After a verse by Rick Ross verse on rapper Rocko's "U.O.E.N.O." was pegged as pro-rape, causing anti-rape advocates and human beings around the globe to bang their heads repeatedly into their desks or the nearest wall, he issued what could be described at best as a non-apology:
— Mastermind (@rickyrozay) April 4, 2013
Ross also responded to criticisms in a radio interview, adding "I would never use the term 'rape' in my records and as far as my camp. Hip-hop don't condone that, the streets don't condone that, nobody condones that. So I just wanted to reach out to all my queens that's on my timeline, all the sexy ladies, the beautiful ladies that have been reaching out to me with the misunderstanding: We don't condone rape, and I'm not with that."
The problem, though, is that there isn't much left to interpret. Rick Ross rapped about rape. And if he doesn't agree with it, he should stop.
The lyric in question comes out of a track based on the idea that "you don't even know" how amazing it is to be rolling in cash, covered in bitches, and — of course — getting into vaguely motivated gun fights with your frenemies. But what else don't we know? In his verse, Ricky Rozay takes liberties with a woman after slipping her MDMA — a drug popular in the rave scene and the party strips across the United States — and makes clear that he knows she's either incoherent, blacked out, passed out, or all three:
Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it
The words came under fire from various source, and with differing consequences in mind. UltraViolet, an anti-sexism organization, launched a petition demanded Ross be removed as Reebok's brand ambassador. (The organization's petition page lacks a measurement of signatures but the number has been reported elsewhere as being above 70,000.) Some radio stations, including the one which first sparked the entire controversy, refuse to play "U.O.E.N.O." Some refuse to play Rick Ross at all.
God forgives, but consumers don't.*
To villify Ross, however, is to remove blame from our overall culture. Rick Ross didn't use the word "rape," and doesn't think he ever talked about rape because he doesn't understand that you don't have to call it "rape" to violate and hurt someone. The rapes Rick Ross doesn't condone are the mostly mythical ones: strangers in bushes.
The ignorance — which may or may not be willful — that Ross is exhibiting exemplifies the same fucked-up value system that created Steubenville, and will again. His mindset proves that men across the world don't know what sexual assault is, why it matters, or how to make it stop. Rick Ross is a cog in a big machine. For some, the big machine is sports culture. For some, the big machine is the national chapter of their fraternity. For all of us, the biggest machine is our everyday universe, which folds and unfolds and evolves but still can't seem to get to a point of common decency.
For Ross, the big machine is the rap-industrial complex. In 2008, that same big machine forgave Chris Brown for beating Rihanna. In 2011, it gave him a Grammy nod. Before that, it birthed Eminem and praised his descriptions of killing and beating his partners and mother as "raw" and "unique."
But the machine might be changing.
I grew up in a time where hip-hop was still considered risque. My mother explicitly banned rap from my childhood home, and I was deprived of the opportunity to call Kanye West my soul twin until I got to college and could spend days with his discography openly weeping. (I'm only sort of kidding.) Hip-hop is changing, though, and even the meager positive scraps of this hot mess are proof.
Take, for example, the backlash Ross received — directly and indirectly — from his big machine. In mainstream media: Rolling Stone described the huddled masses as "d" with his apology; the Guardian called the apology "bungled." (The Vulture essentially ate him alive.) And on the Internet, Ross' followers and peers alike spoke out about needing more than a brush-off from hip-hop's biggest star.
Talib Kweli took the forefront at that point, eloquently summing up his feelings in just two posts on Twitter and also on HuffPost Live, where he talked with Marc Lamont Hill about Ross and described him as "a misguided 40-year-old person."
Its clear from Ross apology that he doesnt understand u don't need to actually say "rape" to condone rape. I feel he should still apologize.
— Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) March 30, 2013
Ross needs love and education on this issue. He has a platform that can be used for good, especially if he takes responsibility here.
— Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) March 30, 2013
"Rick Ross condoned rape in that song," Kweli said over the phone on HuffPost Live. "And he should apologize, and his apology that he offered was unacceptable." When asked about being able to approach Ross as a peer, Kweli agreed that it was integral and important for other rappers to check each other on their privilege and their impact. Kweli summed it all up to having "love" for them, and wanting them to grow as people and as artists.
He added on Hot97 this week that "I'm a fan of both of these men," referencing not only Ross but also Lil Wayne, who stirred the pot when he referenced Emmett Till in a violent verse about "beating the pussy up."
"I know both of these men," Kweli said. "I'm friendly with both of these men. I have no issues with these people as artists. I think we should embrace our artists. But if people say something that I don't agree with, I have no problem saying that it's wrong. I do think that Ross was wrong on those lyrics. I do think that ... I do think that [Ross] was dead wrong with that particular lyric."
One small step for rap; one huge lesson for Rick Ross.
*I really hope you got this joke.