A photo of the author.

How glamorizing drugs is killing black kids

My nephew loves rap about drug dealing, but rappers don't talk about the dark side

D. Watkins
March 1, 2014 4:59AM (UTC)

Weeks after William Leonard Roberts, better known by the stage name Rick Ross, won his case in a battle over the name with the real Rick Ross, my 11-year-old nephew Karl and his bugged eyes ran up on me with some Ross rap music. He was all excited like “Uncle D, Rick Ross is the biggest drug dealer ever, he’s so G, he only raps for a hobby because he already made millions moving crack!”

My nephew never sold a drug in his life because of me. Sell a drug and I’ll whip your ass is what I beat into his reality; however, he is still from east Baltimore and I can’t stop that. Being from east Baltimore means that you are biologically programmed to be infatuated with drug culture -- who’s getting money, who’s snitching, who has the best dope, who’s driving what, who murdered who and so forth.


* * *

“So Karl,” I say.

“K. Dot, uncle D. Call me K. Dot!”

“So K. Dot, you know Rick Ross isn’t the real Rick Ross, right?”

He goes on to tell me how Rick Ross is a master of stretching coke. How he takes one kilogram of cocaine and morphs it into three or four or five, maximizing his profits far beyond anything we could ever comprehend.

“So Ross to coke is kinda like Jesus with the making water into wine thing?”

“Exactly. You’re my favorite uncle because you get it!” he yells, overpowering my sound system, drowning out the Jay Electronica I’d been listening to all week.

I let K. Dot cut Ross on. His beats knock and he and his MMG (Maybach Music Group) crew have amazing energy. They’re the best in rap right now. K. Dot is bopping his head as we cruise, feeling the vibe and reciting every lyric as his neck makes yes-like motions. I wonder if he knows that he's affirming every idea that comes out of the speakers.


* * *

“Yeah, K. Dot, I get it” I say, cutting off the music. “Rick Ross is an ex-correctional officer who bounced around from label to label until he found a home at Def Jam. I don’t think he’s a real gangster. Your real family, some of our cousins and uncles are GD (Gangsta Disciples) connected, the gang that made Ross cancel paid tours. That’s a penalty for being a poser. You can’t yell GD unless you are GD!”


“Really? No guns? Ross fought back, right?” asked K. Dot.

“Nope. He has millions of legal dollars, he’d be a fool to fight back. Ross received around-clock support from his paid bodyguards and the Miami Police Department. No beef, no guns and no war. Rick Ross is only connected with two gangs, MMG and the police department.”

I Google the image of Rick Ross looking all thick and snug and happy in his old CO uniform and then passed my phone to K. Dot. His eyes glaze over, his face slumps past his chest. I broke his spirit. I had to; it was a must.


* * *

“So the real Rick Ross made millions moving tons of cocaine with connections that led all the way up to the president and then spent more than two decades in federal prison,” I add.

“Damn!” yells K. Dot, no longer slouching. He's embracing a new hero, seamlessly dismissing the old one.


And now I have to teach K. Dot that the other Ross is flawed as well.

* * *

The rapper Rick Ross is caught up in the same drug nostalgia that hypnotizes a countless number of teens. The problem is that the rapper is only selling a half-truth -- probably because, like many rappers, he’s a witness and not a player.

The story of the witness is valuable; however, people like myself who played this deadly game at multiple levels need to be held accountable for identifying the difference.


Rappers like Ross and many others only focus on the heaven that comes with selling crack -- the cars, the cash, the girls and the shootout victories. All of their drug songs end in heaven.

I’m well aware of that heaven. I sold crack and heroin for years after high school. Cash-filled Nike boxes were under my bed, I had no shortage of friends and I drove every car imaginable.

Maintaining that lifestyle was the hell that Ross forgets to reference. Working 100-plus hours a week, burying best friends, seeing their moms cry and feeling their tears spill on you is hell. Being beat on by beat cops is hell. Looking at that shoebox full of cash under your bed and noticing the shoebox full of obituaries next to it is hell.

Your aunts and friends' mothers hitting you up for free crack so they won't have to turn tricks or sell their kids' toys is hell. Seeing them smoke the drugs you give them is hell. Watching people who look identical to you die is hell; that 2-year-old girl who caught that stray bullet over drug territory is hell.


K. Dot being infatuated with the heaven and not fully understanding the other side is hell.

* * *

I challenge drug rappers to add more depth to their raps by acknowledging those hells or just giving the negative side equal representation by telling listeners that most dealers aren’t rolling in cash or living the high life. By telling them that Jay Z or Ross never purchased Lamborghinis from violent crack money, that it was nonviolent rap money that made those cars a reality.

Rappers need to tell listeners the truth, that most dealers are broke and can’t afford child support and barely have enough to pay their Sprint bill after reing up. The truth is that crack is almost as obsolete as typewriters and that no one is making millions off of it except the artists who get checks from singing about it.


More important, why can’t we celebrate that? Why can’t we celebrate Ross as a talented young black man who has made millions off of his art? As a person who took his destiny into his own hands, created an empire and employed street people who probably couldn’t get jobs under different circumstances.

I once heard Ross say, “How many people you bless is how you measure success!” I thought that was great but I’m in the streets daily and his depiction of drug dealing isn’t blessing anyone.

It’s killing black kids.

D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a professor at the University of Baltimore and founder of the BMORE Writers Project. Watkins is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America” and "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir." His latest book, "We Speak For Ourselves: A Word From Forgotten Black America," is out now.

MORE FROM D. WatkinsFOLLOW @dwatkinsworld

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Crack Drug Dealing Drugs Hip-hop Rap Rick Ross

Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •