One’s a former prison guard who raps about how “back in the day I sold crack for nice kicks.” The other is the son of a Missouri judge and a world-famous radio broadcaster. And they couldn’t have more in common.
On Thursday, facing the loss of a hefty sum of advertising dollars, rapper Rick Ross coughed up a baffling apology for his new song “U.O.E.N.O.,” which is an ode to the glories of date rape: “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.”
The essential glossary here: “Molly” is a slang word for MDMA, a drug often used for date rape; “that” is the date raping.
With Reebok being pressured to dump Ross as its spokesman over the song’s message, Ross offered the early frontrunner for the most half-hearted apology of 2013. “Woman is the most precious gift known to man,” Ross said. “And there was a misunderstanding with a lyric … a misinterpretation where the term rape was used. I would never use the term rape, you know, in my lyrics. As far as my camp, hip hop don’t condone that, the streets don’t condone that, nobody condones that.”
Except, you know, HIS SONG CONDONES THAT.
By this point, however, our culture should be conditioned to this kind of behavior. Rick Ross is, in essence, a professional provocateur, an increasingly lucrative career that employs not just blatantly offensive hip-hop artists but people who most consider their polar opposites: right-wing radio hosts. Ross is just one example of rappers who relentlessly push the envelope with their lyrics, only serving up half-assed apologies when their intentionally—because it is intentionally—offensive content sparks controversy. It’s kind of like—no, exactly like—how shock-jock conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh retreat to canned statements when advertisers start taking notice of the envelope-pushing talk that’s their stock in trade.
But occasionally making headlines for their perennial offensiveness isn’t the only thing that Rick Ross and rappers like him, and Rush Limbaugh, and right-wing radio hosts like him have in common. Here, more surprising similarities:
They’re constantly offensive, but only make headlines for it occasionally
When rappers or radio hosts apologize for the comments, it’s easy to assume that, more than being sorry, they’re sorry they got caught. That’s because for every offensive comment that gets picked up by the mainstream media, there’s a litany of others that went unnoticed. Sure, Ross is in hot water now for lyrics about how date rape is awesome, but remember when he rapped about buying “new whips” to “trick a hundred hoes?” Really, it’s just the tip of the iceberg—kind of like how Rush Limbaugh’s recent rant about Beyoncé became water-cooler talk for its blatant sexism, but was really just the latest example of exaftly what Rush has spewed for years to loyal listeners. Take a look at Limbaugh’s long (long) history of such behavior here.
They say rape-y things
Rick Ross is hardly the first rapper to polarize with lyrics about rape. Recently, L.A. hip-hop collective Odd Future inspired a slew of think pieces analyzing the rape fantasies in their hit songs. Eminem’s cut Kill Me—“Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore / ’till the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more? … Just bend over and take it like a slut, OK ma?”—is about raping his mother. And most right-wing hosts never met a rape debate they didn’t like. The national conversation last year centered on Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape” was Christmas in August for conservative broadcasters. American Family Association founder Bryan Fischer said it was Akin who was the victim of a “forcible assault” on his radio show. Limbaugh, for the record, thought Akin spoke with “glorious ineptitude.”
Then again, Limbaugh sounded a bit like a rapper himself when he called a Georgetown student a “slut” and a “prostitute” for wanting insurance to cover her contraceptives. He added: “If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”
They brag about their conspicuous consumption
Jay-Z, eat your heart out. Rush Limbaugh’s $65 million estate includes five houses, a garage to house a $450,000 black Maybach, and a $56 million private plane. Big Pimpin’, indeed.
They make a shit ton of money
They have lots of internal beef
Forget East Coast vs. West Coast. Nicki Minaj vs. Azealia Banks? Nothing compared to the litany of internal squabbles between right-wing radio hosts. Limbaugh vs. O’Reilly. Limbaugh vs. Gingrich. Limbaugh vs. Schwarzenegger. Good luck keeping track.
They have their own language
Urban Dictionary helps the non-initiated decipher their “buggin” from their “illin.” A similar tool could be useful for conservative radio, which similarly uses its own slang terms that only its base really understands. Can you use “Crony Capitalism” in a sentence?
They darkly mutter about imagined enemies
Their fans will forgive anything they do
Following the Sandra Fluke controversy, advertisers fled Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. Fans kept listening. The advertisers returned. And remember when Jay-Z stabbed someone? Neither do most of his fans. Let’s not even discuss the “he can beat me any time” defense offered by the tween and teen fans of sometimes rapper Chris Brown.
They defend their right to be offensive
Any time a radio host is blasted for offensive comments, the free-speech argument is quickly volleyed as defense. When MSNBC and CBS dropped Don Imus in 2007 over his “nappy-headed hos” comments, a rally cry over Imus’s First Amendment rights emerged. Sure, they’re sometimes fired or suspended for what they say—but damned if they don’t think they should be able to say it, and have their corporate backers stand behind them. “You can’t even have a fucking thought, you can’t mentally massage something on air without being suspended or fired,” Radio host Troi Torain, better known as Star from the Star & Bucwild show, tells The Daily Beast. Star has his own history of controversy—having been fired as the high-profile morning host at both New York hiphop stations for outrageous comments. “That’s due to pressure groups, political jargon that should not affect art. Rick Ross is an artist, whether you like or not,” Torain, who now appears online at Shot97.com, and also shows up on the new VH1 reality show, Gossip Game. “I was raised on [Don] Rickles. [Richard] Pryor. [Lenny] Bruce. By today’s standards those guys would not even be given a chance to fucking get off the ground.”
They suck at apologies
I mean really.
Harry Siegel contributed to this report.