The “Mastermind” Has No Receipts: Why 2014 Is A Bad Year For Rick Ross

(Damon’s latest at Complex on how rappers like Rick Ross struggle with today’s social/cultural climate)

Much of rap music exists in a state of believably unbelievable hyperbole. A paradox where we (rap fans) require for rappers to be “real” before we allow them to lie to us. We know rappers like Jeezy don’t sell drugs anymore. (Well, we hope they don’t.) We also know they’re prone to exaggerate about the drugs they did sell. But as long as there is some inkling of proof that, at one time in their life, they did sell drugs, we allow them to rap to us about selling drugs now. And these raps tend to be increasingly implausible lies. Rick Ross’ success despite his pre-rap career may seem to contradict this paradox, but it doesn’t. His lies are so big, so outrageous that proof ceases to matter. When you buy an island, no one asks to see a receipt.

And this is why 2014 might be the worst year to be a rapper—or more specifically, a rapper like Rick Ross.

It’s been over a decade since Jay-Z asked if we listened to his music or just skimmed through it. Although he was speaking about a personal matter, that line reflected a feeling rappers and rap fans have had for years when defending rap music. Those critical of it weren’t really paying attention to it. They were just listening to the hook and not the message; the cuss words and not the content or the creativity.

But now…well…let me say this.

I heard Mastermind in full last week, and I thought of using the bank account quote when first thinking about this article. But, although I remembered the quote, I didn’t know it word for word, so I googled the album and found a link that gave me the lyrics of each song.

Mastermind had not been released yet.

It’s a bit unnerving how easily we negotiate the weirdness of the act I just described. The access the immediacy of the Internet gives us is so ingrained in us that something like finding the complete lyrics of an album that hasn’t been released yet doesn’t sound strange until you make a point to say how strange it us. We live in an era where everything—even things that technically don’t exist yet—can be found, proven, debunked, scrutinized, and assessed immediately. You don’t have to wait for an album’s release to hear it. You don’t have to wait for Rap City or your local radio station’s daily countdown to listen to the music you don’t happen to own. You don’t have to rely on OHHLA to find a (somewhat) accurate lyrical transcript.

In theory, this cultural development should have boded well for rap music. After all, if people were able to listen to lyrics more critically, the craft would be appreciated more. But what actually ended up happening was that this availability allows both people familiar with rap music and people not that familiar with rap music to see how ridiculous some rap lyrics tend to be. Especially when read out of context on a monitor. And, since everyone can create content now, everyone can also be a critic. Instead of having to call in to a radio station or organize a long-to-develop protest, those upset or disturbed by the content can give the rest of the world immediate access to their thoughts.

This dynamic has been especially jarring to rappers like Ross—artists who’ve made careers out of progressively nihilistic music and haven’t proven to be socially palatable and/or savvy enough to take advantage of the change. The same ridiculously oblivious and ridiculously obvious hyperbole that got him signed by Reebok in 2012 got him dropped by Reebok in 2013.

If Rick Ross drops an awkward throwaway lyric about a murdered Black teen in 2001—or even 2005—it’s likely forgotten about by the next song. Maybe someone at Fox News or The National Review would mention it, but that type of coverage would do nothing but make rap fans circle the wagons around him.

Today, though, it’s a story. And since it’s a story, he’s asked to explain himself. The man who never needed a receipt is now forced to produce copies of them. And, surprising no one, he can’t seem to find them.

(Read the rest at Complex)

4 Totally Normal Things That People Do That You Probably Shouldn’t Tell People That You’re Doing

ikeWhile denial is both a river in Egypt and the name of a Black child in Louisville, KY, it is often the most important part of maintaining peace in any relationship. Not that I think anybody should be outright lying to their boo, boothang, or concubine, but the truth is that the devil is a lie, the present is a gift, and I just wanna be.

Really, none of that made any sense.

So let’s shift things a bit. Technology is a motherlover. It’s turned an entire world of omitted statements into GPS-guided poppycock. You can’t say you were one place, then use any type of social media anymore. The hawks are out. They’re looking at tablecloths and flowerbeds in the background. The thing is…UNLESS you get caught red-handed doing something you just weren’t supposed to be doing, folks can’t just tell you that they’re cyber-stalking your life even thought we ALL know that’s what happens. Which puts it square at number 1 on the list of things that everybody is doing and we all know folks are doing but you can’t go telling people that you just did it.

1. Social media stalking

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Vine. Etcetea etcetera. Que sera sera. If you’re dating somebody and they have ANY form of social media and they don’t call when they say they will or for some reason ain’t available when you want them to be, there’s a really – like better than 99 percent – good chance that you’re heading to check out their footprint. And who can blame you. It’s public information right? I’ve been accused of something because of an IG post that was over a year old before. Thing is…it still sounds crazy when you realize that you’re pulling up a Twitter account to put somebody on blast. Just duly note that sh*t and keep it to yourself until you have a really good reason to drop the bizzombnayee.

2. Watch pr0n

As prevalent as pr0n is nowadays it’s entirely possible that you’re watching it right now and don’t even know it. Thing is, there are two communities of pr0n watchers: those who are unapologetically watching, commenting on message boards, and having deep debates about “deep” debates with actual pr0n star names. Then there’s the other group…folks who look at it but pretend like they don’t, even though nobody is going to judge you for doing so. Unless you’re like uber religious or something in which case you probably should keep that to yourself. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you feel some kind of way about telling your mother what you’re doing, just keep that sh*t to yourself.

3. Be a fan of and attend Rick Ross concerts when you’re a pastor

So this is a thing.

Here’s the thing, folks of the cloth, I can understand liking certain musics in the comforts of your own home. Especially when you’re 26. However, Rick Ross is one unsavory ass character. You can’t be outchea in these streets supporting unsavory ass characters by going to their concerts. THEN when the hiring folks have had to tell you BEFORE to cut that sh*t out…well you just might get fired. Stop that sh*t. Just listen in the car or at home when no parishioners are there. Concerts? Off limits, Pastor.

4. Like Pitbull

Let me tell y’all something: Pitbull got hits. So does Flo-Rida. So does Ike. And the Ike Turner IG memes? Can you say totes hilar? Pitbull could be substituted for Miley Cyrus, herpes, Samsungs, Kardashians, or R. Kelly. There are so many entertainers and nouns that truly are enjoyable but could cause somebody to glare at you with a sideways. By the way, if you are really happy about your herpes, you definitely should keep that to yourself. And stay off horses.

So randomly, what else are some completely normal things that people do but you shouldn’t really tell other people. Let’s kick off this end of Summer with some fun then get to some interestingness.

AND HOW WAS YOUR LABOR DAY?!

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka lower.case.p aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

Rappers Do Dumb-Ass Things, And Say Dumb-Ass Sh*t. Why Is This News Now?

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On the strength of his Ether-related “comeback,” there are few albums I anticipated more than Nas’s Stillmatic. (Honestly, Wu-Forever and MBDTF are the only other albums I waited for with that type of anxiety.) He didn’t disappoint, either, as tracks such as Second Childhood and Rewind exhibited the type of ambitiously—even painfully—detailed creativity long-time Nas fans had been expecting from him.

The album climaxes with One Mic, a track that somehow managed to pull all of Nas’s best qualities together to create a song that some critics called “the best song of the decade.”

Perhaps the most memorable and rewindable part of that song combines Jesus, bullets, and a bit of tricky math to create a four bar stretch that I considered to be one of the best, most creative, and most clever collection of lyrics I’d ever heard.

Jesus died at age 33, there’s 33 shots

From twin Glocks there’s sixteen apiece, that’s 32

Which means one of my guns was holding 17

27 hit your crew. 6 went into you

I listened to this song again the other day. And, while the track and those lines still sound as hot as ever, something dawned on me. A question. Three, actually.

“Wait, what the f*ck is he talking about? How the f*ck do you go from Jesus to shooting random n*ggas in a 13 word stretch? And, what’s the connection between Jesus’s age and the number of bullets you needed to murder this anonymous crew?”

Now, I’m not saying this to pick on Nas. He remains one of my favorite rappers. But, songs like One Mic and my reaction to it remind me of one of the first things I learned about rap:

Rappers are prone to say shit that sounds smart and clever and intellectual and witty but makes no f*cking sense. You could even argue that a very, very, very high percentage (I’d guess somewhere between 40 and 60) of the most clever, rewindable, and “higher-level” sounding bars are created because…

A) It sounded good

B) He figured out that “euphemism” and “new religion” kinda rhyme with each other, and thought it would be cool to find a way to put that in a song

Mind you, I’m not saying that all rap is like this. Most of the best rappers put a decent amount of thought and effort into constructing their lyrics, and even the nonsense is somewhat intentional. But, when an art form is based on braggadocio and hyperbole—and prominently features (relatively) uneducated street dudes—sounding “cool” and “clever” is going to take precedent over “making sense.”

I’m not making any new revelations here. People who follow rap are generally aware that what I’m saying is true. But, while the concept and the awareness of this concept aren’t new, the pushback they’re beginning to receive is. Yes, rappers have always come under fire for their lyrics, but between Rick Ross’s date rape anthem, LL Cool J’s bizarre forgiveness of slavery, Lil Wayne’s reference to Emmett Till, and Nicki Minaj calling herself as a Republican, there have been at least four instances in the last six months where a throwaway lyric from a popular rapper became headline news.

Making this pushback even more unique is that it isn’t really coming from people like Dolores Tucker or Tipper Gore but actual fans of rap music.

At the moment, I’m somewhat ambivalent about this trend. While a part of me is encouraged to finally see rappers asked to answer for their lyrics, this criticism seems a little disingenuous, and raises more questions than it answers. For instance, why now? We’ve all heard worse and more socially irresponsible lyrics than the ones being criticized now, so where is this pushback coming from?

Also, when does it stop? If we took a fine-toothed comb and went through the catalogs of each and every one of the 100 or so most popular rappers—even “conscious” and (generally) socially palatable ones like Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli, and Common–with the goal of boycotting the ones with questionable lyrics and content, rap would be left with exactly zero rappers.

Lemme put it this way: Rappers like Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj are easy targets anyone with a blog and a petition board could hit with a blindfold; low-hanging, resume-building fruit. Taking shots at them will give you quick praise and easy co-signs among most educated Blacks and non-Blacks. But, if we’re going to do that, why not also go after Jay-Z for making half a billion dollars off of selling crack, writing music about selling crack, and writing more music about how he got rich from writing songs about selling crack? Or the Obamas for inviting him to the White House? If you’re going to boycott Lil Wayne, will you also delete every Wu, Biggie, Nas, Tupac, Snoop, and Kanye song from your iPod? Does Nicki Minaj really talk more shit than Lauryn Hill did?

Even everyone’s favorite rap band has a song with a couple lines that, if taken literally…

And when I’m breaking it off
Its no denying the fact it’s wrong
‘Cause you got a man who’s probably playing his part
You probably breaking his heart

“You want it gripped up, flipped, and thrown
And get stripped and shown, the way to get in the zone”

…would play out pretty much exactly like the oft-criticized rape scene in Temptation. 

Again though, I don’t necessarily think that it’s a bad thing that rappers are facing some heat now. Whether it’s music, words, or just energy, we all should be responsible and accountable for what we put out to the world, and artists are no different. But, a part of me looks at the type of rappers being called out—and the people doing most of the calling out (college educated writers and bloggers)—and can’t help but wonder if there’s some intellectual class bias going on here. Basically, “smart” rappers—or, more specifically, rappers “smart” people like—are generally immune, while rappers we’re not supposed to like or support seem to be the targets.

As Nas would say…

Jesus was born in a barn

“Blog” starts with the letter B

so does bitch, Bane, and HBCU

Y’all need to listen to me!!!

Nasspeak translation: I have a tendency to include some pretty racist and misogynistic nonsense in my raps. But, as long as it sounds “smart”—and as long as I make the occasional song about my daughter—it’s all good.

-–Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

How Rick Ross Proves That Irrational Self-Confidence is The Ultimate Panty-Dropper

I published something at Ebony yesterday about the peculiar infatuation many white-collar young black guys seem to have with Rick Ross. Titled “Strange Love: Black Men and Rick Ross,” I tried to come up with a few reasons to explain this phenomenon, but I didn’t really buy any of them. There were no “Voila!” moments, just a couple theories that didn’t hold as much water as I would have liked them to.

Anyway, after I saw that the article was live, I posted a link to it on Twitter. It got a few replies/retweets, but none more interesting than the responses I got from Demetria Lucas. 

@VerySmartBros@EBONYMag there’s a quality essay to be written abt why bourgie women like Ross too. Totally diff reasons than you mentioned.

@VerySmartBros LOL. I might be one of his biggest fans.

@VerySmartBros@EBONYMag i enjoy the themes of hustle/ambition. and also the shameless arrogance. similar reasons to why I like Kanye.

 

As I said in a reply to her, I remember how floored I was a few years ago the first time I heard a female friend of mine express that she was infatuated with Rick Ross. As variable and unpredictable and arbitrary and contradictory and occasionally dependent on time, weather, location, vocation, and how many of her girlfriends want to sleep (or have already slept) with him as “what the hell women are attracted to” tends to be, I thought I had a pretty good idea of the type of guy that would get multiple women all Brazilian Rainforesty down there. Basically, it’s easy to see how and why women would be very attracted to guys like Idris Elba and Dwyane Wade and Common, and you assume that most women would go gaga over those guys.

But, that same instant recognition didn’t immediately apply to Ross, and I had trouble “getting” how a life-threateningly obese guy who looks like he smells like a Black & Mild factory managed to, to quote my homegirl, get her “all tingly inside” when he speaks.

Yet, as more and more and more and more women I knew would sing his praises, it began to dawn on me. His appeal isn’t necessarily about his music or his voice or his larger-than-life stature or even his (presumed) riches as much as it’s about the fact that he is an unfalteringly, unflinchingly, unflappably, and, to be quite honest, irrationally confident motherf*cker. His steadfast belief in his own “I’m the sh*t”-ness — even when the shaky merits of his status are publicly questioned and exposed — is infectious, causing others to believe “Well, if he’s so certain, he must be the sh*t” by osmosis.

Obviously, this doesn’t affect everyone. There are many women who are, for lack of a better term, disgusted by him, and even more disgusted that everyone isn’t disgusted.

Ross is just one example, though, of the fact that there is no other quality a man can possess that will “raise his sexual stock” better than a belief in himself so strong it almost borders on insanity. Irrational self-confidence — not height, not status, not intelligence, not handsomeness, not a Bentley coupe — is the ultimate panty-dropper. 

This doesn’t mean that this level of confidence won’t immediately repel many women too. It most certainly will. In fact, it will immediately repel far more women than it immediately attracts. But, the fact that it does repel actually adds to the aura, as knowing that this irrationally confident motherf*cker doesn’t give a damn if his irrational confidence offends anyone, hurts any feelings, or even makes any logical sense has a way of turning women all the way on.

Also, it’s important to note that I keep repeating terms like “panty-dropping” and “turned on” and “tingly” and “Brazilian Rainforesty.” That’s intentional. By and large, women usually do not want to seriously date and/or marry irrationally confident men. No one aside from the WorldStarHipHop “model” of the week actually wants to marry Rick Ross.

But, white-collar brothers, be warned. Why? Well, let’s just say that if your girl is sitting beside you smirking to herself while you’re blasting “MC Hammer” in the whip on the way to brunch, she’s probably not thinking about bottomless mimosas.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

I’m Not Ashamed: That Ignant Sh*t We’re Not Afraid To Like

Although yesterday’s “Things Bougie Black Girls Say”¹ may have implied otherwise, I don’t have anything against them at all. In fact, I’d say that the vast majority of the 25 to 35 year old women I’m close to qualify. Many of my homegirls are Thai-loving Deltas, and how else would I know that Target makes bougie black girls squirt without being in the room while it happens?

Also — and I’m sure this admission won’t shock anyone reading this — I’m (somewhat) bougie myself.  Brunch is my favorite meal, I too find myself asking “Wait, who else is going?” whenever I’m invited somewhere, and while I won’t join you at the Smiling Banana Leaf, I won’t think twice about dropping 25 bucks for a gourmet cheeseburger.

Despite this bougieness, there are a few particularly anti-bougie things I just can’t get enough of — sh*t that’s about as legitimately tacky, gaudy, uncouth, ignant, and, gasp, ratchet as one can get. I wouldn’t call them guilty pleasures either, because there’s absolutely no guilt involved, no shame in my game. I like it, and if you don’t like the fact that I like it, you can like deez.

This list includes…

Rick Ross

I know his subject matter is about as varied as the skin tones of the crowds at Rick Santorum rallies, and I know his incessant grunting, “uhhh”-ing, and “whooo!!!”-ing occasionally makes it feel like I’m listening to a warthog masturbate, but I can’t deny the fact that his music makes me repeat things like “I levitate on all you p*ssy n*ggas” to myself while waiting in line at Au Bon Pain.

Also, he actually is a good rapper. Panama mentioned this to me a year or so ago and I scoffed at him, but he actually does check all the cadence, word play, and “beatrideability” boxes you’d want.

(Btw, with both Twinkie and Maybach going under within days of each other, isn’t Rick Ross having the worst week ever?)

The Twerk Team, and various other strippers, pseudo porn stars, and kitchen sink twerkers on YouTube and WorldStarHipHop

You ever happen to view some video of some random hoodrat bootyclapping in her bathroom, see that the vid has like 400,000 views, and wonder “Who the hell are these 400,000 people that sit around and watch videos like this all day?

I’m not saying I’m one of those people, but, well, I’m just not saying that I’m one of those people.

Kool-Aid

Yes, I know it’s nothing but water, sugar, compressed paint chips, and asbestos. Yes, I know that too much of it will give me the gout or the diabeetis. And yes, I know “Hey, you want some Kool-Aid?” makes bougie black girl’s panties drier than KG’s lips.

But, there’s no other beverage that manages to go well with hotcakes, hotdogs, and hangovers alike, and the Kool-Aid test — Can you make a half gallon pitcher without looking at the directions? — is my version of the bougie black girl’s passport test.

American Muscle Cars

My love for Chargers is well-documented, but I don’t think that linked article fully encapsulates my infatuation. Let’s put it this way: You ever play the “what would you buy?” game, where you’re asked what car you’d purchase first if you had an unlimited income? (Btw, if this sentence urges you to leave a comment talking about how we’ll never rise as a people as long as we keep talking about spending money on the white man’s chariot, please quell that urge, and please go stick your head in a toilet and flush it)

Well, while my first choice is usually the Panamera, my second choice is usually “You know, I’d probably just buy a 700 horse power engine and put in my car.” Who cares if this choice shows that my imagination game is on “comatose,” and who gives a damn that the only time I’d actually be able to use the extra horses is when I’m speeding through a yellow light on the way to Trader Joe’s. That’s what I want, if you still have an issue with it, we can meet outside after brunch and “settle” our disagreement.

That’s enough ignance and ratchetrey for me. People of VSB, we already know that you negroes skew bougie, so list some decidedly non-bougie things that you’re not afraid or ashamed to admit that you like.

¹Thought you all might like to know that not only did “Shit Bougie Black Girls Say” have the most unique visits in VSB history, it beat the next closest entry by 17,000. I guess the bougie nerve is quite sensitive. 

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)