The Curious Case Of Rick Ross

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Rick Ross has survived.

He has been besieged on all sides- rap fans, 50 Cent, and his own body- and, in spite of this all, he has persevered, even flourished in this strange new world.

How?

In this article I will endeavor to unravel the case of rap’s unlikeliest kingpin.

***

1.

Rick Ross trusts us now.

He lets it all hang out. You’d be hard pressed to find him wearing a shirt these days, or, frankly, giving a fuck. He’ll shout-out pears. He’ll be a part-owner of a chicken-wing franchise. He will so clearly favor Meek Mill over Wale that you’d be forgiven for forgetting Rick Ross even has a vested interest in him.

He’s letting it all hang out. But it didn’t use to be this way.

He used to lie. Like any rapper, he gave us the notes we wanted. He disguised his weight in suits, gave realistic if plodding expectations of cocaine dealing, and we saw right through him. This doofus — and make no mistake, Rick Ross is a doofus — earned nothing but our spite. A waning 50 Cent, ever the bully of hip-hop, found the nerd he could use to reassert his dominance. And he should’ve. Rick Ross was roundly mocked, musically mediocre, and an obvious target. And, when he was exposed not as a drug dealer but as a former corrections officer, his career should’ve ended. This try-hard lying beluga of mediocrity should’ve washed ashore.

But he survived.

Rick Ross inexplicably doubled-down. No apology, no denial, just a straight flood of grandiose lies. He rapped about cocaine before but now he was a kingpin to whom Noreaga owed a hundred favors.

A hundred?

But that’s the sort of mindless hyperbole that works for us. Somehow, a more believable or nuanced lie would be more offensive, easier to nitpick. But Noreaga owes you a hundred favors? No. That’s absurd in the classic definition; it’s funny. And, like all the best comedians, Rick Ross refused to budge.

Rick Ross is the absolute driest parody artist in rap. He’s the only good Lonely Island equivalent. And even though he lies to us, the emotional truth is there, and that’s what resonates. This is, unflinchingly, who he wants to be; not a realistic dime-a-dozen rapper, but a big ol’ doofus kingpin. And we love it.

2.

There is a rumor that Rick Ross can’t even use the name “Rick Ross” anymore.

There are rumors that, due to gang concerns and in light of the shooting attempt on his life, his name has been taken from him. This is allegedly why he’s so keen on being called “Ricky Rozay” or “The Boss” and even why his album covers are reduced to “Ro$$,” or else some other winking removal of the full “Rick Ross” title.

This doesn’t have to be true for it to be interesting and plausible. And, it’s interesting because, even typing that, I go “eh.” Because there’s no absurdity too silly for Rick Ross now. Something dramatic and embarrassing like that would be seriously dramatic for a more prideful rapper; a Kanye, a Jay-Z, even a Drake. But Rick Ross shrugs that off, like he’d shrug anything off.

Rick Ross is a joke. But a joke can bend without breaking. At this point, what could stop him? Iggy Azelia is a bit of a hanging “ugh” on the hanging tendons of T.I’s legacy. But would that have changed your opinion on Rick Ross? Really? It wouldn’t. Because we’ve learned to accept anything about him, even rumor, as part of his vibe.

And from that flexibility comes strength.

3.

Listen to some Rick Ross, and you’ll notice that it melts, hard to recall in your memory.

It’s not particularly good, of course. Nobody is telling you to put on some Rick Ross the way they ask for Drake, or Kendrick, or Kanye. He’s a Hufflepuff, an iTunes Shuffle rapper. He lacks quotables, dexterity or meaning in his raps.

Rick Ross is tofu.

That sounds like a diss. And it is, of course. But delve deeper. You know what goes with anything? What nobody hates, what everyone can eat, what takes on the flavors of its seasoning?

Tofu.

All the best Rick Ross tracks have three crucial ingredients. Amazing production, a killer guest verse that changes the flavor of the song, and Rick Ross himself, soaking it all up as he plods along.

Try out “Free Spirit” or “Triple Beam Dreams” and see how they feel. What about “War Ready” or “Diced Pineapples?” They all are amazing Rick Ross tracks that don’t sound like his own because Rick Ross knows his strengths and limitations. He’s a talk-show host; he banters along and lets the visitor dazzle the crowd. He plods along, providing stability, an lets his weight anchor the track along the star-power he recruits.

It takes wisdom to make the most of humility and it pays off. Who gets better features than Rick Ross? Nobody. Because Rick Ross made a deal with them and himself to host. Rick Ross gets the rare Jay-Z and Kanye verses, the extended Andre 3000 verse, the Drake verse and hooks. Rick Ross doesn’t oversaturate like Game, (who is the thirstiest rapper of all time) but instead applies star power wisely and cleverly to his albums.

Rick Ross has survived our jokes, and found the power in being one himself. He’s made his peace with his weakness and found the strengths within it. He’s capitalized on what he can succeed at (the business of hiring rappers beneath him, the amazing selection of beats, the perfect seasoning of guest verses, the matter of personal and creative survival) and he’s done so well.

Rick Ross, in other words, is a boss indeed.

Improbable as it is, he has the last laugh. TC mark

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