Anyone who follows me on Twitter probably caught my rant about this earlier today. But I wanted to express my ideas in more coherent and complete form.
Rap journalist Ernest Baker recently published a piece for Noisey called “I Had To Stop Interviewing Rick Ross Because He Can’t Handle Hard Questions.” The title is pretty self-explanatory. During an interview, Baker tried to ask Ross a question touching on the rapper’s rapey lyric from “UOENO.” Ross threw a low-key rap tantrum, dodged the question and shut the interview down, presumably so he could deal with a journalist who wouldn’t reference anything but his greatness.
The experience caused Baker to question the state of rap journalism and conclude that “a superstar rapper’s inability to be real is why rap journalism is a fucked up game.”
“If a rapper who talks about killing people can’t handle someone getting ready to ask a question about the only interesting thing he’s done in the past year, maybe that’s a sign that rap journalism is broken,” Baker wrote.
Rap journalism is indeed broken and has been for some time.
Rap “journalists” have acted like PR reps for years, ensuring that rappers and the corporations that back them never have to answer for the reckless, destructive things they say and do.
Rick Ross has been rapping about murder, drug dealing, violence, materialism and misogyny for the entirety of his career without a hint of remorse or introspection. Even the drug dealer he stole his identity from has denounced him. But in the rap journalism community, few if any have taken Ross to task; instead he’s been celebrated and treated as a hero.
Even Baker himself says in the piece that “Ross has made a lot of great music.” So apparently music exclusively dedicated to murdering your own kind and poisoning your own people is great, but a lyric about date rape needs questioning. Baker is frustrated that Ross can’t “be real” with a journalist, but then praises music that’s based entirely on a fabricated identity. Anyone else see the irony here?
We should have been asking Rick Ross tough questions all along. Instead we’ve been putting him on magazine covers, writing articles that read like press releases and calling him a boss. So of course he’s going to bristle when asked a question that frames him in anything other than a congratulatory light. This is the same rapper who attacked DJ Vlad for asking about his past as a correctional officer. This is a person who is clearly allergic to truth, criticism and authentic humanity, and for good reason; he has been rewarded handsomely for lying and hiding behind a fake façade, and he has every incentive to continue doing so.
I think back to Tom Breihan’s review of “Port of Miami” for the Village Voice, a brilliantly written and mostly glowing critique of Ross’ debut album that completely ignored its degraded content.
Reading that review was the exact moment I knew something had gone seriously wrong in rap journalism. Somehow, although rap had become more violent, misogynistic and one-dimensional than ever during the mid-2000s, rap journalists had begun “analyzing” rap minus any critique of the content itself. Critics would talk about the production, the rapper’s flow, the intricacy of the lyrics or lack thereof, they’d make endless references to classic gangster films, but they’d never examine or comment on the actual messages. Mainstream rap had become a celebration of black death, but this fact was conveniently and consistently ignored by the journalists—often white ones—who covered it.
That was in 2006. Fast forward to 2014, and little has changed. For about eight years, Rick Ross has been critically and commercially acclaimed for lyrics that advocate death in almost every form possible. The toxic messages within his music have been widely ignored while the technical elements have been widely hailed. But suddenly we want to press him on a lyric about date rape.
Sorry, but it’s too late for all that. You can’t celebrate someone for being barbaric then complain when he doesn’t act civilized. If you want to ask Ross about date rape, then you should also ask him about murder. Otherwise, I’m inclined to believe the real motivation here is chasing controversy for pageviews and not actual concern, which is just another symptom of the problem.
Ultimately, this “journalism” culture of coddling and co-signing rappers has created monsters like Rick Ross who think they can say and do anything without having to answer to anyone.
It’s only in the most extreme cases—when Lil Wayne invokes the name of Emmett Till for a sexual metaphor, when Nicki Minaj uses a Malcolm X photo as cover art for a single about thirsty men, when Ross brags about drugging and raping a female—that the public responds with any kind of real outrage and journalists do their recaps of the latest flare-up. And even then, the reporting and analysis is as brief and cursory as the outrage itself.
So yes, rap journalism is broken and Rick Ross refusing to answer a marginally difficult question is yet another symptom of its breakdown.
Rap journalists have betrayed their duties for far too long to begin asking tough questions now and expect any real answers.