Is Rick Ross a phony? Is rap journalism broken? Either way, Rick Ross really, really, really doesn't want to talk about "U.O.E.N.O."
Ross and the author, in (slightly) happier times
All photos by Jess Lehrman
Part of me wants to feel like I'm reaching with that headline, but most of me knows that I'm not. The fact of the situation is that, during an interview with Rick Ross yesterday at the 40/40 Club in Manhattan, I brought up Reebok, which obviously triggered memories of the rapey lyric that cost him an endorsement deal with them. Perhaps for obvious reasons, things got awkward, Ross’ handlers got antsy, Ross low key tried to insult me, and the interview was stopped halfway through. The thing is, Rick Ross constantly talks about being a boss. To him, it’s not just a title, but an entire worldview. Real bosses answer the hard questions and keep it moving.
Then again, what do you expect from a guy who let the media hound him over a lyric—”Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it/I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it”—that he could’ve easily talked his way out of? Unlike the Date Rape Drug, Rohypnol (or alcohol, the most common date rape drug of them all), MDMA isn’t a sedative, and even if you slip it to someone, it’s not going to make them pass out. It’s a stimulant and, if anything, it’ll make a person more alert. Clearly, Ross doesn’t always know what he’s talking about in his own lyrics, and he and I never even addressed that line directly.
[Ed: To be fair, Ross did address the controversy in an interview with HuffPost Live, saying, "I don't really regret nothing. I'm glad I seen and learned some things. When I realized so many women were affected by that, I wanted to make sure I apologized. Where I come from, that's not even tolerated... I never thought someone would fill in whatever blanks, but I respected it, and I respected everyone's opinion who reached out, most definitely women... Ain't nothin' more impressive than women, baby.]
We got close, though. I was working my way towards a question about the infamous lyric. He and his team were tactful enough to pick up on that, and that’s why my interview got shut down. I asked Ross about his chemistry with Jay Z. We talked about how “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” was another hit for him. Then I brought up how he rapped “Reeboks on, I just do it, nigga” on that song in the midst of his controversy with the company. That’s when things got tense. Here’s how the conversation played out:
Noisey: I feel like you kind of purposely were fucking with people when it’s like, “Reeboks on, I just do it nigga.” Knowing the whole controversy, what were you really getting at with that line? Because that’s the shit that really stands out to me. After everybody’s making this big fuss and then on one of the hottest club records of the summer, you’re kind of taunting people on purpose with that shit.
Rick Ross: See, you the type of nigga that might consider it taunting. I don’t even like that word. Don’t use that word no more.
What would you call it? It’s not a negative word to me. You know, it’s like—
Stay focused, homie. Let me answer your question. “Reeboks on, I just do it nigga.” Repping Reebok. You like Reebok?
I don’t really wear them as much anymore. Like, I’ve been a Nike nigga. I wear Vans and shit like that.
Oh yeah, you a Vans nigga.
Yeah, I got on Docs. Like, I know niggas—like you got on Timbs, I got on Docs. That’s just what shit is.
That’s your vibe. I wish you the best. Keep shining. Keep doing your thing. Keep shining, man. I was repping Reebok. I like Reebok. We wear Reebok on our side. We wear soldiers. All white. We pull out them Rees and we wear ‘em all white.
Nah, a nigga had Rees in like middle school, when the Pumps came out, I know what it’s about.
Yeah, classic. [Handler to Def Jam employee, when I’m obviously about to start talking about the controversy and him losing his endorsement: You got the next one?] Much love. Great interview. Wish you much success.
Yeah, man. Same. You don’t have time for a couple more questions?
We got a couple niggas waiting, man.
It would've been perfectly fine if Ross ended the interview because he wasn't feeling my vibe. I get it. Writers are fucking corny. Some of the coolest shit I’ve ever seen is Lil Wayne shitting on a journalist in his The Carter documentary. But Ross was just blatantly dodging a difficult question. If he and his team just let the conversation play out, they would've seen that I wasn't trying to corner him. Ross has made a lot of great music. By virtue of that alone, I went into that interview simply ready to ask real questions. Of course I was going to ask him about the rape lyric controversy. Maybe it was the format of the interview—essentially a one-journalist-in, one-journalist-out assembly line press junket promoting his upcoming Mastermind—but it felt like Ross was immediately on the defensive when I brought up Reebok, too sensitive to the assumed pressure to realize that the line of questioning came out of a place of respect. Instead, I was hit with bullshit boss posturing.
Earlier in the interview, I brought up the fact that he once famously said, “We don’t do pushbacks,” and now his album has been pushed back several times. It's a genuine question. Ross responded with some half-baked nonsense about how he changed the date because he’s a boss. I shouldn’t have been surprised that the guy who, in the face of physical proof, lied about being a former correctional officer, is too delusional to own up to the fact that his upcoming album has no buzz and its singles have barely even registered with the general rap-listening population, and that’s why it’s been pushed back. Now regardless, the album's coming out, and I understand that he has to maintain a positive stance on it no matter what. But if the album’s good, be confident in that and don't cower away because I'm there addressing reality.
Just like the Internet calling out Ross for being a CO, the “UOENO” lyric is part of Ross’ flawed but fascinating legacy, so he might as well be prepared to address it. As soon as I brought up Reebok, he became passive aggressive, standing up, pointing at me, and showing off his shoes, in a display of grand misdirection. Last summer, I rode around LA in a BMW drinking Cristal in the backseat with my boys, rapping that contentious lyric emphatically. In that context, it’s a fantasy, but as a journalist, I fully expect to have a real conversation about it. But Ross has a history of getting uncomfortable in these types of situations. He attacked DJ Vlad six years ago for asking him about his past as a correctional officer and had to pay him $300,000 in a settlement.
It’s not like we didn’t talk about Mastermind enough and I just jumped straight to controversy, like some slimey TMZ reporter trying to get a scoop. My first several questions were about the album. We talked about his ear for picking beats. We talked about his mission statement with this project. But none of that shit was interesting. Nobody cares about this album. A Drake interview with Rolling Stone has more buzz than an entire Rick Ross record at this point, and it’s because Drake is too open, and too honest. Ross is closed and guarded, so lapses in his ostensible persona—moments of imperfection that show a real human—become the most interesting things he’s done. That doesn’t have to be a handicap or a negative. People would love to hear his real thoughts on that situation. People would love to hear something truthful about his time as a CO. That shit can only win people over. But Ross is worried about the concept of being a boss. The facade is dated—honesty is captivating, and a superstar rapper’s inability to be real is why rap journalism is a fucked up game. Journalists aren't your fucking friends, and they're not your fucking publicists.
His excuse for ending the interview was that other writers were waiting, but there was no rush when the writers in the room before me were taking selfies with him and asking questions about Valentine’s Day. I’m in there for 15 minutes and we start drifting towards the date rape question and all of a sudden it’s time to go. The best interviews are an opportunity to connect with your audience in an authentic way. There's not a single person who doesn't want to hear more about that "U.O.E.N.O." lyric. If a rapper who talks about killing people can't handle someone getting ready to ask a question about the only interesting thing he's done in the past year, maybe that’s a sign that rap journalism is broken. Clearly, there’s an increasingly adversarial relationship between rappers and press. Yesterday, Drake said the "press is evil,” then Kanye West went on stage later that night and told members of the press to "shut the fuck up.”
The sad part about it is, I wasn't even looking to attack Ross and gain anything from it. I wish we could've talked more. I looked that man in the eye the entire time I was talking to him. I was an honest human being and all I was looking for was the same in return. I guess that's too much to ask.
Ernest Baker is seriously considering never interviewing anyone famous ever again. He's on Twitter - @ernestbaker
Jessica Lehrman is a photographer living in New York. She's on Twitter - @jessierocks