Kodak Black’s Disastrous Hot 97 Interview Shows Why Journalists Need To Hold Artists Accountable

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“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.