A friend of mine once asked me if hip-hop lovers could really support Rick Ross knowing all the while that we were being lied to? I told him, “of course, just think of it as performance art.”
Much like mob boss John Gotti, who earned the Teflon Don moniker, Ross has been seemingly untouchable, weathering the backlash about his credibility with music that even the harshest criticism can’t stick too.
His music is precisely crafted, critically acclaimed and beloved in the streets. And for every person out there who loathes his success, many of them would be the first to admit his music is dope before throwing in a well-placed, ‘but’. It’s simple math; name a bad Rick Ross album? There aren’t any. He came out the gate hot with Port of Miami, Trilla dodged the sophomore slump and Deeper Than Rap wasn’t the flop people thought he may be due for. Thus far, Teflon Don has received glowing reviews all over the place with some critics gushing so hard you’ll need a dictionary or thesaurus to dumb down the praise. Even with the controversy surrounding him being exposed as Florida correctional officer instead of crime boss he purports to have been, his albums have not only sold well but are artistically solid.
Having big name, deep-pocketed backers like Jay-Z and Diddy, and a label that’s synonymous with hip-hop like Def Jam doesn’t hurt either. See every interview, blog post and magazine feature dedicated to trying to get the real story did little more than generate even more buzz for his next project. Much to the disdain of some hip-hop aficionados.
But why? They act as if we’re not lied to everyday in entertainment. Does Jon Stewart going by a Stewart instead of his birthname Leibowitz make his thoughts on American politics any less credible? What about rock stars who were far from Mr. Popular in high school, who grew up, created a new persona and reinvented themselves as something cooler than what they had ever been.
Why in hip-hop, where it’s ok to glorify violence and tell gritty fantasies in song, is it frowned upon to create and become a character?
Maybe because Ross didn’t create his at all. He borrowed his likeness and backstory from the well-known drug kingpin Freeway Ricky Ross and then recently beat the real Ross in court when he was being sued over using his name and likeness. Swagger jacking at it’s finest. One doesn’t have to look too far back to remember when 50 Cent exploded on the scene, using a name that wasn’t his own to solidify his “gangster” aesthetic but I guess 50 actually being shot nine times made people warm to idea.
What’s so different about these scenarios? Their previous beef aside, both took the names of well-known figures in the street, the real 50 Cent just happened to have been dead for nearly 15 years before anyone knew of a rapper by that name. When questioned as to why he choose the name, rapper 50 Cent waxed poetic about how he and the real 50 Cent, Kelvin Martin, were one in the same.
The scary part about rapper Rick Ross’s spin is that it’s so believable.
Although he has played no part in moving cocaine across borders, has no personal relationship with some the most notorious drug lords of our time—when his booming baritone comes on and delivers clever verses soaked with confidence and conviction, it’s easy to buy in. You’re fully aware it’s all posturing and fantasy but it doesn’t take long to be sucked into the world he’s creating.
Some, including the real Ricky Ross, have called the rapper’s dilemma an “identity crisis,” I call it performance art in the purest form. There’s a certain moxie to his refusal to break character that’s strangely admirable. He was 100 percent in, no wavering in the face of pressure to be William Roberts. The escapist nature of his music can’t be overstated either. Ask most listeners these days would they prefer to hear music toasting to champagne wishes and caviar dreams or records depicting a gritty reality of what’s going on in the streets and those who say ‘gritty reality’ are the same people who refuse to listen to local radio or any hip hop post the genres’ golden era.
When it comes down to it, William Roberts isn’t a rapper, Rick Ross is. A very good one at that. Like the mantra of rap group Little Brother, “dope beats, dope rhymes, what more do y’all want?” Stop worrying about who he really is and enjoy the music.