Rick Ross was a C.O. (at least, so says 50). So what? Why does it matter? Does the argument over Ross’ street cred have any relevance to the larger hip-hop nation? After all, hip-hop artists evolve from real people with real world concerns, like eating and keeping a roof over their heads. Real world concerns lead to real world jobs, like delivering packages, working construction, and, yes, getting on as a C.O. Not every rapper actually hustled on a corner in order to feed his daughter.
Hip-hop artists also evolve after hip-hop, right? AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted now makes family-friendly comedies. The Cop Killer is a cop now (or at least he plays one on TV). Flava Flav does whatever it is that he does. Uncle L is about to star in an “NCIS” spinoff. That’s a long way from Farmer’s Boulevard. And the stage personas of many rappers are characters any way, right? How many self-proclaimed macks are actually family men, especially in middle age? How many so-called gangsters have never seen Central Booking, or done a bid? So, why the uproar over Ross?
The answer is that, even as its messages became less "positive," even as it went through a period of cartoonish gangsterism and materialistic excess, hip-hop was consistent in one way. There was always an undercurrent of counterculturalism, and a critique of the criminal justice system. The critique was not always as well articulated as in "Illegal Search" or "Black Cop," but it was there. Biggin' up your man upstate, celebrating the dealers and the hustlers, and rapping about one's battles with the DEA or ATF all comment, to an extent, on limited choices, neglect of urban communities by the state, and violence perpetrated against those communities by the state. If the state is an antagonistic "other" in hip-hop culture, then the representative of the state, especially a representative of the "system," can’t be legitimately hip-hop. At least, so goes the theory.
Maybe it’s time to discard that theory. Just as it took hip-hop artists getting involved in the business side of the music in order for them to really get paid, maybe hip-hop heads need to be open to infiltrating The Beast so that change can occur there as well. Although he had his problems, the declaration of Kwame Kilpatrick as the "Hip-Hop Mayor" was an important statement about where hip-hop can go in terms of bringing about social change. Maybe we need more hip-hop mayors, hip-hop judges, hip-hop cops, and, yes, hip-hop COs.
- Horace Anderson