Whether art imitates life or life imitates art when it comes to gender issues like sex, the answer is akin to a mirror mounted on a high ceiling, looking at everyone equally. For media influences perceptions, and reflects it back at the same time, and shows us where we are as a society and it’s subcultures. Today we’re going to examine the outcry over Rick Ross’ song “You Don’t Even Know It” from that context.
Many cultures have defined themselves in proportion to their relationships with music, sex and drugs. Some cultures attempt to eradicate all three or control them tightly in service to a single deity, and as cast off sins from a amoral environment. Others have entertained and programmed themselves with music, sex and drugs. America is the child of the British empire, a grandchild to Rome, and Rome was build on sexual hedonism, patriarchy, and violence. The city itself is an anagram for the word MORE.
Spartacus, was a historical dramatization of the Roman period of Gladiators and Rebellious Slaves within the empire. The series ran for three years on Starz TV, and was rated for mature audiences, as the level of violence, sex and language was quite strong. The cinematography for the show was exceptional, with much of the production filmed in New Zealand, and recruiting New Zealand heart throbs. Dominus’ vs. gladiator, master vs. rebel slave, viewers of the television series Spartacus were invited to visually partake of the the ancient practices of revelry and celebration, control and subjugation. The hedonistic parties and rape scenes were recreated under Roman theme, and everyone from the Emperors to the gladiator indulged in “wine, woman and song” when time permitted, and of course the role of the women is to be available primarily for the enjoyment of men. Wine, woman and song” is an slogan from the god Baccus. It precedes the saying “Sex, Drugs & Rock’N’Roll from the United Kingdom.
During the industrial rise of the American music industry, African artists were prohibited from showing their faces on the record jackets, and from openly singing about their own sexuality and sexual liaisons; much of the music was highly edited from sounding too suggestive. Certain issues like prostitution, broken homes, domestic violence, love, alcoholism, codependency and addiction were carefully crafted behind subtle lyrics and innuendo, and most easily found in its founding genre of rhythm and blues
However, even with double entendres, music that came from within Black America was met with a racism remnant of previous eras, even being referred to as the devil’s music. When Rock & Roll reached white audiences through Elvis Presley, his performances (at least initially) were censored from the waist down, as his hip gyrations were cause for network concern. The obvious influence of African flavored Rhythm & Blues, and dance was controversial during the post-slavery era and the civil rights movement had not yet taken place.
“As blues music was heard and “consumed” by white folks, it became more aware of its own meaning. It also had to somehow “hide” that meaning (e.g., the sexual one) that was not compatible with the values of white society. Thus the bluesmen developed indulged in “double talk” to confront themes that white people shunned.” (History of Popular Music, Pierro Scarfuii)
During the last fifty years however, music management has taken a large change in direction when it comes to artistic license. From Gangsta Rap to Death Metal, lyrics and performances have continued to push the boundaries of good taste, to discern between art and hate. Issues of censorship rarely come up anymore unless the artist is well enough known to receive considerable airplay in America, and only then, does the artist’s work become an example to others of similar success.
Critics of the music industry are quick to blame record labels and producers as often exploiting both the artists and the target audience with themes of violence and sexual deviance in order to reap huge financial profits and build artists into icons with no moral accountability for the messages they send.
“put molly all in the champagne, you dont even know it
I took her home and I enjoy that, she aint even know it”
– You Don’t Even Know It, 2013
For those unfamiliar with the term “Molly”, it refers to MDMA or ecstasy. Ross seems to be bragging about drugging his date, so he can have sex without her knowledge later. Rick Ross has issued a statement to Rolling Stone online declaring that…”it was a misunderstanding with a lyric, a misinterpretation where the term ‘rape’ wasn’t used. And I would never use the term ‘rape’ in my records.”
While some reporters claimed this statement was an “apology”, it clearly was not an apology, but rather an admission of ignorance and revelation of rape myths. In order for something to qualify as an apology it must admit to wrongdoing, which Ross attempts to evade by calling this a misunderstanding.
Rick Ross is in obvious need of an education on women’s issues and law for what he describes is sexual intercourse without consent, and is punishable under the law. Ross is quoted as saying he doesn’t want to “condone rape”; and yet he fails to realize his narrow definition of the word that is at odds with the legal and common definition.
“Rape myths have also been linked to an individual’s definition of rape; the more an individual accepts rape myths as truth, the more restrictive the definition of rape (Scahefer – Hink, R. Thomas, 1999)
According to a study by Lisak and Roth (1990), none of the convicted rapists they interviewed defined their behaviors as “rape”, although they had admitted to using force to get sexual intercourse or oral sex.
Three days after the media reported on the lyrics, and began inciting responses from bloggers, women’s activists, and interested parties, a Michigan radio station, chose to ban Rick Ross’ music. Rick wasn’t alone, in the decision to trim the play list, Lil Wayne also came under fire, for lyrics in a song that describe his approach and style of touch towards a vagina, as similar to the beating and brutal murder of Emmit Till.
By Monday morning nine days after the initial public backlash, women’s rights organization UltraViolet had amassed over 50,000 signatures asking Reebok to drop Rick Ross’ endorsement that he signed a year ago. Perhaps it’s the obvious threat to his pocketbook the spurred the empty meaning explanation from the rapper, in an effort to secure his good fortune.
While the stance of the radio station is honorable and pro-active, any music aficionado knows that this is not the first misogynist song, nor the first single to endorse or glamorize sexual violence, nor is it the first to combine alcohol consumption with poor judgment, or coercion for sex.
Rap artist Eminem describes a violent rape attack on a female he meets in a laundry mat, in “As The World Turns”. His initial intent is to rape and rob the girl, but he later decides he’d rather kill her for fighting him off. The artist has publicly made mention of his “mommy issues”, his murder fantasy towards his child’s mother, and his frequent use of rape as a figure of speech in which to further humiliate females in relation to those issues.
“I don’t give a f—if this chick was my own mother
I still f— her with no rubber and cum inside her
and have a son and a new brother at the same time
and just say that it ain’t mine, what’s my name? – I’m Back
“Shut up slut, you’re causin’ too much chaos
Just bend over and take it slut, okay Ma? – Kill You
Rap music is not the only genre of music to refer to the drugs and alcohol as “panty remover”, and to suggest that real men create situations where women can be taken advantage of. The phenomenon is actually worldwide and found in music where patriarchy is the cultural norm. A well cited example from the 1940′s is the Christmas holiday tune performed and made famous by Dean Martin.
Baby It’s Cold Outside was recorded in 1949 looks a little less innocent sixty years later, when date rape myths are slowly being debunked.
her “but maybe just a half a drink more,
him “ put some records on while I pour,”
her “the neighbors might faint,”
him “baby it’s bad out there”
her “say what’s in this drink”?
Keeping the context of the social era in mind, we know from the song that the lady visiting is politely protesting her staying late at the man’s home, yet he is comfortable in getting her liquored and denying her a cab ride home. The last line actually indicates that he may have drugged her drink.
Country artist Joe Nichols produces party tunes that suggest alcohol is a quick and effective means of getting women naked. Tequila Makes Her Clothes Comes Off, and Take It Off are both songs that reflect the socially acceptable practice of having too much to drink and losing control.
Less subtle and a great deal more graphic and violent are death metal songs like: “MS-Rape-athon” by Undinism, “Condemned to Rape” by Ingested, “She Died With Her Legs Open”… to name a few. Although it can be argued that these types of songs draw no attention, because of their relatively small circulation, it causes one to wonder how they avoid the radar of concerned Women’s Rights groups and why the death metal labels are allowed so much more license to violence.
The best answer of course is profits; Rick Ross sells millions of records and had a multi-million dollar endorsement from Reekbok. Death metal sales don’t compete, with online research giving these as the top sales:
CANNIBAL CORPSE: 558,929
MORBID ANGEL: 445,147
SIX FEET UNDER: 370,660
The question this author asks, is should concerned advocates wait until an artist is so popular and mainstream before challenging their freedom of speech?
So while it is useful in sending a message to artists, to boycott them, and to boycott their endorsements, artists & producers of all genres need to be held equally to the same standard of artistic expression. Economic sanctions and social outcry must go further than an individual artist, or genre, rather extend towards every corporate entity and media stream that normalizes rape culture, and worse, profits from that exploitation.
Written by: Tonnya Roberts Marisse
Sources / Supporting Links / Works Cited: References
Lisak, D., & Roth, S. (1990). Motives and psychodynamics of self-reported, unincarcerated rapists. American Journal of Orthopsychiatric, 60, 268.
Purcell, Natalie J. (2003) Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a SubCulture 40-45, McFarland.
Scaefer-Hink, S. & R. Thomas (1999) Rape Myth Acceptance in College Students. How far Have We Come. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 60
Baby It’s Cold Outside (1949) , Frank Loesser, lyrics and composition
I’m Back (2000) Eminem
Kill You (2000) Eminem
Tequila Makes Her Clothes Come Off (2005) Nichols, Gary Hannan and John Wiggins,
You Dont Even Know It (2013) Rocko, ft Rick Ross