At first, “the Forrest Gump of hip-hop” sounds like an incongruous nickname. Surely there are few characters who embody the spirit of that genre less than Tom Hanks’s slow-witted sprinter? But Dante Ross is thrilled with the title. “Gump is the connector,” he explains on a Zoom call from his home in Los Angeles. “He’s connected to all these things. But you don’t really know who he is.”
This sobriquet, given to Ross by Black Thought, lead rapper of the Roots, is one of many endorsements that grace the cover of Ross’s new memoir, Son of the City, which details his career as one of the most successful industry executives of 90s hip-hop. The roster of rap royalty that fill the rest of the cover is a testament to Ross’s status: from Chuck D and Mike D to Questlove and Queen Latifah.
Like Gump, Ross charted his ascent from inauspicious beginnings. As a white kid growing up on the pre-gentrified streets of New York, he seemed an unlikely candidate to help usher in the golden age of hip-hop. But when Run-DMC hit the scene in 1983 he was immediately captivated. He made the switch from punk to hip-hop and began hanging out in rap-friendly clubs, where he made connections that opened doors into the industry. “I don’t think I ever went out with an agenda and hung out with people who would help me ascend the ladder,” says Ross. “But I had aspirations to work in the music business, for sure.”