A few years ago, I visited one of my best friends in prison. He’s the same guy I’ve spoken about from time to time around here and perhaps the facility was on good behavior throughout the week. Or maybe the guards enjoyed the downtime that came with visiting day. Whatever the reasoning was, everyone received an extra hour of what was the closest thing to “freedom” they’d receive in a lifestyle highlighted by three hots and a cot. During that extra visiting hour, the conversation shifted to rap music.
My boy and I had been Hip-Hop fans for years. When he went away to sit down for those six years, our bond with music never missed a beat. Every letter I’d write him would have an extra page dedicated solely towards rap lyrics applicable to his situation; many of which he’d hange on his cell and read for motivation.
Anywho, on this particular visit, I inquired who he and most other inmates listened to on the yard. Some sang the gospel of Jay-Z. Others respected Kanye, but the unanimous choices were names like Boosie, Jeezy, Tupac, UGK, 8Ball & MJG, and Jadakiss. And, you guessed it, Rick Ross. To add a sense of perspective, this visit was around the time those infamous C.O. pictures hit the Internet causing a shitstorm of debate and uncertainty if Ross would ever recover from a blow in a genre priding itself on “the story” nearly as much as the music.
Years and many drunken nights separate these words and his exact quote, but he noted, “Niggas in here don’t care. You’ve got more important stuff to worry about. When you’re locked up, you know C.O.’s are the dirtiest niggas in prison most of the time. Most respected, too, if they look out for you.” He went on to admit Ross was far from his favorite rapper, but the story behind him being a former officer was likely deeper than whatever was being said on the outside. Plus, at the end of the day, it was music and something to help pass time and avoid trouble with. In his eyes, 90% of rappers were ventriloquist mannequins anyway; speaking on the lifestyle those around them lived and they themselves had very little, if any, involvement in.
Somewhat prophetic to what we’ve seen Ross experience this year, however, was one of the last comments on Ricky’s desire to remain so street oriented and crafting an image that wasn’t totally him. “I’m sure he’s done some shit in the street and probably still does. And it sounds good in music, but sooner or later, you’ve got to account for that before someone else does. That’s his issue though. Not mine.”
And therein lies Rick Ross in a nutshell. With albums and club anthems never too far from rap’s most relevant topics, a growing business portfolio and music label and a resume capable of inciting more debate than the NFL’s now-axed “Tuck Rule,” Ross’ greatest – and sometimes, worst – quality is his ability to remain oblivious to it all. It’s impossible to keep it “just music” with MMG’s head honcho and not bring his image into the discussion because his image is the direct appeal to his music. So in a sense, his critics aren’t off base, and his supporters aren’t exactly wrong either.
Ross isn’t overrated, as he has improved vastly as a MC from when he first entered the national scene with 2006’s Port Of Miami. He’s also not underrated. On the same wavelength, pinpointing Ross’ ultimate place in rap’s ever-evolving hierarchy is out of my control. The logic I received in some correctional facility in West Bubblefuck, Virginia, years ago, however, on the blueprint to encapsulating Rozay’s music stands firm. Ross and his wheelings and dealings may indeed be “deeper than rap” and to an extent most likely are.
But I just don’t have much of a vested interest to do much digging beyond the surface.