Rick Ross is no longer up and coming. He’s become the come up.
It is impossible to listen to a hip-hop radio station and not hear the Teflon Don pervert the pronunciation of the word “boss.” Four of his last five albums have opened at number one on the charts giving him more number one albums than Snoop or Lil’ Wayne.
Rick Ross is the most important man in hip-hop because of his now iconic status, his position in the middle of pop culture’s mainstream, but most importantly because of who he used to be.
The conception of Rick Ross is far more important philosophically than the totality of his music.
Once upon a time William Leonard Roberts II, a former corrections officer, sat down and crafted a new identity. Obviously a student of hip-hop, he handpicked the character traits and the allegory he believed defined a gangsta rapper. And that fantasy became reality. And William Leonard Roberts II became Rick Ross.
Rick Ross’s greatest hustle is convincing his fans to acknowledge, accept, and accede to his invention. He survived TheSmokingGun’s exposure of his former life as a lawman. He dodged the verbal bullets of the man, “Freeway” Rick Ross, whose name he stole. He deftly pranced between all the holes in his story. He made up a reality like Vanilla Ice had once upon a time, but unlike Ice, Rick Ross’s lies became the truth we accepted.
William Leonard Roberts II needed a gangsta name, one that came with replete with thuggish equity, so he conveniently borrowed/stole/misrepresented Rick Ross from legendary cocaine trafficker “Freeway” Rick Ross and somehow caught less flak than Lana del Rey’s sexy 1950’s pixie-pinup doll deception.
Why distribute cocaine, get in tight with Nicaraguans to sell 500 kilos of cocaine a week, employ hundreds of duffle-bag boys from both the Crips and the Bloods when you could simply Google “drug lord” and choose from a list of guys with harder backstories than you? Why not lie about your past as a corrections officer and then keep lying when the initial lie is uncovered? Why not create an image of yourself that you find palatable?
This trait is not particular to William Leonard Roberts II.
My first Hotmail account was “DTownBallin.” In 7th grade I respelled my name as Ro$icky. I used to draw “ThugLife” across the stomach using faded Sharpies. (I even failed and wrote in backwards before I properly grasped the mechanics of mirrors.)
I listened to way too much Pac and mimicked his conceit, his vocabulary, and his flows. But there was never a point when I thought I could repurpose his design as my own and convince the world that aspirations authenticated my criminality.
There was precedent; the world had already made its opinions known regarding the exploit of fake-fronting. Hip-hop’s imperatives of authenticity served as the lexicographical determinant of the art form. Vanilla Ice fabricating a background that was a few rungs below his actual socio-economic status was the pin that burst his bubble. An undercurrent of authenticity is why 50 Cent’s value increased with each of those nine bullet wounds. There’s a reason it’s customary to cite Game’s time in an ICU as reason to buy his album. Just as there’s a reason Kid Cudi had to compensate for an orthodox upbringing with actual poetry in lieu of fabricating tales of ghetto propinquity. Eminem dealt with so many Monday-morning investigators that he laid down this verse:
To deal with these cocky caucasians who think
I’m some wigger who just tries to be black ‘coz I talk
With an accent, and grab on my balls, so they always keep askin
‘The same fuckin’ questions
What school did I go to, what hood I grew up in
The why, the who what when, the where, and the how’
Til I’m grabbin’ my hair and I’m tearin’ it out
It was Eminem’s way of saving the doubters some time. He was “real” and needed us to know. This desire to over-prove is why he is legendary, he took it to levels of honesty we weren’t ready for or even expecting. He killed his wife, his mom, even Dre in his verses because he needed to give us his truth, discomfort be damned, because that ensured his legitimacy. His anthology is brilliant because it adheres to the imperatives with exacting, miserable resolve.
And this is why Rick Ross is bad for hip-hop.
Ross’s greatest injustice is proving to a legion of frauds that honesty is not only not required but also frowned upon.
I enjoy Rick Ross the way I enjoy sprinkles on ice cream; sure it may spruce up a Sunday, but I would have enjoyed it with or without sprinkles. A Rick Ross advent into a Drake, Wayne, Jay, or ‘Ye album is rarely lyrical, not ever stirring, and consistently defining inconsequential.
You hear the whistle cause my flow’s official
Turn you down, street’ll nevah miss ya
Twist ya girl like a fuckin pretzel
Run the game, Usain Bolt, where’s my fuckin medal
My money on another level
In the streets I hear ‘em hotter than the fucking devil
I wonder how I got a hundred in my fucking bezel
G5, make it rain, I can change the weather
Muh-fuckas out there staying reckless
I’m bout Maybachs, G-5s, and 50 on a necklace
Jesus pieces screaming I’m in heaven
God wit me, angel status, out here steady counting cheddar
We fly, them niggas lame, where your fucking cheddar?
Aim at your brain, AK be the fucking letters
Fuck niggas fall in alphabetical order
Frank Lucas fur, the cap run more than a quarter
The preceding featured two actual Rick Ross verses and two verses I wrote in ten minutes.
If I can produce a legitimate facsimile of your art then your art never was. That’s why I flinch when Warhol gets mentioned in conversations reserved for Picasso, Chagall, Dali, Basquiat. Rick Ross spent all this time convincing us of his hardscrabble background, convincing us that he was worth a listen, that he forgot the art. Tautology dripping from his chin, as he screamed that he was a legendary MC since he was a legendary MC.
We all escape through imagination; whether it’s a boastful email address, creating an unstoppable video game version of ourselves (Rosicky Jones is unstoppable on FIFA 2012, I’ll have you know), or even cultivating a completely bullshit rap profile. The only difference is that for some reason Rick Ross’s bullshit became gospel, became reality.
Even Best Rapper Alive Jay-Z seems to revel in the Rick Ross-apocrypha stating: “Hip-hop has moved away from that place of everything has to be authentic. Kids are growing up very differently now.”
Jay-Z was implying that you don’t have to deal drugs, gangbang, or do worse to enter hip-hop. And he is right, that is not a prerequisite, but it never was. Truth was the distinction; it just happened that our greatest MCs were products of not-so-great backgrounds. Where Jay and the general public are mistaken is that hip-hop doesn’t require that type of background, hip-hop just requires that your rhymes represent your past. Ross, who retrofitted an inauthentic story, bastardized this newfound inclusion that Jay-Z alludes to.
And that’s sad, because it has given people an excuse for failing to build skill, flow, and content. It’s sad because it sullies truth and rewards lies.
And it’s sad because hip-hop – an institution once predicated on authenticity – is now built of fiction.
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