Rick Ross is making headlines yet again thanks to another controversial lyric. The lyric compares his success to Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old African American teenager George Zimmerman murdered in 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted of the charges, sparking national outrage over the discriminatory criminal justice system in Florida (where Ross is from, ironically).
In his song “Black & White,” the highly unoriginal rapper says: “Too close to a ni**a as a mother**king bomb/ Trayvon Martin, I’m never missing my target/ B*tch ni**as hating, tell me it’s what I’m parking/ Wingstop oweber, lemon pepper aroma/ Young, Black ni**a, barely got a diploma.”
This isn’t the first time the rapper mentioned Trayvon Martin in his underwhelming music. In “Let Me See,” Ross noted that in his Chanel hoodie, he looks like Tryavon Martin.
Ross responded to critics in an email to Vibe Magazine, saying that he wants the world to remember Trayvon, and that’s why he mentioned his name. Blahblahblah…
It could be a publicity stunt. Even bad publicity is better than no publicity at all. Last year, Rick Ross promoted date rape in his song “U.O.E.N.O.” That lyric prompted Reebok to allegedly sever ties with the rapper, although that appears questionable. And his response was just as lackluster.
The essence of hip hop is notoriously controversial. From the very beginning, hip hop was a means of rebellious self expression, a way by which underprivileged inner-city Blacks and Hispanics responded to the violent world around them. From this came gangsta rap, where self-proclaimed gangbangers detailed their violence and crimes.
Following its rapid corporatization in the 1990s, hip hop artists embraced gangsta rap to turn quick profits. Gangsta rappers became more and more egregious in their social commentary, frequently promoting misogyny, murder, drug dealing, and violence. And the more brutal their lyrics and delivery, the more they stood to gain hefty profits.
Eventually, allegations of embellishment soon arose, and now, consumers know not to take everything rappers say about their criminal pasts too seriously. Unless it’s Jay Z, because Jay Z never lies.
The history of hip hop is important to remember in situation like this. It’s important to remember where hip hop came from in order to recognize where it’s going.
There’s some undeniable truths about hip hop today:
Hip hop is now fully embedded in the corporate market
This means that executives are looking to turn very quick profits. Budgets are getting much smaller, promotion is minimal and competitive, and labels will take a cut of whatever separate business endeavors an artist has in the works. In order to make their artists more marketable, they push them in front of audiences, and strongly encourage them to do things they would not ordinarily do. I think Nicki Minaj and Trinidad James are unfortunate examples of what the industry does to artists today.
More educated folks from diverse backgrounds are listening and buying hip hop music
Hip hop is no longer a pastime for only urban youth of color. Hip hop markets are strong in the Midwest, in the South, among college students, young adults, millennials, etc. With the diversity in the consumer base, artists have to tailor their work to fit into a plethora of socioeconomic markers. This is difficult. Words and lifestyles that one group embrace, can run counter to another group’s.
And because we’re a more educated society, we have a better grasp of right and wrong. Our interests are more humane, and we look to exacerbate morality and ethics in our consumer choices. That’s why Macklemore has more Grammys than Nas.
I can keep going about these two points and how they’re redefining the crux of hip hop, but that’s a post for a later day….
These things considered…let’s relate them to this Ross fiasco.
Publicity means profits with minimal promotion. How many people streamed his song on iTunes, or watched on YouTube? How many people searched for news, articles, and updates regarding this fallout. How many people will have Rick Ross on their minds today?
I’m guilty of this too… I read almost anything I could get my hands on in order to write this post. I am proud to say that I didn’t bother to listen to the song, because that runs counter to my virtues. But many of you did…and with every click, Rick Ross and/or his label is seeing profit and corporate expansion.
And with education, many of us are outraged. This isn’t 1995 when a rapper could say almost anything with no backlash. We’re quick to express our frustrations on social media, which prompt others to get involved. A couple of tweets can completely destroy a brand. Just ask Justine Sacco.
These things considered, I’m not upset that Rick Ross mentioned Trayvon Martin…I’m upset that he did so in the cheapest, most exploitative way possible. His lyrics called no attention to the plight of Black boys who are ruthlessly murdered and receive no justice. If anything, his lyrics fueled, if not rationalized, the rooted fear the ignorant have towards Black men.
Rick Ross is not the standard bearer for socially conscious hip hop. He needs to stop pretending that he is.