Rick Ross, GQ Magazine and the N Word

Yesterday morning as I took my daily bath, I treated myself to the Rick Ross profile in my new October issue of GQ magazine. A friend told me about the piece last week but this was the first time I got a chance to check it out without any distractions. Before I go on, let me say that GQ is one of my favorite magazines. The monthly’s intelligent take on music, culture and politics is my joy while riding the A train around NYC but “Rick Ross’s Simple Lessons For Bosses, Dons & Bitches” left me feeling … uncomfortable.

Let’s begin with the highs, shall we? The author Devin Friedman follows Rick Ross, his manager Gucci Pucci (we’ll make fun of his name later … ) and their team around Atlanta during what amounts to about one day as the crew travels between the studio, Houston’s restaurant, Louis Vuitton, Walter’s dope boy sneaker spot and a non-descript (by non-descript, I mean no one’s been killed outside of the location as for as I know without a google search) strip club for a promotional appearance that costs about bit over $10,000. Fine. Friedman even gets cool points for not totally buying into Ross’s dope don image and pointing out the MC’s attempt at making him believe it that is in itself, ridiculous.

That’s why the only moment he loses me as a willing audience the entire time we’re together — the only time I’m not basically eating out of his hand — is when he makes arguments like the one he makes right now, on the way to the strip club, when I ask him about the uncanny resemblance between the fantasies he creates and the ones on “Miami Vice.”

“Of course. Of course! That was the mosh pit I was raised in, and when you listen to my music, you hear me boasting of the most lavish shit,” he says. And here’s where he goes off track. “But I saw the underworld of “Miami Vice.” A dude we grew up with was on “America’s Most Wanted.” An $80 million drug ring came from my neighborhood. The reason street motherfuckers cool with me is if you don’t come from that life, you can’t get away with portraying that life. That’s the story I tell. That’s the story I saw. You saw a plaque at the house for a good friend of mine who was murdered in front of his wife and three kids. A good friend. P-Nut. Rest in peace.” 

Here’s the thing. He may actually be telling the truth. He may be the streetest dude out there, he may have gotten shot more times that 50 Cent, sold more drugs than Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls combined. But talking about it just ruins the vibe Ross has created. Trying to get me to take you seriously as a former drug dealer (which he does, at several points in our time together) is, at this point, boring. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter. 

I love that Friedman tackled Ross’s nonsensical public persona head on, because Ross is totally unbelievable, which is why his success in a rap industry that prides itself on being the raw reporters of the street (N.W.A. … ) is so interesting. You can’t have a correctional officer background and drug dealer don past simultaneously. But here’s where Friedman himself loses me, with his use of the word “nigger” which really calls into question, for me, the use of the word at all.

Earlier in the piece, Ross learns about former NY politician Anthony Weiner’s political demise thanks to a mis-tweeted penis picture. Ross is appalled and says the following:

“Chicks send me pictures,” Ross said. “And I appreciate it! … Real niggas don’t send dick flicks.” 

Hilarious right? If I was in the journo in that interview my toes would tingle because I’d know I had my star quote. However, here’s when sarcastic paraphasing goes wrong. Friedman writes:

And in a way Rick Ross was right. Anthony Weiner wanted to live like a boss, though he couldn’t admit it to anyone. And that shame was part of the reason he wasn’t acting like a boss. Anthony Weiner is not a real nigga, and I think he understands his mistake now.

So what’s wrong with Friedman’s passage? The writer’s use of the word “nigga” is both offensive, annoying and accusatory. It’s offensive because conventional wisdom says that if you’re not black, you’re not allowed to say, write or breathe the word “nigga” or “nigger” without reproach. Everyone knows this except White Girl Mob’s V-Nasty. Remember Chris Rock’s joke while talking to Oprah about the word and telling her white audience members “You can’t have everything!” And look at all the trouble the controversial term caused hipster queen Kreayshawn when according to her, she didn’t even use the term, her doppelganger V Nasty was the culprit. Even having to type this paragraph in 2011 grates on my nerves. Friedman’s passage also calls into question black folks use of the word in mixed company and/ or at all. As a brown person, somehow saying the word around non-brown people seems OK in practice, but when it’s written down … not so much. And if the feature’s subject is making up an entire faux life, why can’t the non-black penman use “nigger” without a backlash, right? It’s all bullshit. Well, no.

Still, I take responsibility for the intersection of the word “nigger,” black cool and it’s reach far into white America’s fabric as well as the term’s dark history. Black folks can’t adopt the word and black folks can’t seem to leave it alone either so I’m afraid I’ll be writing irritating paragraphs about mainstream America’s fascination and use of the word well into my AARP years. In conclusion, if you’re a GQ writer who wants to be ironic, I get it but try another word, huh?

But, hey, maybe I’m not a real nigga.

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