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A Review of Rick Ross, Port of Miami - by crudo
I first heard of Rick Ross when I watched Katt Williams' American Hustle, which features Ross's hit song, "Hustlin'" as it's opener. "Any nigga that hustle, that's our national anthem right there. Even if yo job don't require no hustlin; even if you a librarian," he comments after the song is cut off. I forgot about Ross for a bit, but then heard Ross on a Lil' Boosie track later while in the library while working on the latest issue of Modesto Anarcho. Lil Boosie himself, is a southern rapper who has done some great stuff and is someone that I just recently heard about due to anarchists holding a banner at a Reclaim the Streets party in the south reading 'Free Lil Wayne! Free Lil Boosie.' Anyway, after hearing Ross on the Boosie track, I downloaded Ross's 2006 album, The Port of Miami, largely because it included the 'Hustlin' track. About a year ago while in Phoenix, I read an article that Ross wrote in The Source about the Miami drug trade and so the reference to cocaine trafficking was neither lost on me nor surprising. For fans of the film Scarface it's not a surprise, but for those that don't know, Miami is one of the major entrance points for cocaine entering the United States, largely from Latin America. Ross's album deals largely with these themes and the problems that erupt between the state and poor (black) people that sell drugs to make ends meet. However recently, accusations over Ross formerly being a prison guard have lead many people to question whether or not Ross's gangsta rap persona should be taken literally at all.
First, we should look at Ross's music. His themes are pretty run of the mill in the "cocaine rap" world; a genre that I find myself listening heavily to these days. In fact, Rick Ross takes his name from "Freeway" Ricky Ross who helped launch the spread of cocaine and crack sales into the United States in the 1980's. Radicals should be keen on remembering this, as he was also the person that was moving that shit while the US government was racking in the cash from such sales and sending it out to the Contras in Nicaragua. History aside, unlike some of my currently favorite rappers such as Lil Boosie, Young Jeezy, Slim Thug, and Plies, Ross's flows leave one often unsatisfied. He has a slow style that makes him come off as almost an overweight Mace; it's often so slow it appears that he's just talking and not rapping. Sadly however, unlike other physically large rappers who used their size as a way to project their voice (Big Pun and Biggie come to mind), Ross simply just kind of plods along in the songs, never really giving much emotion to what he's talking about. Many of the hooks are catchy however, and this is what often saves the song. The first half of the album is saved largely due to this; songs like Push It, Hustlin, and Cross that Line (featuring Akon on the hook), prove this to be true.
Second, it's interesting to look at Ross's background as a prison guard. In as issue of XXL Ross commented after months of allegations when rumors began circulating once photos of Ross in a prison guard uniform appeared online. "Me not answering or addressing that situation has nothing to do with my career," he's quoted as saying. "I've accomplished enough, and I've made enough money for me to be good. ... Yes, it was me in those pictures. But I'mma tell you this. Me taking that job, I was doing my job. You understand what I mean?" He goes onto state, "But, just to let you know, that's what I witnessed. It's a reality. I cannot discuss certain people that's still in the streets, and I will not. I took a street oath, and I'mma live by that, and I'mma die by that. And it's not about a music career, 'cause that shit, I'm good. It's about me and being in the streets." I'll leave it to the commentators on the streethop.com messageboard to level the critique: "Well I see it, the "image" these fake ass niggas wanna have of being tough guys selling rocks on the streets and running from the Police..," claims one person. Another person writes, "like i said this just shows how fake the rap game is today. how a nigga go from a prison guard to a rap star. damn only time a real nigga see the inside of a prison is when u doin hard time not when u a watch dog."
Letting go of the issue of Ross being a former guard, we can then move on onto critiquing the videos that came off that album. Starting with "Push It," which features a sample from the song "Push It to the Limit" by Paul Engemann, which was one of the main songs from Scarface. It's no wonder why Ross decided to sample this song, as his version and the video deals with the ins and outs of the Miami drug trade and the video apes much of the film. However, it's hard to tell where Ross's experiences begin and what is simply gleamed from drug and popular culture. Some of the lyrics of the song are redeemable, as they deal with the realities of class society. "All I seen is the sruggle/Its like im trapped in this slum/Niggas were badly paid/No water we barely bathed/Better be better days on the way/Thats on my daddy grave." The video for the hit song 'Hustlin,' is much more interesting, and suggests that Ross himself might have something more interesting to say than just reticulated bits of pop culture. At the start of the video he states, "Miami, a playboy's paradise. Pretty girls, fast cars; that's just a facade. The bridge separates south beach from my Miami; the real Miami, Mi-yayo, this is where we hustle." The video moves from a scene of bright colors and scantly dressed women, to a more starker shot of a ghetto with people posted on corners and people slanging various wares from out of their cars. We then see Ross as he drives through this area collecting money from various pushers and a woman who we can assume is a prostitute. Certainly not the "Pimps down Hoes Up!" perspective of class antagonism that rappers such as the Coup would promote, but then many would argue that performers like Ross are simply telling us how it is and not as it should be.
Still, Ross constantly portrays himself as "The Boss," and we can assume that he at least enjoys having himself (or people thinking of him) at the top of this pyramid of 'black market capitalism,' not gripping about the effects of such or his position at the bottom of it. However, Ross still comments on the realities of the drug trade, "See most of my niggas really still deal cocaine/My roof back, My money right/I'm on the pedal, show you what I'm runnin' like/When they snatch black I cry for 100 nights/We got 100 bodies, serving 100 lifes." Probably my favorite lyrics on the whole album is from the track, "Cross that Line," which is probably just because it features Akon and includes some of the most class conscious lyrics on the whole album. "I was birthed in the crackhouse/But what made it worse every first is a packed house/Little brother knowin' life illegal/No toys just playin' with pipes and needles."
Going back to the end of the Hustlin' video however, I find it interesting because it shows Ross on top of a mansion, surrounded by red flags, with scenes of drug underlings and prostitutes doing their thing and stacking paper, and Ross firmly placed at the top, rapping about it. Perhaps this is what is troubling and ultimately most boring about artists such as Ross: there's always going to be something interesting about illegal activity for the sake of making money in defiance of the law, but why do we always hear about those at the top? Wouldn't it be more interesting to hear something that a prostitute or a low level drug employee in such an underground organization has to say? Who wants to hear from a "boss" anyway, much less a former pig? Be it at McDonald's or the coke game.