On Thursday, my community partner LeBron Seay and I are bringing former drug trafficker “Freeway” Ricky Ross to speak in Louisville. Since announcing this, we have been peppered with “Why would you invite a guy like that? What’s the point?” We’re sleeping with the veritable “enemy.”
Well, I say this: Have you looked at our youth lately and listened to their music? Like it or not, hip-hop is king — the best-selling recorded medium in the world. It is dominated by gangster rap, an aggressive variant that emerged in the late ’80s. Understand that hip-hop is not just music — it promotes a particular lifestyle, a way of thinking, valuing and being.
Even at colleges and universities (proving grounds for our future leaders) around the country, I often see and talk to kids (across lines of race and class) enamored with “gangsterism.” Young men want to be “hard”; young ladies will happily exclaim, “I need a thug in my life.”
To be sure, I can tell my female students that dating a faux (or real) gangster is stupid. I can mandate that my guys take their hats off and pull their pants up when they come into class, and I do. Yes, I grew up in Atlanta’s projects, and my mother battles drug addiction. Yes, one of my friends became the dominant drug lord in my projects and invited me to join him. No, I’m not your typical university professor, but I’m a professor just the same. I’m not a gangster. I made choices that took me down a different path. So, my admonitions to young folks only go so far. I lived “the life” only to a certain point. LeBron and I need a bigger gun, and Freeway Ricky Ross is it.
How so you ask? Don’t get me wrong — I love rap. But, what LeBron and I realize is that many of our children have problems separating fact from the fantastic. The world of gangster rap is largely populated by media-constructed fantasy personalities. For instance, one of the most popular rappers today is the self-anointed “Teflon Don” Rick Ross. Of course, those of us who live in the real world know the moniker “Teflon Don” was lifted from mob boss John Gotti, and the Rick Ross handle was taken from our featured guest.
The list of rapper-adopted names and images from movie characters and dead people is long: Frank White, Scarface, Charlie Baltimore, etc. But some rappers simply use real, living people as models.
In the real world, Rick Ross the rapper’s actual name is William Leonard Roberts II. He is not the cocaine-using, dope-dealing, snitch-killing kingpin he purports to be. He is really a former Florida corrections officer who attended Albany State University. Not very gangster! But that doesn’t matter — it’s all about the image. Many people don’t even know the rapper is a fake persona based on the reputations and lives of real people. Yet they aspire to be like him.
The real Rick Ross is a different deal. He actually sold drugs. He wasn’t a minor operative, he was an actual kingpin. The real Rick Ross was not a corrections officer. He really went to prison for 14 years. The real one also didn’t initially want that life. He wanted to be an athlete. Football player or hooper, right? Wrong. This brother excelled in tennis. All things are not what they seem.
The recently released Ricky Ross is embroiled in a legal battle to stop Roberts from using his name. “I’m home and doing something different now,” he says. “I’m trying to give a different message.”
If anyone can talk to kids about reality and the consequences of bad choices and the gangster lifestyle, it’s Ricky Ross. So, yes — if LeBron and I can save a few kids a lot of pain by sleeping with that enemy, we’ll do it. Come on out and hear the real story.
Ricky Ross will speak at the University of Louisville’s Comstock Auditorium at the School of Music at 4 p.m. Thursday. He also will make a number of public appearances at high schools and other venues in the Louisville area through Saturday. For more information on the U of L event, e-mail me or call 852-5985. For information about events later in the week, contact LeBron Seay at 356-8891.