Today, yours truly will take a look at Rick Ross. No, not "Freeway" Rick Ross, infamous L.A.-based drug dealer with possible but not concretely proven CIA connections. I'm talking about William Roberts, the former corrections officer who appropriated Rick Ross's story and image to launch his own commercial rap career.
I've actually listened to a few of Rick Ross's songs and they come off as the typical formulaic pablum that epitomizes commercial rap music: a few lines of verse about the money you're making, a few more about your material possessions, some mentions about your drug dealing/gangster past and how you still retain the capacity to kill in spite of your current profession, some lines about your sexual prowess and conquests, all topped off with a few shoutouts to your allies in the commercial rap business, packaged to either a machine-generated beat or a "sample" of some 70s/80s/90s R&B or soul tune, slowed down or sped up to invoke "fair use" and avoid royalty payments.
In normal circumstances, Rick Ross wouldn't interest me. Except he's caught some flak over the lyrics in rapper Rocko's "U.O.E.N.O," an onomatopoeia for “you don’t even know.” Crafty wordsmiths, these folks.
In particular, these two lines:
Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it
I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain't even know it
Uh oh. Did "the Boss" just suggest that he slipped something (most likely MDMA or GHB) in her drink and then had sex with her, presumably while she was unconscious or too drugged up to notice?
People say it's just lyrics. He probably meant nothing by it. At least that was Rick Ross's argument at first:
I wanted to come down to the radio station. There is certain things you can’t tweet, you have to verbalize. I want to make sure this is clear, that woman is the most precious gift known to man, you understand? It was a misunderstanding with a lyric, a misinterpretation where the term rape wasn’t used. I would never use the term rape. As far as my camp, hip hop don’t condone that. The streets don’t condone that. Nobody condones that. So I wanted to reach out to all the queens that’s on my timeline, all the sexy ladies, the beautiful ladies that have been reaching out to me with the misunderstanding. We don’t condone rape and I’m not with that.
It's the type of mea culpa that usually comes in printed or online press releases. If anyone was expecting a heartfelt apology, waiting for it would be akin to waiting for Godot. Or for the next C-Tran bus at Southlake Mall.
Unlike that severely-underfunded and ultimately axed bus service, the criticism kept coming. As Talib Kweli and others took Ricky to the woodshed over his lyrics and as Ultraviolet started a concerted effort to shorn the rapper of his promotional deal with Reebok, Ross issued two more relatively weak appeals to his critics and fans:
I dont condone rape.Apologies for the #lyric interpreted as rape. #BOSS
— Mastermind (@rickyrozay) April 4, 2013
Apologies to my many business partners,who would never promote violence against women. @reebokclassics @ultraviolet
— Mastermind (@rickyrozay) April 4, 2013
His fans will forgive him. Chances are they're only upset at everyone else being so hard on Ricky. To understand why, it means realizing how Rick Ross's lyrics (and those of other rappers) are both a reflection and a product of the culture that enables and glorifies the activity described by those lyrics. It's an echo chamber that amplifies itself many times over, with little to no opportunity for any positive message to break the cycle. Not that the people who are actually making money off of this stuff (music executives and their shareholders) mind - it'd probably be bad business to interrupt the cycle.
But interrupt someone must. These lyrics reflect and reinforce a rape culture that promotes an overall view of women as sex objects who are duty-bound to either "give up the pussy" or have it taken, whether by fraud, deception or force. These sentiments echo throughout the rap subculture, to be internalized by fans who live vicariously through the imaginative storytelling of each song or through observing and emulating the actions of rappers and others around them.
In the end, Rick Ross's apologies don't mean much. When things die down as they usually do in today's world of accelerated media cycles, he'll go back to doing the same thing he's been doing and get rewarded handsomely for it. At worst, he might lose his deal with Reebok, but that'll probably be it. Dismantling rape culture won't happen from the top, at least not solely on backhanding rappers who step over the line. On this issue, the line's been crossed hundreds of miles ago.
Whenever the question of how to end rape culture comes about, solutions are always expected to be brought forth and put into play by the womenfolk. That's over and done, as it should have been a long time ago. Asking women to continuously shoulder the burden of preventing rape and blaming them when it happens while giving men implied card blanche on the issue is something that should end, posthaste.
In other words, the beginning of the end of rape culture will happen once us menfolk finally understand and internalize one thing and one thing only: don't rape.
Translation: the pussy is not yours to take.
P.S. If you have kids, don't let them consume commercial rap in their formative years. Yours truly spent most of his childhood blissfully unaware of rap while being exposed to copious amounts of jazz, R&B, soul and soft rock. The impact it made on my growing up was drastically different than the kids next door, who were basically given free rein to listen to commercial rap.