Thursday, May 14, 2009

When Rappers Had Day Jobs: The Rick Ross Credibility Conundrum

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


  1. Horace,

    Great post. Along these lines... Many hip-hop artists have also gone to great schools (high schools and colleges), are successful entrepreneurs, have stable family lives, and more characteristics that the mass produced image of hip-hop might not embrace. Furthermore, these artists may in fact rap about events that run contrary to their own experience.

    It seems to me that it is time we sought to expand notions of credibility and/or authenticity to include, not exclude, individuals from hip-hop. If one has to be a criminal, a drug user or seller, or misogynistic to be respected in hip-hop, then hip-hop's defeating itself. To define an individual by one marker, such as defining Rick Ross as a former corrections officer, is an act in hijacked subjectivity. Who are these Ross critics to whittle away at his credibility based on one aspect of his character that they find disagreeable. Does being a CO really eliminate one’s ability to be a hip-hop artist, to be Black, to understand urban issues? There are law professors with criminal records. Should they not be able to teach criminal law? Should police officers with speeding tickets not be police officers? Such reasoning seems to go too far because it reconstitutes subjectivity in such a narrow way that it limits people being people. It conforms them to such rigid molds that individuality and breadth of experience is eroded.

  2. professor anderson:

    truth be told, my guess is that there are MANY hip hop cops, hip hop correctional officers and are beginning to be more and more hip hop judges and hip hop mayors. hip hop has infiltrated the world and its messages have influenced millions.

    the question is whether the influence has been a positive one. are hip hop cops and hip hop co's more willing to treat criminals fairly or with greater disdain? are hip hop judges and hip hop mayors more prone to equality and fairness? have they been influenced more forcefully by chuck d., krs-one and talib kweli or do they take their cues from fifty, eminem and lil' wayne?

  3. Excellent question about whether the influence is positive. We will see what the answer is over time. I would add that we also should ask which who is influencing whom? Theoretically, more diversity on police forces is a good thing. But several high profile brutality cases in New York recently have involved officers of color. If the hip-hop judges, cops, etc. are to have the effect that we want, they must influence the prevailing culture more than they are co-opted by it.

  4. Only in hip hop is having a legit job and not being a criminal considered a bad thing.

  5. T pain is also good rapper but now B.O.B is one of most popular.


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