(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)