Rozay’s “U.O.E.N.O.” line boasting about date rape was bad. His half-assed attempt to put out the ensuing online fire is worse.
At the 4:20 mark in the radio interview below (via Potholes), Ross tries to deflect criticism for bragging about drugging a woman and having his way with her. (“Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t een know it/I took her home and enjoyed that, she ain’t een know it.”) Rather than acknowledge what he wrote, said out loud, then decided to record, Ross claims that since he didn’t – and “would never” – use the word “rape,” you’re “misunderstanding” and “misinterpreting” him. Besides, “woman is the most precious gift known to man,” and “all the sexy ladies, the beautiful ladies that had been reaching out to me with the misunderstanding” need to know he doesn’t condone rape. It’s on you, silly listener, if you think otherwise.
Let’s translate a bit, from PRspeak to human English: “I'm fucking terrified of this blowback and, since I’m a coward, I’d prefer to dismiss it rather than engage it. Besides, I think pretty ladies are the greatest gift that I, as a man, get to receive. So, uh, that’s like 90 seconds of substance-free head-in-the-sand denialism and handwaving about my status as an artist, um…can we be done? As you can see, I really want to stop talking about this.”
Why’s he doing this? Mostly because a bunch of people on the internet are mad about his rapiness, and in these days of hyperconsciousness about branding and internet buzz, twitter and rap blogs give fans and critics more influence over public perception than ever before, and blah, blah, social-media-blah.
There’s a crucial gulf between this kind of pushback today, and the Tipper Gore//Bill Bennett-led effort to censor content and impose conservative morality on popular culture during the ‘90s. Countering speech with speech is not censorship. Censorship and parental advisory stickers are born of fear and a desire to silence a community from without; agonized thinkpieces about rap lyrics by hiphop heads are born of a desire for conversation and growth, a desire to nurture a beloved community rather than to stifle it.
Rick Ross being a no-talent idiot and a craven public figure aside, there’s something interesting and challenging and larger going on here. Rappers casually referencing or enacting rape in their lyrics isn’t new. Some actually talented lyricists have done it, as the estimable Mychal Denzel Smith noted yesterday (in a hardly exhaustive list). Is talent and a measure of artistic complexity enough to make that stuff tolerable? Does being an objectively more reflective lyricist than Rick Ross (LOW BAR ALERT) grant a kind of poetic license immunity to use rape as a punchline? Leave the Earl Sweatshirts and Eminems and Kool Keiths aside, as a separate category of intentionally-disgusting undeniably-talented emcees. What about the less-transgressive talents who still treat rape as a valid lane in which to practice their craft?
Pharoahe Monch is my personal favorite emcee, and his 1999 song “Rape” is a metaphor likening the difference between mediocre rappers and himself to the difference between rape and “fuckin it right,” over a track that features a terrified woman’s screams. You haven’t missed a derisive screed from me about Pharoahe—I never felt compelled to write one. He’s said he wrote it from the perspective of a character, and I do think that taken on its own terms it’s a cleverly disturbing twist on the common hiphop-as-woman metaphor. But I can’t wholeheartedly defend the song, either. Not only is it an exploitative construct – it doesn’t discuss rape, it uses the crime as raw material for wordplay – but it implies that it’s pleasure that separates rape from sex. That’s a character making that implication, not the respectfully lascivious lothario Pharoahe is most of the time he’s talking about women. Rick Ross is the epitome of rapper-as-fantasy-character, but there’s a big difference between the mollywopping boast on “U.O.E.N.O.” and the track-length horror-flick metaphor of “Rape.” As Smith puts it, “what [Ross] is saying with this lyric is that rape is a part of that fantasy. And that, for me, is indefensible.”
Still, even if I can find some artistic merit in “Rape” and none in Ross, this doesn’t get us very far towards figuring out a clean metric for evaluating how rappers talk about sexual violence. Maybe we have to settle for knowing it when we see it. Probably we should acknowledge that rap is occasionally going to reflect rape culture as long as rape culture persists. But we definitely shouldn’t accept the kind of denialist, condescending non-response Rick Ross has given here from anyone, regardless of their stature within hiphop.