Rapper Rick Ross’ career has been fueled by the cocaine dealing he often refers to in his lyrics. In his song “Hustlin’” off of his debut album Port of Miami he rapped that he knew former Panamanian dictator/drug kingpin Manuel Noriega.
“I know Pablo, Noriega.The real Noriega, he owe me a hundred favors,” he rapped.
In a subsequent interview with AllHipHop, Ross admitted he didn’t actually know Noriega.
AllHipHop.com: What did you mean when you said “Noriega owes me favors”? [Manuel “Manolo” Noriega, the Panamanian military leader who was tried and convicted for drug trafficking. He resides in a Miami federal prison]? What does that mean?
Rick Ross: Noriega owe a hundred favors, you know what I’m sayin’? It’s just like, you know, I kick it with [Pablo] Escobar nephew. He live down here. That’s my n*ggas, you know what I’m sayin’? So I just meant like, you know, real ties with real n*ggas. That’s what that meant. I don’t know Noriega personally, but I know n*ggas who have met Noriega. I know n*ggas who was in federal prison two, three cells down from Noriega. You know what I’m sayin’? And when I talk to them, I let ‘em know you know that’s something I meant to ‘em in the movies. I’m into sh*t like that. So I’m gonna stand to that. That’s all that means.
So began the rapper’s mantra of fake it until you make it that has worked for him thus far.
In a just published article titled ‘The Sound Of Success: Rick Ross’ Confidence Game,’ writer Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker places the blame on the Miami rapper’s shoulders for making it acceptable for rappers to embellish what they say in their lyrics to the point that the motto “keeping it real” has all but left the genre.
Frere-Jones’s article reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend recently who asked me if I watched reality tv. (I do not). He explained that even though people know shows like “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” are totally scripted and anything but “real” some people can’t stop watching them.
Has rap become the new reality tv? And if so is Ross it’s leading actor?
Originally spotted at HipHopWired
Check out the article from the New Yorker below.
The Sound of Success
Rick Ross’s confidence game.
February 13, 2012
Cocaine dreams: in his raps about the drug trade, Rick Ross doesn’t examine the morals—what he conveys is the security and relief of being fabulously wealthy.
A central motif in contemporary hip-hop is rapping about drug dealing by artists who may not actually sell narcotics. Among others, Jay-Z, Clipse, and Young Jeezy have rhymed about a past or present involvement in the trade on the street. It’s typically impossible to determine whether they are telling the truth about themselves or simply the truth about their environment, and it’s never been clear whether listeners care. The Miami rapper Rick Ross, who is both physically and culturally very large, talks endlessly about extensive work in the cocaine trade. His involvement with drugs remains a mystery, but, in 2008, the Smoking Gun published documents revealing that Ross—who named himself after the Los Angeles drug dealer Freeway Ricky Ross—was once a Florida corrections officer with a perfect attendance record. He has become more popular, critically and commercially, since the revelation, and has modified his stories of drug selling only slightly. So rap fans must be either very poor listeners or fairly sophisticated ones—much more likely the latter.
Nas is nimble and concrete in his memories: “My junior high school class, wish I stayed there / Illegal entrepreneur, I got my grades there.” By contrast, Ross sounds uncomfortable; his standard drawl, which is both booming and restrained, is rushed, and his lyrics are a little, well, filmic: “Before you sell dope, there’s shit you gotta learn, nigga / Home invasions, duct tape.”
To hear Ross’s strengths on full display, try “Fuck ’Em,” another track full of menacing synthesizers and minimal, deadweight beats. (Ross rarely bothers to speed up his beats or invest in productions that vary from the brushed-steel and superhero sounds that exemplify his work.) Here Ross embraces signal, though minor, innovation: he simply brags without variation, sticking to a pose of invincibility. “Cars just like sneakers, just got me ten pair / Dubai, I been there, but fuck that, we in here / Roll up and inhale, I live next to Denzel / Alonzo, my condo cost three mil’, this shit real.” A different version of the real, then, and a more convincing one. The combination of enthusiastically documented personal accumulation and an unworried tilt in cadence is what makes Ross Ross. He sounds like the boss he alleges he is, and if the details are unwholesome it’s not particularly worrying, because it’s a movie. Everybody can love Tony Montana; it’s much trickier to love Pablo Escobar.
Ross’s popularity can be understood as a matter of tone and character. What was once called style is now more likely to be called brand. Previously, rappers were evaluated for their nimble rhymes and sly wit, but Ross refuses to engage in such a contest. As has been widely noted, he sees no problem rhyming a word with itself. His breakthrough hit, “Hustlin’,” from 2006, rhymed “Atlantic” with “Atlantic.”
His last full-length album, “Teflon Don,” from 2010, was a disciplined, relatively short affair that captured a sense of invincibility. “MC Hammer” is perhaps the ultimate Rick Ross song, a combination of doomy music and a series of rhymes that reassure you that, no matter how dark the surroundings, sheer chutzpah is all you need. It’s a bold move to name a song after MC Hammer, who is not exactly a legend among m.c.s. Hammer is remembered now less for his rhyming prowess than for the enormous, and fleeting, success that he enjoyed in the early nineties. Ross uses this scenario as an opportunity for a joke—“I got thirty cars, whole lot of dancers / I take them everywhere, I’m MC Hammer.” Landing unvaryingly on the beat, he continues, “Black Batmobile, it’s only the new Ferrari / It’s called Scaglietti, one button like an Atari.” With Ross’s self-assurance, what could be a dull plod becomes a triumphal march.
“I Love My Bitches” is a recent single reported to be on his forthcoming album, “God Forgives, I Don’t.” The production, by Just Blaze, a vigorous blend of live drum sounds and vocal samples, is a departure from the style of beats that Ross prefers (dark synthesizers and slow drums), but it suits his kind of exulting. The chorus is the title, repeated with a lazy joy, and the whole song is yet another recapitulation of how good it feels to be the king. Other artists would find a way to extend this story, but Ross is dedicated to uncomplicating the pleasures of power in a warm, chesty voice that rarely rises or falls. He’s also growing as a writer, adding more wit and phonetic play to his self-affirmations. “Am I really just a narcissist, ’cause I wake up to a bowl of lobster bisque?” he wonders. Money and women and alliteration please him, as do luxury cars (his record label, Maybach Music, is named after a style of Mercedes). Ross’s confidence can transfer easily to anyone’s inner life, with a little suspended disbelief, and that makes him a kind of motivational speaker. Feel as much like Ross as he does, and you become your own boss.
Ross’s new album has been delayed on account of a health scare. In October, on two consecutive flights to Memphis, Ross suffered seizures. The official report, several days later, was that he was fine and hadn’t been sleeping enough. Admitting that he was vulnerable was probably the scariest thing Ross has ever done. ♦