RICK ROSS FT. YOUNG JEEZY, “WAR READY” – RAJ; A$AP FERG, “LET IT GO” – DAN THE MAN. To continue this line of thought about how happily full of shit hip hop has become – this past Saturday gave us two implicitly deconstructionist expositions on what social-conservative news commentators used to call “‘gangsta rap'” (scare quotes quoted). “War Ready,” by Rick Ross with members and friends of his Maybach Empire, is a classic hood-noir epic featuring urban desolation, shadows, and large guns. “Let It Go,” by A$AP Ferg and friends, is something else and features urban desolation, teleporting “Matrix” villains, Carhardt sleeves that shoot fireballs. The two couldn’t be more different, but they both so joyfully celebrate the complete disintegration of the notion of hip hop credibility that it seems unnecessarily genre-ist to talk about them as anything other than an affirmation of the same spirit.
Rick Ross, more than any other rapper today, has built his career on a foundation of very public lies. Despite his long and often confusing self-mythology, everyone knows – and has made it very clear that they know – that Ross is not a dangerous drug kingpin but a former corrections officer who went to college and has seizures. Instead of letting this sink his career, Ross has made the most of it: his swag is a six-album fantasy on underground power that blissfully ignores that fact that owning “ten black Maybachs back to back in the lane” is an absolutely ridiculous claim. His outsized persona and love of excess have forced it to work, and Ross has been almost entirely forgiven for his complete lack of credibility.
“War Ready” is the most recent addition to the Maybach legacy and plays off the public’s acceptance of its absurdity. Ross stands back, his trademark sunglasses-covered face covered by shadows, while his troops prepare for an unspecified battle and shoot AK-47s into the dark at nonexistent targets. Maybach disciple Tracy T steps in and shouts the chorus like Stevie from “Malcolm In The Middle” on bath salts (“just another – mama – cryin’ – ’cause we’re – WAR – ready”) while real-life ex-coke dealer Jeezy mutters about the designer gun in his designer holster. The gang’s all here (Meek Mill, DJs Khaled and Drama) and immaculately dressed (some of them in harem pants), and in the end no one has accomplished anything beyond looking awesome. The video would play like an over-the-top parody of itself if it wasn’t so well done and if everyone involved weren’t so wholly committed to the pageantry.
A$AP Ferg grew up in the era that saw Ross’s rise to prominence, and his swag takes a notably more postmodern flavor. Ferg never had to pretend that he had street cred to make it in the 2010s game; he’s always made it very clear that his coming-up hustle was painting t-shirts. This doesn’t stop “Let It Go” from being a trap-stuggle song in the classic mode. Like “War Ready,” it features an ominous beat with violent lyrics centered around a gun-referencing chorus (“kill a mothafucka with a magnum 44 . . . semi or the tech, spray it then reload”). On paper, “Let it Go,” like “War Ready,” is based around gangster posing and assertions of street-cred; it even opens with a reference to Maybach Empire and quotes Ross’s signature “UH.” One can’t forget that this is the opening track on an album called “Trap Lord.”
The video, of course, proves something different. Like RAJ, Dan the Man shows Ferg and friends going to battle in the midst of industrial waste, but it would take a good deal of being a moron to take “Let It Go” seriously. What this is a parody of, it’s hard to say: it sometimes plays like a 90s video game, sometimes like “The Matrix,” sometimes like “Terminator.” The villains are ninjas instead of shadows, and the goal of the battle is not to assert “war-readiness” but to save Queen Lee Dee from a pair of maybe alien “Evil Twins.” Style once again plays a prominent role (sleeves that hang four inches past your hand are the look for pre-Spring), and in the end You, Viewer are left feeling good about the power of ice rap to affirm “do you” weirdness. “Heard all of them claps with a round of applause” becomes a threat, a double-entendre for twerking, and a straight-up celebration – all at once.
The success of both these videos hinge on the fact that everyone watching them has completely accepted the fact that it’s irrelevant if what they’re watching is “authentic” or not. Ten years ago – five years ago – “War Ready” would have been met with a chorus of “fake” allegations and A$AP Ferg would have been called gay for hanging out with someone like Marty Baller. I’m sure that’s still happening on comments sections across the world, but the fact that these videos have already received 278K and 106K views is proof that nobody really cares anymore. Hip hop authenticity should have been moot since sometime between “Enter the 36 Chambers” and Biggie getting shot, but it seems like we’re finally at the point when it really seems to be dead. All there’s left to do now is fight imaginary adversaries in credibility’s ashes.