“We can be done right here.”
With just those six words, Ebro Darden, host of Hot 97’s popular Ebro In The Morning radio show and one of hip-hop’s most outspoken cultural voices, ignited a firestorm of debate online about his treatment of Wednesday’s guest, the rising Florida rapper, Kodak Black. Ostensibly, Kodak was on the show to discuss his upcoming debut album on Atlantic Records, Dying To Live. However, within just 15 minutes, the topic had shifted, rather uncomfortably, to the sexual assault case hanging over the 21-year-old rapper’s head like the Sword of Damocles.
Kodak stands accused of raping a young woman at a hotel room in 2016 after one of his local concerts. The woman told police that he tore at her clothes, bit her repeatedly, and told her he “couldn’t help himself,” all while she screamed for help. The rapper was arrested, indicted, and recently arraigned on those charges, even as he battled other charges ranging from possession of a firearm to child neglect, and will stand trial in April of next year. If convicted, he could face up to 30 years in prison. Understandably, Kodak chose to take Ebro at his word, abruptly ending the interview and walking out.
Ebro knew the risk of upsetting his interview subject. He should; he’s still a journalist. His job is to interview subjects for their stories, opinions, and information about themselves, and when that conversation gets difficult, artists can always opt out, refusing further access in the future. However, despite his flawed approach, he was right in touching upon the subject of the case. Not just because it’s his job, but because there is a deeper, ethical imperative to hold entertainers accountable for their actions, and more journalists have to step up and ask the tough questions, even when things get uncomfortable or artists threaten to pull access. While he could have gone about it in a more sensitive fashion — and should have, for reasons I’ll get into below — Ebro is an example for the responsibility journalists have to tell as much of the story as we possibly can.
It’s easy to see why some of us don’t. Hip-hop has sort of always had an image problem, but in the last three or four years, it’s gotten as bad as it’s ever been. To some, it appears that the roots of the newly massive problem stem from the rise of so-called Soundcloud rap — or at least, the ability for underground rappers to capture disproportionately huge audiences by simply uploading a few songs and having them go viral. When these local acts blow up, they do so without the previously required years of grooming and development. Sometimes they have no intentions of being famous at all.
Then one day they suddenly are, thrust into a spotlight they’re ill-equipped to handle, often nursing serious trauma that has never been addressed before they hit the hip-hop media circuit. Instead, they find themselves like Kodak Black, suddenly being asked to stand accountable for actions that their surroundings tell them are completely normal and reasonable. It would be overwhelming for anyone, and in an effort to protect their artists, labels, managers, publicists, and corporate partners have gone out of their way to ensure that all coverage is as favorable as possible, scrubbing away at artists’ flaws and quirks that may make them less marketable. Any negative coverage can get access revoked, ensuring that there is a carrot and a stick for any outlet that wishes to use an artists’ buzz to help build its own.
The result has been a seeming deluge of young, unworldly rappers full of pain, anger, and negative coping habits being sheltered from criticism by powers with more profit motive than actual empathy for their issues. Famous Dex,Youngboy NBA, Kodak Black, XXXtentacion, Tekashi 69, and more are all examples of young men who act out their issues of rage and control on women, either via physical battery or through sexual misconduct.
Else we consign the issue to a generational one, many of the rap stars of yesteryear have also been embroiled in recent incidents of accused abuse; Fabolous was accused of knocking girlfriend Emily B’s teeth out and was caught threatening her on camera with a knife, while Kelis recently revealed that her relationship with rap legend Nas was rife with instances of physical abuse.
And while the ultimate solution to these issues is likely counseling, Uproxx writer Andre Gee once pointed out, the first step toward any sort of resolution is to hold these artists accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, they often live in industry-created bubbles designed to protect them from critique. Peers and fans often step in and fill the gap, shouting down any possible dissent. That’s why it’s up to the journalists who are the still an important piece of these entertainers’ publicity to ensure that their profiles and interviews aren’t all glowing recommendations of these artists. I’ve written before about rappers’ positions of influence as role models — whether voluntary or not — so it’s even more important to ensure that the audience understands all of the facts about them.
Of course, that won’t stop some fans from leaping to their heroes’ defense; for a certain type of fan, nothing much will. Within minutes of Hot 97 posting the clip of Kodak sulking out of the interview, Ebro’s account was inundated with indignant Kodak Black supporters who insisted that he was “clout chasing” or only bringing up the case to ensure views for his station’s Youtube video of the interview. For what it’s worth, some of their criticisms were valid; Ebro, long known for his sometimes confrontational stance — especially against younger, newer artists he perceives as “bad for the culture” — could have broached the topic a little more cleanly. Certainly, when Kodak became visibly uncomfortable, Ebro’s follow-up could be seen as an unnecessary goad.
But those fans who believe that interviews should only focus on one aspect of the artist — the music — are dead wrong. Interviews often touch on multiple subjects, including entertainers’ personal lives, relationships with other artists, and yes, their legal issues. This isn’t just good journalism; it’s finding out what makes the artists tick, knowing that life informs art. The adulation comes with criticism; it’s a package deal. In the words of one such entertainer, “If you open up that can of worms, hope you ready for the dirt that’s with it.” Scrutiny is not unavoidable, and what’s more, rappers who use their privilege as entertainers to avoid punishment and accountability for their actions mustn’t be allowed to forget the real world consequences of those actions. Entertainers should absolutely be made uncomfortable, as often as possible, when any portion of their notoriety comes from harming women.
When the subject came up, one thing Kodak says in the interview is: “ya’ll be entertained by bullsh*t,” and he isn’t wrong. America loves to build up flawed heroes in order to watch as their flaws ultimately tear them down — especially young, Black, heroes from impoverished circumstances with broken social skills from a life of hardships in a screwed-up environment. But ignoring those flaws isn’t a solution, because for every famous rapper who gets to glide through life untouched by said bullsh*t, there are victims who have to live with the traumas and injuries inflicted on them by those rappers. They deserve as much consideration as the rappers who clawed their way out of poverty, violence, and limited opportunity, because they’ve often done the same thing without the benefit of a label advance and a publicist who makes sure people only write nice things about them.
If Ebro’s approach was too harsh, guess what: Allegedly, so was Kodak Black’s. The only way to get this new crop of troubled young men to get the help they need is by getting them to acknowledge and truly face the real-world implications of their abuse, because prison isn’t a solution either. Kodak has been in and out of detention since he was 14 years old, and the only effect its had is to distance him from the sort of empathy he would need to understand the harm he’s caused and make amends. He could spend the rest of his life behind bars, but that doesn’t help the next kid, or the next. If labels, managers, publicists, fans, friends, or family won’t say what needs to be said, then journalists must. Fame shouldn’t be a free pass, but it is powerful. If power corrupts, those in power must always be held accountable.
Kodak Black is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.