Bursts from an assault rifle rent the early morning darkness about two blocks from my house Monday morning, here on the mean and precarious streets of eastern Fort Lauderdale.
A rolling ambush. Ten gunshots fired out a car window. An outbreak of gangsta rap warfare in the old hood.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
And I slept right through it.
Trying to evade the would-be assassin, Rick Ross — stage name of Carol City High grad and hip-hop virtuoso William L. Roberts II — lost control of his Rolls-Royce and crashed into an apartment building just behind the old Floridian restaurant. A stray bullet took out a window in the 24-hour breakfast joint, which, in this part of town, passes for a treasured cultural icon.
None of the shots struck Ross. Which makes you wonder about the quality of hip-hop assassin marksmanship. Rick Ross, 37, built like an SUV, is no tiny target. Last year, The New Yorker magazine described Ross as “both physically and culturally very large.” The shooter may have missed the physical Ross, but he hit a cultural bull’s-eye.
A couple of hours later, clusters of us gawkers stood near the corner of Las Olas Boulevard and Southeast 15th Avenue to stare at his bashed silver Rolls and watch police investigators scarf up empty shell casings. (A hovering TV helicopter had done what the gunshots couldn’t and roused me from my bed.). The consensus among us onlookers was that, however terrifying, it was a pretty good day at the office for Rick Ross. Getting shot at, for a rapper, amounts to aggressive marketing.
Threats, bluster, police investigations, feuds with other rappers, assassination attempts, shootouts, the occasional murder are considered necessary accoutrements in a musical subgenre based on first-person accounts of urban violence. It’s not just the rap, but the myth that matters.
As Ross proffers on his hit, It’s My Time, “Ain’t rappin I’m talkin, ain’t talkin I’m scrappin, Ain’t scrappin, I’m shootin, they just askin what happened, Ain’t shoot then I’m shot, ain’t shot then I’m shootin.” You get the idea. His is a slightly different marketing niche than, say, Justin Bieber’s.
What Ross got Monday morning was a little street cred to go with the myth. I can tell you, personally, in our neighborhood, street cred is no easy commodity to come by.
Ross resides on a finger island about a mile east of the assassination site, on a street with a name that does not exactly summon images of grit and violence: Aqua Vista Boulevard. He bought a house there last year with eight bedrooms and 12 baths, an overwrought three-story architectural monstrosity. I’d paddle my kayak past the place back when it was an empty, recession-era bust and wonder, “Who the hell would buy a house that ugly?”
Now I know.
Ross did give the place a decent make-over. And now it’s just another faintly obnoxious $6 million house in a fancy gated neighborhood. He has a swell boat moored to the dock, christened “Port of Miami,” after his very successful 2006 album that no doubt paid for these digs.
I have friends who live just across the canal. After Ross moved in, I joked that given the infamous propensities of gangsta rappers for murderous feuds, that they should be wary of drive-by gunboats. They never thought I was all that funny.
Granted, Ross must pass some shoddy $2 million and $3 million houses to get to his manse, but the Las Olas finger isles, somehow, don’t recall the gangsta rap environment described by Georgetown sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson, who, rationalizing rappers’ propensity for “misogyny, violence, materialism, and sexual transgression,” wrote, “At its best, this music draws attention to complex dimensions of ghetto life ignored by most Americans.”
Most Americans can’t get beyond the guard house to get into this particular ghetto. But Dyson’s right, anyway, about the materialism.
Last March, a petty criminal was gunned down in the front yard of another house Ross owns in Miami Gardens. But Ross wasn’t around. Nor was he implicated. The shooting only vaguely associated his name with the kind of violence that lends his craft authenticity.
But Monday, that was the real thing. Times ten. In gangsta rap, what doesn’t kill you, makes you rich. Or, in Rick’s case, even richer.