By Natalya Jones
By County Grind
By Liz Tracy
By Chris Joseph
By Liz Tracy
By Matt Preira
By Jesse Scheckner
By Michael E. Miller
When gunfire erupted outside Carol City Park last Wednesday during Rick Ross' Second Annual Be Out Day, it turned what was billed as a positive charity event for the community into a negative feeding frenzy about Ross himself.
Although nobody on the scene was hit with any bullets (at least ten to 12 rounds were fired into the air during a brief melee), perhaps the shot that will have the longest-lasting effect is the one centered on Ross' character and credibility. The media's trying to attack Ross at his core seemed unthinkable to many only a few months before.
This past March, Ross' second album, Trilla, debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and catapulted the rapper into national star status. He sold nearly 200,000 copies of the album its first week out, and the Ross persona as "the biggest boss that you've seen thus far" (as he raps on his hit single "Speedin,'") seemed unshakable. He's built a career out of writing rhymes about his days as a former drug kingpin, and at the national level, his rep as a street lord rarely came into question.
But how quickly things have changed.
These days, there's no denying that Rick Ross' name is in the media, perhaps more now than it has ever been. But it's not for the best of reasons. The 32-year-old Carol City MC, born William Roberts, is in the middle of a fight to save his career. Allegations have swirled around the internet nonstop for the past month that Ross used to work as a correctional officer in the mid-'90s before he became a rapper, something that Ross staunchly denies.
Photos of Ross dressed in a correction officer's uniform that surfaced on the web seem to contradict his story, however. And internet "gotcha" site thesmokinggun.com even released a tell-all report with damning evidence gathered under a Freedom of Information Act request. In the article, Ross' job application, Social Security number, and dated paycheck stubs all show overwhelming evidence that Ross used to work locally for the Department of Corrections.
What does all of this have to do with a "random" shooting at Carol City park last week? Technically, nothing at all, but blogs across the country are on fire with comments that Ross set the shooting up to regain some of his battered street credibility. And others are suggesting that the streets are angry with Ross for lying about his past and that the shots fired in the air were really a warning.
Regardless of the validity of those allegations, what stands out the most is how people are quick to overlook the good that Rick Ross Charities was trying to bring to residents of Carol City, where the rapper grew up. We're talking about an event designed not only to entertain community members with live music but also to give out school supplies to children, feed local residents, provide free HIV/AIDS testing, and foster a sense of hope to a neighborhood that desperately needs it.
I was at the event before, during, and after the shooting took place and can attest to the fact that it was a brief but unfortunately newsworthy event that took away from a positive day. I saw the people gathered in line registering to vote (many of them for the first time in their lives) and hundreds of children running around with smiles on their faces out of appreciation for what Ross was trying to do. I watched as performers took the stage, one by one, and were adored by fans in the crowd, mainly because most of the rappers on stage and the youth in the audience were from the same neighborhoods.
But much of the positive spirit that surrounded last Wednesday was lost in the wake of this shooting, and the question is, why?
If this had happened two years ago, people would be coming out in droves to support Ross for his efforts and to blame the gunfire on ignorance. Instead, a good number of comments on websites like Allhiphop.com and Sohh.com (both respected hip-hop sites) show that an overwhelming number of rap fans are turning their backs on Ross. At least temporarily, they seem unwilling to forgive him for possibly lying about his past. Is that really warranted? Maybe it is, as nobody likes to be lied to. But regarding the Ross' Be Out Day, the shooting, if anything, probably had more to do with Flo Rida than Ross.
Several young males in the crowd wore T-shirts that read "Fuck Fla Rida" across the front, a play on words essentially saying that Flo Rida is flawed. Word on the street is that those individuals are from Flo Rida's old neighborhood and basically feel like the rapper, whose hit single "Low" was omnipresent on urban radio stations earlier this year, hasn't done enough for his community since he became famous.
To me, that's a minor detail — hell, Flo Rida was at a charity event for the hood when this all went down. But I definitely didn't sense that anybody at the event was angry or even disappointed with Ross. This was probably the one day in recent weeks where the large-and-in-charge rapper was able to escape criticism and just be free.
What deserves to be noted is that the folks at Rick Ross Charities seem determined not to let this shooting overshadow their efforts. And when I asked Ross if he planned to have a Be Out Day next year, his answer was immediate.
"Oh, I'ma do it every year," he said. "You gotta be a leader. You gotta stand for something and represent for something, and that's what the kids need to see to get motivated to do bigger and better things in their own lives."
Hopefully, he'll still be around for a third-annual Be Out Day. His career longevity is currently at stake, but that doesn't mean he's finished. If the streets are watching anything, it's how Rick Ross the boss manages to bounce back.