At first, I wasn’t going to write about this topic. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say or didn’t want to, and I certainly wasn’t afraid to. It’s just been covered so extensively that I didn’t feel that I could say anything that hasn’t already been said a hundred times.
But it kept bugging me. And I kept struggling with it. Then I realized, I had to write about it, because it needs to be said as often as possible. Talent shouldn’t trump human decency.
Here’s what I mean: Over the last eleven months or so, I’m sure you’ve also noticed a strong uptick in dirtbag behavior catching a pass when it comes to music. Kodak Black, XXXTentacion, Famous Dex, and others have all been accused of, convicted of, and even caught on camera assaulting and/or battering women.
Here’s the thing: This isn’t new. It’s just the latest wave in a cycle that dates all the way back to David Ruffin and James Brown, continued through R. Kelly and Chris Brown, and reflects a greater societal pattern of hand-waving abuse that includes Floyd Mayweather and seemingly half of the NFL.
This isn’t some spiteful diatribe because I dislike these artists’ music; this goes so much deeper than “mumble rap vs. real hip-hop.” This isn’t a debate about quality, it’s a call to action.
Whether or not you think they deserve the attention and accolades they receive musically, the fact remains that they have plenty of fans who respect their craft and enjoy their music. It’s valid art, even if hip-hop’s older generation don’t always get or enjoy the next wave.
Listening to XXXTentacion’s 17 over the weekend, it was very easy for me to recall being a lost, lonely, angry teenager. Kodak Black is an above average lyricist who makes catchy trap tunes in the spirit of an early Gucci Mane, catching listeners off-guard with surprisingly insightful observations and knowing wordplay.
When I caught Famous Dex’s verse on ASAP Ferg’s Still Striving, I was surprised by how much I liked it. When I heard it, I just had to know who the guest rapper was; I was also disappointed by Ferg’s indulgence, especially in light of the recent accusations against ASAP Bari.
However, while there may be value in the art these artists make, that doesn’t mean they automatically deserve our indulgence. We sell ourselves and the artists short by not holding them accountable, but we also fail the victims of their abuse.
They need to be held accountable for two reasons: To keep them from committing these kinds of attacks in the first place, and to show that no one person is above the social contract of human decency, no matter how rich or famous they are.
The problem is, continuing to patronize these artists when their assault of women becomes apparent and well-known is tantamount to approving of the assault as well. There is no “separating the artist from the art.” That’s not how life works, and anyone willing to give five seconds of thought to that lame cop out knows it’s just that.
The artist gets paid from their art. Continuing to support the art, whether directly or indirectly, rewards the artists’ behavior and sends a very straightforward message: No matter what you do, we are willing to give you money, as long as we like you enough.
Think about what that says to the victims of their abuse. To put it into words, it’d be something along the lines of: “You, your pain, your experience, your loss, your humanity matter much less to me, to society, to the world, so long as we can continue to stream Kodak Black and Chris Brown on Spotify.”
Think also about what that says to their fans. Make no mistake, while rap music isn’t the hypnotic, free-will-destroying, devil music some of our parents thought it was, it’s impossible to deny the influence of rappers when you look at pictures from their shows and recognize how many of those kids look, dress, talk, and genuinely want to be like their favorite artists. Teaching them that it’s okay to do whatever you want as long as you’re famous perpetuates a cycle that needs to be broken, now more than ever.
Call these instances of abuse “mistakes” if you want to. After all of Chris Brown’s crocodile tears, where was the change in behavior? Sorry, but I’m not sorry that he doesn’t get brownie points for switching from outright battery of Rihanna to creepy emotional manipulation and online stalking of Karreuche.
Kodak, already on thin ice for demeaning women he deems too close to his own skin color (mind you, after he got out of jail for felony criminal sexual conduct), keeps doing so. XXXTentacion whines online about not being forgiven for his past, then fakes a suicide on Instagram for attention. Famous Dex has never issued an apology for beating his girlfriend in a hotel hallway, instead copping pleas online and fishing for sympathy because he “cut his hand.”
These aren’t mistakes. They are repeated patterns of abuse from angry young men, who have every reason to be, but who lack the emotional tools to handle that anger. They shouldn’t be punished for being angry — but they damn sure shouldn’t be rewarded for inflicting that anger on other people, especially women, who despite many changes in society, are still not as protected, coddled, and supported in the way angry — and rich — young men are. Kodak Black burped his way out of anger management classes, for crying out loud.
Take away your support of these artists. That they make music that’s entertaining or relatable or even technically skillful is no excuse for minimizing and trivializing and low-key condoning abuse — actually, make that high-key.
There are plenty of other rappers and singers to listen to, and the rap world offers plenty of alternatives. If you don’t like Drake, there’s Kendrick. If Big Sean is too cheesy, feel free to listen to Joey Badass. My review of Logic’s Everybody was less than glowing because of how he handled his heritage; my review of Russ’s There’s Really A Wolf was much more positive for the same reason.
Stop giving your money to rappers who openly beat, rape, manipulate, and abuse women. There’s no good excuse for rewarding trash behavior because they pick nice beats and happen to rap well. Human life should be more important than our entertainment, and there are already plenty of options for the latter.