I am a leader, whether people believe it or not, and as a leader, there is a responsibility to do things differently and see things on another level.”
Ross has been paying dues growing his brand in Elmira and upstate New York through live performances and the tried-and-true “dishing mixtapes out of the trunk” method. Having opened for Cassidy, he collaborated with the noted Philly spitter on the mixtape's title track and printed up “I'm Dope” t-shirts to support the collaboration. “Did it reach the level of success that I think it should have?” he asks rhetorically. “Not yet. Do I think it can? Yeah, I think it can – if I get it out to the right people.”
Ross, who is unsigned and fully independent, believes in working with established rappers but prefers to keep a tight circle of trusted friends. He has collaborated with Hell Rell and Syracuse’s Taj Mahal, on the club-oriented “Talk To Me Wrong” track. With a work ethic instilled from his days as an All-American defensive tackle, Ross plans to continue his relentless grind. “The idea is to create a product – which is music -- and keep dishing it out to people that want to hear it,” he says. “Elmira is a small town but you do have people from here who created records and created history. I'm just trying to be next in line with Ernie Davis and Tommy Hilfiger. If they did it, then so can I.”
Ever a fan of metaphors as an emcee, Cash Cow knows the path there isn't lined with gold but ingenuity. “I have rich ideas – and that means I'm already rich,” he concludes.