A lot has happened in Hollywood these last few months, to put it lightly. A sea of sexual harassment accusations has rained upon powerful men in the industry, from Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, to Louis C.K. and more recently, Matt Lauer. It’s both heartbreaking to hear what victims have had to endure, and empowering to witness the bravery of those speaking out, and the careers of terrible individuals ending. But as these men are facing consequences and being shunned, it made me wonder about the hip-hop world and why people still support rappers like XXXTentacion and Kodak Black.
Both artists have been accused of assault against women, yet both have seen their careers take off these past few years. Last October, Florida rapper XXXTentacion (real name Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy) was charged with “aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness-tampering,” according to Pitchfork. The alleged victim says he hurt her so bad at one point, “her left eye was completely shut and ‘leaking blood.’” However, he hasn’t been convicted and will face trial Dec. 15.
This October, fellow rising Florida rapper Kodak Black (born Dieuson Octave) was indicted by a grand jury on charges of “first degree criminal sexual conduct,” for allegedly sexually assaulting a teenage girl in February 2016. The warrant, released last November, says Black, then 18 years old, forced the victim into bed and “attacked her orally and then penetrated her … [she] repeatedly told the defendant no and to stop. The defendant did not stop.” It also states that a sexual assault kit confirmed the woman’s injuries. Currently there is no word on when a trial date will be.
The accusations are harrowing enough, but also disturbing is X’s response to them. Beyond just denial, in August, when critics like comedian Eric Andre called his behavior out on Twitter, the 19-year-old rapper fired back in a since-deleted tweet: “I’m not scared to fuck your underaged sister in her throat though.” Then in September, X released a series of Instagram Stories, one in which he says, “Everybody that called me a domestic abuser, I’m finna domestically abuse y’all little sister pu**y from the back.”
Although Black hasn’t made comparably explicit comments regarding accusations against him, his attitude toward women is still extremely reprehensible. The rapper got into hot water this summer for saying he didn’t like dark-skinned women, because that complexion is “too gutter,” and those types of women are “too tough.” He prefers light-skinned women since he “can break them down more easy.”
WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
A lot of people have rightfully called attention to these rappers’ behavior and made excellent points about how being talented is not enough to make up for a person’s wrongdoings. As Uproxx’s Aaron Williams says, when you support these artists, you’re basically telling victims of abuse: “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.”
I wholeheartedly agree with what has already been said; the only other thing I want to point out is how important language is when talking about problematic individuals, and how it can be a form of complicity. In the past, both in real life and on other platforms, I’ve heard people brush off R. Kelly’s many alleged incidents of abuse by describing him as an eccentric genius, or treat him like an amusing persona — hell, Aziz Ansari did a whole stand-up bit about it, which really only made Kelly come off as an endearing, “brilliant R&B singer and crazy person,” rather than as a colossal pervert.
Tons of people knew about his sketchy actions, and brushed them off and continued to bop along to “Ignition (Remix).” Similarly, I’ve seen X and Black described as “polarizing” and “controversial,” by individuals and outlets who continue to feature their music and give them support, as if they’ve done their job by acknowledging allegations. Actually, that is the wimpiest move because you are doing the bare minimum to acknowledge something while taking no action to hold that person accountable. You are complicit in letting their careers prosper and allowing them to spread their misogyny further.
In fact, X and Black’s careers have skyrocketed following their arrests. Four months after X was arrested, his breakout hit “Look at Me” launched at No. 95 on Billboard’s Hot 100, his SoundCloud followers reached 1.4 million and on Sept 3., his first album “17” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. He even made the XXL Freshman Class of 2017, and has worked with artists like Juicy J, Mac Miller and even Noah Cyrus. Meanwhile, the alleged victim has received waves of abuse from X fans on social media, getting comments like she “prolly deserved it” and “IMMA LAUGH WHEN HES FREED AND STUNTS ON YOU,” Pitchfork also reported.
And while Black was on house arrest awaiting trial, fans and musical peers alike spread #FreeKodak all across social media, with rapper Future tweeting “Keep ya head up KODAK BLACK” on Nov. 29, 2016. And this June, Black’s singles “Tunnel Vision” and “No Flockin” went platinum, with the music video for the latter hitting more than 120 million views as of publishing this post. He’s also scored a slew of high-profile collaborators like Lil Wayne, 6LACK and Dreezy.
EVERYBODY KEEP IT GOING
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Now we’ve ignited a national conversation about sexual abuse in the entertainment world, and while doing that, we can also turn our attention to misconduct in the hip-hop field and not give anyone passes. Although X and Black haven’t been convicted, and it’s just one woman in each case, let’s not forget the myriad of cases coming to light this year that shows there’s an epidemic of men abusing their power and mistreating women and sometimes other men. Victims risk losing their careers and reputations by speaking out, and so many struggle internally about coming forward. Incidents of accusers lying do happen, but some people act like speaking out is such a casual thing to do, when in reality it can be the hardest thing a person faces.
And even if X or Black didn’t do the things they’re accused of, their other attitudes toward women are deeply disturbing. It is unacceptable for X to treat sexual abuse like something funny, and joke about violating underage girls. And Black’s dismissal of dark-skinned women adds to the painful reality of colorism and exclusion that makes women feel less than for being themselves. Do you really want to support artists who have such little respect for women or the idea of consent?
Women shouldn’t feel obligated or pressured to call their attackers out, of course, and people aren’t responsible for the rappers’ actions, but you can still take steps to stop supporting terrible human beings. If you find out an artist has exhibited deeply misogynistic (or otherwise despicable) behavior, stop buying their albums, streaming their music, going to their concerts and like DJBooth did, stop reviewing their music. Tell people around you about their wrongdoings. Don’t couch bad behavior in language that softens the blow like simply calling problematic artists “polarizing.” It’s wrong to put famous abusers like R. Kelly on pedestals because it makes them feel like their talent gives them a pass, it makes victims feel like their pain is insignificant and it lets other people think they can do bad things if they are talented and famous.
We’re going through a watershed moment in Hollywood, let’s continue it in the music world. Stop supporting XXXTentacion and Kodak Black and allowing them to misuse their clout and mistreat women. Equal treatment and respecting human rights matter more than any hit song or movie could ever mean.