Rick Ross, Don Draper, and the fantasy world of masculinity

Rick Ross

Ed. note: This is a guest post from Mychal Denzel Smith. He is a writer, social commentator, and mental health advocate whose work on politics, social justice, mental health, and black male identity has appeared in outlets such as The Nation, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Gawker, Salon, The Root, and more.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Rick Ross as of late, given all the controversy surrounding him and his disgusting, indefensible lyrics condoning rape (and his subsequent non-apology that was almost as bad as lyric that prompted it). In a way, I feel partially responsible, having been a fan of Ross’ music despite the overt misogyny, and I’ve had to wrestle with what exactly draws me to his music. His first two albums sucked, but somewhere around Deeper than Rap he mastered the craft of constructing anthemic tracks well-suited for driving around aimlessly on a perfectly sunny day with no concern for the rabid flock of imaginary haters or your carbon footprint.

But that was never the sum of his appeal. And in one of those epiphanies that only come when you’re in the shower or meditating or high (I don’t smoke, I was in the shower), it finally hit me: Rick Ross is basically hip-hop’s version of Don Draper.

Don Draper

I don’t mean to compare the rapper and Mad Men’s leading character’s status as sex symbols, because the parallels go beyond the superficial. They are both products of fiction. They’re both identity thieves whose actual life stories hold the potential to ostracize them from their chosen communities. But more importantly, they both have constructed elaborate fantasy worlds around an idea of masculinity they know isn’t true to who they are. And neither one can escape.

Or it might be that they don’t want to escape. They both know that what they’re selling is bullshit, but they do it anyway because it affords them the opportunity to indulge every hyper-masculine fantasy they’ve been told would bring them happiness. In Don’s 1960s world it means he has a beautiful wife, a beautiful ex-wife, beautiful mistresses, beautiful kids, a beautiful home, a thriving business, the envy of Pete Campbell, and respect. Every night he should lie down to sleep feeling like a king. 

I know Rick Ross does. At least, I know he screams at me a dozen or so times. He’s a “king,” he’s a “bawse.” He’s got Maybachs and yachts. He’s rich off cocaine. He’s living the dream of everyone that ever got into the drug game and didn’t make it out. Probably because Rick Ross has no competition and he edged (or killed) them out. But it’s OK, all you would be kingpins, because Rick Ross will enjoy the champagne and supermodels for you.

There are parts of the fantasy that are understandably appealing. If you’re born a poor Dick Whitman you might also hope to grow up and become a wealthy and powerful Don Draper. Why wouldn’t William Leonard Roberts II, Florida corrections officer, want to trade that in to be multi-platinum multi-millionaire Rick Ross? It only makes sense.

But there’s a reason it’s a fantasy: it can’t last. You can only participate in the illusion so long before it comes crumbling down all around you. For Don Draper, it means being an abusive, alcoholic adulterer with anxiety issues. For Rick Ross, it means writing lyrics that condone rape and in the process of “apologizing” revealing you’re a 37 year-old man who doesn’t know what rape is.

That’s precisely what’s so compelling about watching either of them. If you’re paying close enough attention, they’re warning signs for what happens when you buy into the myth of American masculinity. It leads directly to a path of self-destruction, and along the way you damage the people and communities you assume to hold dear.

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  1. Posted April 2, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry but I find the idea that masculinity is inherently “evil” or will directly lead to self-destruction and damage to the people around you to be offensive in the utmost extreme.

    Would you say the same about femininity? Or anything else for that matter?

    I know we want to find sources and root causes for the issues of the world but it isn’t so simple. You can’t just blame “masculinity” for all problems (and we’re in alot of trouble if so given that half the population is male). Masculinity isn’t inherently evil anymore then religion is inherently evil.

    • Posted April 2, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      What? Who said anything about masculinity being inherently “evil”? I think that’s something you projected onto this piece. Mychal pointed to the fact that Ross and Draper “both have constructed elaborate fantasy worlds around an idea of masculinity they know isn’t true to who they are”–a version of masculinity that I think we can agree is pretty toxic–as an explanation for their eventual self-destruction. That is a far cry from blaming masculinity for “all the problems.”

    • Posted April 2, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      I agree with Maya here. the author uses the word masculinity two times in the article. ” The first time it is “fantasy worlds around an idea of masculinity” and the second time it is “myth of American masculinity”. The author is very clear that they are talking about these two characters (Ross and Draper’s) version/misunderstanding of masculinity; which happens to be misogynist and self destructive. Not an all encompassing general definition of masculinity. In short…the author agrees with you: the idea that masculinity HAS to be evil or self destructive is a myth.

  2. Posted April 3, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    “what happens when you buy into the myth of American masculinity. It leads directly to a path of self-destruction, and along the way you damage the people and communities you assume to hold dear.”

    This the part I find problematic.

    • Posted April 5, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      I think part of the issue is that we don’t necessarily have a clear picture of what masculinity actually is. Thankfully it is not static, although at times it seems to be unshakeable. There are those who would love to redefine masculinity, and still others who would love to toss the whole concept. Traditional masculinity has certainly created enough pain and distortion, in my opinion, to justifiably make a statement that links it to self-destruction and damage to communities.

  3. Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    I read this as the author taking issue with America’s often warped concept of masculinity. Masculinity within itself, as the other two ladies mentioned previously above, is not and does not have to be evil. However, the way that a large portion of America has interpreted it and sculpted it to their own means, has created a negative face for masculinity. He frames this as a “myth” because it is not true to what masculinity could and should be.

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