If you have an interest in the intersection between para-culture and the world of hip-hop, then there's an article that you need to read top to bottom, right now. It's this VICE story detailing exactly how MTV-crowned "Hottest Rapper in the Game" Rick Ross - real name William Roberts - stole his identity whole cloth from a real-life crime figure who helped the CIA flood America's West Coast inner cities with crack cocaine back in the 1980's to incalculable effect. Far from being a crime boss before making it big in the rap game, Roberts was, of all things... a corrections officer. The above photo broke the story wide open and forced an eventual confession from the rotund pretender.
But hold up. Can it really be that the most sinister aspect of this rapper's background is the fact that he doesn't have a sinister background?! I mean, it's not as though most people take all these hip-hop beefs seriously... do they? I've always assumed it was more like, say... professional wrestling for black folk. And on those occasions when the shit does get real - as it also tends to do in the wrestling game, an industry with a mortality rate that rivals hip-hop's - it's usually because the play-acting gets out of hand and boils over into a temporary spasm of narcotic-fueled violence.
Boyz will be boyz, in other words.
But what if there's more to it than that? In fact, what if there's more to Roberts/Ross's correctional industry background than first meets the eye? What if way back in 1991, there was a secret meeting that changed rap music and destroyed a generation?! You can read the full text of an anonymous email that rap journalists and bloggers received in 2012 here.
In fact, I kind of have to insist you go read it. Go ahead, I'll still be waiting here when you're done.
Finished? Okay, let's proceed.
So... what does the real "Freeway" Rick Ross think about all this? He definitely believes something unsaid is at work...
...something far more grave and conspiratorial than taking a name and a rep.
“The police union gets a lot of laws passed in this country so they can build up the union. It's a strength in numbers gang. The more people that commit crime, the more police officers they get to hire and the bigger the union gets.[Roberts] would be the first one that you start to look at because he was part of the union. This goes to the heights of the music industry.”
It's impossible to validate an entirely anonymous tip-off such as this, just as it's impossible to disprove it. Still, people have been joining the dots and tracing cross-shareholdings ever since. Some have noted that BlackRock owns stakes in both Vivendi (the parent of Universal Music Group) and Corrections Corporation of America. That may be true but the $4trillion asset management giant also holds interests in Wal-Mart, Chevron and owns 5% of nearly half of all companies traded on America's various stock exchanges.
“I look at what makes sense,” says Freeway. “If something doesn't make sense to me then I question what’s really going on. When you look at the justice system here in America, is it working? We got 2.2 million people in prison. After you think about it you see that it's absolutely working the way the people who put it in place wanted it to work. They wanted to lock people up. They don't want it where people are not going to jail because then they make less money.”
Prison is big business in the US. America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with roughly one in every 107 adults imprisoned. The nation accounts for 5% of the world’s population, and yet 25% of its prisoners.
And maybe that should be our biggest take-away from this story after all... the fact that we're living in a vast gulag system, and most of us hardly ever notice.