I can’t think of another person as famous in a uniquely bizarre way as Jessica Gomes happens to be right now. To wit, she is…
1. Famous for being a supermodel who’s appeared in numerous ad campaigns and each of the last four Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues.
2. Currently the second most recognizable female voice in hip-hop today (Nicki Minaj would be first) — a status due to the fact that she’s the owner of the mysteriously disembodied (and mysteriously alluring) “Maybach Music” refrain.
Making her fame even weirder are the facts that…
1. She’s famous for two things completely unrelated to each other.
2. She’s famous for doing something that people instantly recognize — a trademarked voice, if you will — even though the vast majority of the people aware of that voice have absolutely no idea who the person behind it is.
Although tempting, I’m not here to muse (well, muse any more than I already have) about Gomes’ odd celebrity. I’m more interested in the person whose peculiar appeal to a certain demographic of very educated hip-hop fans has helped made Gomes’ voice as ubiquitous as it — Mr. Maybach Music himself, Rick Ross.
As you’ll see, the entire premise of this article — young professional Black men seem to be obsessed with Rick Ross’ music — is extremely shaky. So shaky in fact that if you have trouble buying it, I suggest you stop reading right now. I’ve done no studies or surveys on this subject, and my thoughts on the matter are purely anecdotal. As anecdotal as they may be, though, it’s not a huge leap to assume that the 28 to 35 year old white-collar black men in my sphere of influence aren’t much different than the 28 to 35 year old white-collar Black men in different parts of the country. Since this is (probably) true, there’s a good chance that if you stepped in any of their apartments or hopped into any of their cars in the last 18 or so months, you were probably bombarded with an extremely loud (and extremely well-produced) track from “Teflon Don” or “Self Made: Vol 1” or “Rich Forever.” You were also probably surprised to see how quickly that music managed to metamorphosize a usually milquetoast bank middle manager into a grunting, “oooh”ing, alien entity who thought nothing of enthusiastically repeating lines like “My gun dirty, my brick clean/I’m riding dirty, my d*ck clean” and “I levitate on all you p*ssy n*ggas” while making the hardest gas face his master degreed-ass could muster.
If you accept as I do that this is true, the natural next question would be “Why?” What makes his music resonate so deeply with this particular population? This is where I keep getting stumped. (Oh, and just to be clear, it is understandable why he’s appreciated on a sheer musical level. He is a good rapper (Yes, he is. Just accept that as true and move on), he does make “sounds fantastic while driving or clubbing music,” and you can argue that many of the top producers in the game — Kanye, Just Blaze, Lex Luger, etc — save their best work for him. But, not to get all cute on you, but his appeal is much deeper than rap.)
You can argue that for those guys (and by “those guys” I mean “guys like me”), the fact that Ross’ music is so drastically different than their everyday lives provides a form of escapism, making his music no different than watching “Scarface” or getting a lapdance from a stripper whose body maintains a 1:1.5 silicone-to-flesh ratio. The theory doesn’t stick, though, when you realize that you could say the same thing about Young Jeezy or Waka Flocka Flame or any other rapper prone to extended bouts of unrepentant ignance, and none of them seem to have the same type of transformative appeal that Ross currently does.
Maybe — and this happens to be my favorite argument — Ross relates to us because he’s the world’s first truly post-modern rapper. While rappers who speak about a certain subject matter are expected to have at least some personal experience with that subject, Ross’ law enforcement background completely thumbs its nose at that rule. We assume that 50 and Wayne and Jadakiss embellish freely and frequently, and we allow them certain artistic licenses while also thinking “Come man. You’re worth 50 million dollars. We know you’re not on the block anymore.” But, in Ross’ case, we know that “Hustlin” was a bold-faced lie, and we still don’t give a damn. In fact, considering his numerous recent run-ins with the law, you can argue that he raps things into existence. While many other rappers turned to rap to escape a life of crime, it seems as if he raps just so he can become a criminal.
I bring this up because perhaps the white-collar Black guy, used to years of pronounced code-switching, soul-numbing mindfulness, and exaggerated (but still necessary) tact, recognizes Ross as a kindred spirit; partners in the act of being a well-paid and unapologetic poseur. This might be a stretch, but how else can you explain the near-primal urge to jam away to drug-laden Maybach Music while driving a Civic to Whole Foods?
In a metaphor so perfect that I’m sure a few of you will think I’m making this up, I had numerous friends willing to offer paragraph-long takes about Ross’ appeal when I mentioned that I was writing this. But not one of them wanted to actually have their name attached to their quote for fear that their companies might Google their names one day and see they’d sung the praises of Ross’ music. All things considered, perhaps Jessica Gomes has it right. Maybe, Maybach Music is best appreciated when no one really knows how or why you’re connected to it. We’re all pretenders anyway, so why start being “real” now?
Damon Young is the co-founder of the award-winning site Very Smart Brothas and co-author of Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm At Night: The Very Smart Brothas Guide To Dating, Mating, and Fighting Crime.” Follow him on Twitter: @verysmartbros