That time Rick Ross filmed a music video in a Lagos slum

American rapper (and music executive) Rick Ross shot the latest version of the music video for his “Hold me Back” song mostly in Obalende, a poor section of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

The video — which resembles the travel diaries usually shot by rappers on tour — is a strange mix of images and ideas over a nonsensical rap. Shot in black and white, it opens with grainy late 1960s footage from a US television news show of the Biafran War in which a general of the Nigerian Federal Government declares himself pleased with the war’s outcome. It then cuts to a series of disconnected images (Nigerians in a mosque, goats, expensive wrist watches, children crying, a man washing his feet, theater performers on a boat, Ross handing out money to children, more poverty, etcetera) while shirtless Ross raps obscenities (“Niggas” and “bitch” feature heavily). Ross declares that Lagos “holds me back.” The music video ends with grainy images of the Nigerian national football team’s greatest moments — in the 1994 World Cup in the United States and the 1996 Gold Medal performance against Argentina in the Olympic final.

Watch it here.

It’s unclear what Ross — who has featured a music video with Nigerian pop stars before and has traveled elsewhere on the continent — or the directors of the video, listed as DRE Films & SpiffTV Films, tried to say with this video. Is it a statement against Igbo claims about the Biafran War in which nearly 3 million people lost their lives? (Boima says he is certain Ross doesn’t really know anything about Biafra.) Or is this about Ross being a fan of soccer now, especially of the Nigerian national team?

What we do know is that Ross shot a previous version of this music video for the song in New Orleans.

Ross’s reason then was that he wanted to show that city’s reality for its poor. (In the New Orleans video at least, one of the extras, a local, complains that the government built some inadequate housing for $2 million.) That version of the video was banned by the American channel BET.

As usual the Internets aren’t very helpful. Most websites, especially music blogs, posted the video with no or minimal context and asked their readers to interpret it. The comments on sites frequented by US rap fans are of especially poor quality. More helpful are those on Nigerian blogs (like Nairaland and Linda Ikeji’s) or tweets by Nigerians on Twitter. The condemnation and praise for Ross is evenly divided. Here are some samples from the 200 odd comments to a post of the video (again, with little interpretation or context) on Linda Ikeji’s blog:

This is SO DISGUSTING, are we at war, why are we portrayed as barbaric. FAT RICK ROSS, go to hell.

look at the dirty area the video was shoot. nawah o. i wonder what will be going through G.O.O.D Music acts mind. Rick ross is wicked for shooting his video in a place like this. Fat Fool

my prayer is that lightening will strike rick ross and hailstones will wipe out his entire family even to generations yet unborn.

Some appreciated Ross’s choice of location:

I felt so sad watching this video!!! Everything wrong with/ in Nigeria was shown!!! Nigeria needs a revolution!!! Am so tired of the suffering pain and injustice…… Kudos to rick Ross for highlighting this and remaining us to act n do something about our country.

So Sad. Nigerian artist need to stand against this humiliation. Does D’banj have the guts to go the dark Brooklyn or Michigan, or even the hoodest downtown Baltimore to go shoot a video. Idiots.

Separately a commenter noted on YouTube (to a version of the video posted on WorldstarHipHop’s account and since removed because of a copyright claim):

I don’t really like Rick Ross, or care for his music. However, I have to give him some credit for doing a video of Nigeria which presents the rugged parts of Nigerian society, without passing judgment on it. I’ve never seen D’Banj or P Square do anything like that (who are indigenous Nigerian artists) – they’re too busy copying US music industry cliches instead … there’s nothing in the video or title which suggests he’s intending to represent the whole of Naija. Nigerians should stop constantly complaining at people who present ‘the bad side’ of Naija, especially if they’ve done nothing to help correct it. If our government, society and economy was competent, then much of these images of poverty wouldn’t exist to be filmed.

The negative reaction against Ross is understandable, though misplaced (and boring). It’s like the cottage industry calling for “positive” news about “Africa” in Western media. But equally problematic are those praising Ross for “exposing” poor conditions in Lagos when all Ross is doing is use Nigeria as a backdrop to make him look hard: “We’re so hard we throw dollar bills off boats to poor kids in Nigeria,” seems what he is trying to say. And the references to the Biafra war and old soccer games are baffling. If he was trying to show how Nigerians are struggling with poverty or resisting their conditions, why not use more recent/relevant images like Occupy Nigeria?

After all this, I still think the best retort to Ross’s various videos for the song, came in the form of comedy:

* Dylan Valley, Boima Tucker, Elliot Ross and Olajumoke Verissimo contributed to this post.

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