Minutes after the online release of the Nigerian version of Rick Ross’ “Hold me Back” video, Nigerians on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have since rained curses and insults on the rapper for his audacity at showing Nigeria in its poorest and most ghetto form. The video starts with commentary about the Biafra war and then launches into a series of clips shot at different poor areas of Lagos State with scores of Nigerians chanting along the chorus with him. There is even a clip of Rick Ross handing dollar bills to poor children who race through the dirty slum waters to grab a note as he races off in his speed boat. If you haven’t watched the video, you can watch it here.
Now if you are in the aid and development circuit, some might classify the video as “poverty porn.” The development blog, Aid Thoughts succinctly describes the phenomenon in its piece, What is ‘poverty porn’ and why does it matter for development? when it described it as:
any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause. Poverty porn is typically associated with black, poverty-stricken Africans, but can be found elsewhere. The subjects are overwhelming children, with the material usually characterized by images or descriptions of suffering, malnourished or otherwise helpless persons. The stereotype of poverty porn is the African child with a swollen belly, staring blankly into the camera, waiting for salvation.
More succinctly, poverty porn is oft described as the “glamourization of poverty” or even its celebration as some sort of “rebellious anti-authoritarian lifestyle.”
Whatever Rick Ross’ intention was shooting that video, Nigerians are livid. A casual glance at the hundreds of comments currently accumulating under the video on YouTube is testament to the sentiments of majority of Nigerians online
– Rick Ross is a hot mess
– Rick Ross is just trying to paint a negative picture about Nigeria. We’re not monkeys over here.
– Do you think tourists would ever think of going to Nigeria if Rick Ross keeps deceiving the world with a horrible video like this? This video is giving Nigeria a bad image.
Interestingly, Rick Ross had earlier shot a similarly ghetto-esque version of this same video in New Orleans in the United States depicting ghetto life and the struggles of the poor. Perhaps his sentiments behind shooting that version of the video gives one a glimpse of what he had in mind with the Nigerian version. In an interview with MTV earlier this year, he had this to say:
“We went to New Orleans to capture that essence. I feel like New Orleans been through it a lot, more than the majority of others, and they’re still strong, they’re still standing, they still got that pride.
Aside from a ban from BET for “being too real” the New Orlean version of the video mostly got good reviews.
Why all the negative sentiments from Nigerians for the video’s Nigerian version?
What Rick Ross’ “Hold me back” video tells the world about Nigerians
Nigerians HATE being depicted as hungry, malnourished, poverty striken and dirt poor even though it is the reality of most Nigerians. (Over 80% by many estimates).
Now by Nigerians of course, we mean wealthy/middle class Nigerians who make up the bulk of those online. They were privileged enough to get an education and live above the poverty that has enslaved most Nigerians. They live in a bubble that knows close to nothing about this Nigeria that Rick Ross speaks about and it is absolutely despicable that he would choose to focus on only this version of Nigeria because it is unrecognizable to them. What of the country’s wealthy areas in many parts of Lagos, or its overpriced hotels and fast rising estates? Or its polished, refined and globally aware party going, Afropolitan elites? Or even just the fact that the nation is private jet loving, with its purported rank as one of its fastest growing markets globally? Or the many things that makes Nigeria Africa’s luxury loving, indulgent and wealthy big brother?
Now imagine some of the kids Rick Ross depicted in the video coming on YouTube to watch the video and seeing the self conscious comments and complaints by Nigerians. They would probably have confused looks on their faces wondering what the fuss is all about especially since the shots he put up were candid and real…or are Nigerians trying to say they don’t want the world to know where they live or what Nigerian slums look like even though that’s where most people live?
Of course, Rick Ross is advertently/inadvertently awakening already held stereotypes about many African countries as war torn and hunger stricken but what it should remind us is that it isn’t exactly fair as Africans to expect the world to hide the realities African elites find as shameful.
It is true that there are ghettos and slums everywhere in the world but unfortunately most of the continent is still degenerate – slum life is not a minority problem but a majority problem. Thankfully, with rising economic fundamentals in many African economies, this reality is changing – NIgeria is leading this reality with its ever accelerating GDP growth numbers but is the wealth circulating fast enough to reduce slum life and poverty so that it is no longer the reality of majority of Nigerians?
Perhaps what Nigerians should work towards is not covering up their shame but embracing the nation in all its contradictory glory. While Rick Ross glamourizes poverty in Nigeria maybe most Nigerian artistes can for a start abandon foreign locations and shoot the glamorous shots Nigerians speak about at home as a start — or will the shots not be glamorous enough by global standards?
Let us all tell ourselves some hard truths and instead of being ashamed and insecure work towards building a continent we can all be proud of. Only then will videos like Rick Ross’ Hold me back not matter…