Rick Ross as a Mirror for the Music Industry and Culture as a Whole
When I first heard of Rick Ross's now famous line about slipping a girl some "Molly" and having sex with her when she "doesn't even know it," in the song "U.O.E.N.E.O.," I thought it was distasteful. But I also remember feeling the same way when as an 18-year old I heard Eminem's lyrics about killing his wife -- and he won a Grammy.
Many artists use the "first person" to reflect not themselves but others, or express ideas through persona. Embellishment or exaggeration does not necessarily mean that this is how an artist truly feels or acts. It seems that Eminem's creative brilliance has given him more of a pass to push these boundaries, or maybe it's that white men are able to get away with more? After all, Johhny Cash sang "I took a shot of cocaine and shot my woman down" -- and he is a folk hero. But this issue is bigger than race alone. It is easy to criticize Ross because of his perceived poser identity. Ross may be a hijacked brand made possible by the CIA when they funded a covert war by trafficking cocaine into our country, and he may have disturbed many -- including me -- with his inappropriate lyric, but there is hypocrisy in wanting artists to have their "freedom of speech" while allowing some to get away with things we don't tolerate in the case of others.
Forcing an apology out of Ross does not address the pandemic of misogyny. This message of party culture and women as sexual objects is constantly perpetuated by the music business. Ross took an accepted paradigm and pushed it too far, but his words are just an extreme reflection of what is tragically a cultural phenomenon.
Rape culture and the exploitation of women is so deeply embedded in the media and in our psyches that executives who produced and vetted this song obviously also did not see an issue, and assumed it would just be another hit to make money from. It wasn't until feminists came out against the song that these men who previously thought it was acceptable had to backtrack. The solution is not just making each artist accountable but also the industrial music complex. The bar is set so low for pop culture -- and that is the choice of corporations that promote and fund what gets mass-produced. Yet, instead of muzzling one man, it is time to take a look at the business behind music and use this opportunity to remember that the point of art is to evoke emotions and elicit thought and discussion.
As Hakim Green of Channel Live says, "I am definitely not supporting an artist encouraging rape in his music... but is it okay to encourage murder? How come no one is protesting the open encouragement of murder in most of commercial music on the radio?" The gangster identity, owning guns, and shooting people has become completely accepted by mainstream hip-hop music and the people who make millions off it. This subject of violence may seem unique to hip-hop because you don't see Maroon 5 singing about intimidating people with their weapons, but in reality the undercurrent of violence permeates so much of our popular culture that we don't always recognize it unless it is spelled out for us. For example, as Green goes on to say, "The Star Spangled Banner is a poem written about the war of 1812. Our national anthem is about violence, and the third stanza is about what they would do with a slave that sides with enemy forces. 'No refuge could save the hireling and slave / from the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave' -- and that song represents our nation."