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Guns and drugs? Some rappers inflate hustler image
Thu Jun 4, 2009 8:30pm EDT
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By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rick Ross sold hit albums rapping about selling crack cocaine but a revelation that he once worked as a prison guard threatened to end his career.
For a rapper cultivating a bad-boy image, a uniform put him on the wrong side of the law.
U.S. rappers often sell songs about drugs and guns based on "real-life" stories, but increasingly some of those stories are being exposed as embellishments aimed at helping them build successful careers, experts say.
"Some of the stories are fabricated and some of it is reality, and what they are doing is mixing the two," music executive Devyne Stephens said. "When you say you shot and killed somebody and you put it on a CD, nine times out of 10, you really didn't shoot and kill anybody."
Ross is a bearded, burly Miami rapper who brags of a cash-fueled, drug-boss life. His real name is William Leonard Roberts II but he takes his stage name from a drug trafficker.
So he was publicly humiliated when pictures surfaced of him last year through The Smoking Gun website looking clean-cut in a correctional officer's uniform.
Ross at first denied his past, then admitted it but maintained his drug-dealing tales of the street were true.
His third album, released in April and featuring titles such as "Rich off Cocaine," still sold well.
HUSTLING TO ST. TROPEZ
Stephens, who has been hailed as an image branding king and has worked with artists including Mary J. Blige, Usher, Sean "Diddy" Combs and Nelly, said many rappers mix lines in their songs that aren't literally true but draw from real experiences or stories they have heard.
He says "probably 85 per cent" of rappers embellish stories in songs and calls the current trend "reality music" which, like reality television, is something of a misnomer.
Stephens helped groom another successful U.S. rapper, Akon, who has had hits like "Locked Up" and "Ghetto." Akon was ridiculed last year and accused of dramatically enhancing claims of belonging to a car theft ring and having served prison time.
The new crop of rappers want to emulate the success of rappers-turned-moguls like former New York drug dealers Jay-Z and 50 Cent, who both sold albums based on their transformations from street hustling to popping champagne.
"You formulate that story to make it just as interesting as the Jay-Z story," Stephens said, describing an outline of: "I am a hustler, I came from nothing and turned it into something and now I am on yachts in St. Tropez."
Jay-Z, married to superstar Beyonce Knowles, is now one of the world's wealthiest musicians, having signed a deal reportedly worth $150 million with concert promoter Live Nation. Continued...
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