Rick Ross’ date-rape-referencing lyrics on rapper Rocko’s song “U.O.E.N.O.” have already sparked online outrage among women’s groups. Now a second wave of petitions is calling for Ross’ endorsement deal with Reebok to be discontinued, in part because “Reebok devotes a lot of time, energy and money to marketing to women.” That’s a statement from Nita Chaudhury, co-founder of anti-sexism collective UltraViolet, who received 51,000 signatures from members, moms and young athletes by Friday morning demanding Reebok drop Rick Ross from an endorsement deal that has already included multiple TV commercials and print campaigns.
Multiple requests for comment from Reebok executives contacted by Billboard had not been returned at press time.
The lyrics in question are from Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O.,” which features guest verses from Ross and Future and was released on a mixtape, Gift of Gab 2, back in February. On the second verse, Ross seems to rap about drugging a woman with molly, slang for crystallized MDMA, and having sex with her:
“Put molly all in her champagne / She ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that / She ain’t even know it.”
While it’s relatively rare for musicians to lose endorsement deals over lyrical content, there’s plenty of precedent for deals to be pulled or paused when talent has been convicted or accused of criminal behavior. T.I. lost a deal with Axe body spray in 2010 after being sentenced to over 11 months in jail for a violation of probation. And Wrigley suspended its Doublemint campaign with Chris Brown (featuring his sponsored single “Forever”) in 2009 after the singer was arrested after the Grammys for alleged battery of Rihanna.
Other brands, like Mountain Dew, have taken a risk in recent years on sponsoring rappers despite their prior jail time. Lil Wayne famously signed a campaign with the soft drink last spring called DEWeezy that included a philanthropic component that saw the foundation of a skate park in New Orleans in the rapper’s name. “It just makes sense with a company like Mountain Dew trying to take a risk with Wayne,” Cortez Bryant, co-founder of Wayne’s management firm Blueprint, told Billboard at the time of DEWeezy’s announcement. “You know, in the previous years we’ve had hard times, but people ‘get it’ for the Lil Wayne brand. It just seemed like where they were going with their brand, which is all about diversity and crossing barriers, is the same place we want to go.”
A separate petition calling for Rick Ross to “publicly apologize for glorifying drugging/raping a woman” was posted to change.org, an online petition platform. It’s gathered more than 500 signatures since.
On Monday, Rosa Clemente, an activist, journalist and former Green Party vice presidential candidate, posted a Youtube video criticizing Ross. “This lyric is obviously promoting rape. Not just date rape, but rape and rape culture and violence against women. We live in a society that, by the time that African American women and Latina women are 18, almost half of them — 44 percent — have been sexually abused.”
Jerry Barrow, senior editor for Urban Daily, connected the lyrics to the recent conviction of two high school football players from Steubenville, Ohio, for raping a drunk 16-year-old girl, and wrote about the lyrics on Monday as well:
“The timing of this lyric couldn’t be worse as women in Delhi fight to protect their womanhood from rape and young boys in America are being sent to jail because they think it’s okay to have sex with women who are too drunk or high to give consent… It is not acceptable to preach the practice of drugging women to have sex with them ‘without them even knowing.’ If she didn’t know she didn’t give consent. And if she didn’t give consent she was raped. You’re out here telling your fans that it’s cool to rape women and YOU don’t even know it.”
On Wednesday, 103.7 the Beat/WUVS-LP, a non-profit community station in Muskegon, MI, announced it was pulling all Rick Ross songs from the rotation because of the song. “Following that teen rape case in Ohio, we felt [Rick Ross] was very insensitive. It sends the wrong message out to the youth that’s following him,” Paul Allen Billings, general manager/program director of the station, told Billboard. “To promote a date rape drug in a song, it’s like saying its OK to do this behavior. He’s saying it’s acceptable.”
The station also announced that it was pulling Lil Wayne songs from rotation as well, in light of his guest verse on Future’s “Karate Chop” remix, which references Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old who was murdered in Mississippi 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman — an incident widely considered a catalyst for the civil rights movement. “I’ll beat the pussy up like Emmett Till,” Wayne rapped. Future’s label, Epic Records, later apologized, and pledged to release a new version of the song without the lyrics in question.
Ross responded to the controversy Thursday morning in an on-air interview with New Orleans radio station Q93.3 FM: “There’s certain things you can’t tweet. I want to make sure this is clear, that woman is the most precious gift known to man, you understand? There was a misunderstanding with a lyric, a misinterpretation. The term rape wasn’t used. I would never use the term rape in my records. As far as my camp, hip-hop don’t condone that, the streets don’t condone that, nobody condones that. So I just wanted to reach out to all the queens that’s on my timeline, all the sexy ladies, the beautiful ladies that had been reaching out to me with the misunderstanding. We don’t condone rape and I’m not with that.”
A rep for Def Jam, Ross’ label, said neither the company nor Ross had further comment on the matter.