Bigger than Rick Ross: Hip-hop has to take responsibility for its objectification of women

[Originally published on thegrio.com]

Rick Ross has rightfully caught flak for lyrics that allude to date rape on the song “U.O.E.N.O. (You Ain’t Even Know It),” a track from Atlanta rapper Rocko which also features up-and-coming artist Future.

Amid talk of having “a hundred rounds in this AR” and “a bag of b*tches,” Ross raps: “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,” offering up a virtual instruction manual for how to drug and rape a woman.

The lyrics have prompted a justified backlash on multiple fronts. Petitions have been launched on RapRehab.com and Change.org denouncing Ross’ lyrics and calling for the music industry to take greater responsibility for the content it promotes.

Another petition demands that sneaker and fitness apparel giant Reebok drop Rick Ross as a spokesman.

Radio station 103.7 WUVS The Beat in Muskegon, Mich. has pulled all Rick Ross records from the air, and a barrage of tweets, Facebook posts, stories and videos have shamed Ross for his despicable rape raps.

Apparently sensing that his paper was in peril, Ross offered up a slick non-apology (and an insult to our collective intelligence) during a radio interview with Q 93.3 in New Orleans, claiming that he never used “the term rape” and would never condone the act. He also made sure to address women as “queens” and let all the “beautiful,” “sexy” ladies out there know it was just a misunderstanding. Right.

There’s no doubt that Rick Ross’ lyrics promoted rape, and his attempt to explain them away by relying on smooth talk and technicalities is pathetic. But as much as we should hold the ex-corrections officer accountable for his despicable language, we also need to look at the world in which he exists and examine how all of us — from executives to artists to media to fans — contribute to and financially support a culture that promotes the objectification and sexualization of women.

The problem is bigger than Rick Ross, because hip hop culture has actively created a situation in which a lyric advocating for date rape could make it past rap gatekeepers to the general public.

There were Rocko and Future, who appeared on the song with Ross and apparently had no problem with his lyrics. Ditto for the producers and engineers, publicists and label executives who greenlighted the track, not to mention the radio employees who played the song.

There was the AllHipHop.com story that reinforced the very rape culture it claimed to denounce. The headline read “YOWZA! New Rick Ross Lyric Will Upset Smart Women!” and the story began with the following: “I know that the ratchet chicks are going to think this is cute! They gonna be like, “OH….oh…he like me….he wanna slip me a molly,’” as if certain women don’t mind being drugged and raped, and men won’t care about the issue at all.

There is the silence by record labels who would rather save face than take responsibility for their part in supporting artists and profiting off music that promotes violence against women.

There’s the Q93.3 interviewer who, instead of taking Ross to task for promoting date rape, co-signed the MMG boss’ ridiculous “clarification” and even asked if the public can be too judgmental at times about lyrics. Is it possible to be too judgmental about rape?

In 2006, I was sexually harassed by a rapper during a joint phone interview with two other artists. From the outset of the call, this rapper asked me if I wanted to have phone sex, inquired repeatedly about whether I used a vibrator and made a variety of other inappropriate, sexually charged comments while the other artists on the call remained silent or chuckled.

When I objected to this rapper’s harassment, he blamed it on the questions I asked — even though he asked me to have phone sex before I had a chance to ask any questions, and the questions I did ask were perfectly appropriate for a 15-minute interview with three artists. Not to mention the fact that no questions I asked would have justified his behavior.

I wrote about the incident for a Boston newspaper and it was picked up by several hip hop blogs and publications, some of which took a similar stance that somehow blamed me for what happened. That was a major wake-up call that hip-hop’s misogynistic messaging had bled beyond the boundaries of the music and into the mentality of those who work within the culture.

I had witnessed hip-hop’s misogyny for years, and against my better judgment I had financially supported some artists who promoted it, but this was the first time I had experienced the hatred outside the confines of a song, specifically directed at me, not just from artists, but from bystanders and members of the media who created an environment where sexual harassment could occur unchecked.

Never once during that call did either of the other male artists step in and say enough was enough. Blogs and publications that could have used the incident as an opportunity to discuss hip-hop’s treatment of women instead regarded it as another passing blip to draw pageviews, or a chance to school journalists on how not to be harassed.

I’m not at all attempting to equate sexual harassment with rape. But the point is that the rapper who sexually harassed me didn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does Rick Ross. They exist in a culture where women have been reduced to sex objects and scantily clad accessories who exist to pleasure men.

While we rightfully attack Rick Ross for his irresponsible lyrics, we also have to attack the culture of mainstream rap that degrades and objectifies women for sport. Rick Ross has an entire industry behind him that is busy devaluing women, and we support that industry with our dollars every time visit the blogs, read the magazines, buy the music, watch the videos, listen to the radio, attend the shows and drop money on the merchandise.

Maybe it’s time we voice our displeasure in language the industry seems to understand: dollars and cents.

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