An earlier version of this article was published at https://phasermagazine.com/main/2019/1/9/why-hip-hop-needs-to-change-its-approach-to-sexual-assault
The recent furore surrounding Hot 97 radio host Ebro Darden’s mild interrogation of Kodak Black, a rapper currently awaiting trial for a sexual assault case, is worrying to say the least. After the #MeToo movement’s attempts to cleanse Hollywood, one might have thought Darden’s stance would have been championed for being ‘woke’ in an era where the US President can (allegedly) pay off a porn star to keep quiet and still stand in front of his supporters like some kind of toupee-wearing god.
But no, if anything the response to the Kodak incident was overwhelmingly hostile towards Darden, with commentators criticising him for making the rapper feel ‘uncomfortable’. Ironic, considering he is being charged with doing things to someone which will have made them feel just a tad worse than ‘uncomfortable’. I get the whole innocent until proven guilty approach, because it is important to remember that the charges may indeed be shown to be false, and the media are right to avoid jumping the gun and producing another Cliff Richard smear debacle. But there is a difference between suspending judgment, and turning in the opposite direction and assuming that the accuser is lying. Chance the Rapper recently spoke out saying that he regretted working with R. Kelly, who has been the subject of a recent documentary reaffirming numerous allegations of sexual assault involving women and teenage girls. Chance admitted that he ignored the accusations because of the R&B singer’s celebrity, and had presumed the women were merely seeking publicity. It is just as dangerous to adopt this kind of attitude, as it is to adopt the mentality that Kodak Black is definitely guilty.
Of course, when celebrities are involved it has been known for sexual assault allegations to have been proven false, and submitted merely with the intention of getting in the papers. However, the truth is that this is usually not the case. The FBI puts the number of ‘unfounded’ rapes, i.e. those found to be false, at 8%. When you consider that the US Bureau of Justice estimates that only 35% of all sexual assaults are actually reported to the police, this figure becomes even more significant. Some cases will be submitted purely for publicity, and there are no statistics specifically in relation to sexual assault charges involving celebrities. But at the end of the day these rappers and singers are role models to a tremendous amount of people, so we surely have to treat their allegations with only the same amount of scepticism as we would a case involving the average Joe. Otherwise, if our immediate reaction to a sexual assault charge against a celebrity is ‘They’re probably lying’, then this will inevitably translate into our treatment of normal cases.
Ebro is 100% right for not merely sweeping the Kodak issue under the carpet. People should be aware that the man being interviewed is being tried for sexual assault, rather than simply ignoring the case and promoting the rapper’s new album like everything is hunky dory. People tend to get on their high horses at this point in the debate, arguing that if we refrain from listening to certain artists simply because of their private lives, then we are on a slippery slope to censoring art in general. They claim art should be treated as amoral.
But it is not about censoring music, it is about giving people who may be tempted to listen to Kodak Black the relevant information, which they can then choose to use as they wish. Many may be aware of his trial, but don’t believe music and the artist should be linked so concretely, with the credited artist not even being the main contributor to many songs that will have involved writing teams, producers, mixers, etc. Others, though, will undoubtedly choose to avoid buying a record that is linked so heavily with a potential sexual offender.
The problem runs deeper when the artist has already been shown to be guilty. My friend recently recommended an Xxxtentacion song to me, saying how beautiful the music is. But she wasn’t aware of his history of quite horrific domestic abuse, involving battery of a pregnant woman and attempted strangulation, and when she was made aware of this, she was shocked, and felt guilty for listening to his music. But the guilt should not lie with the listeners, for everyone is of course entitled to endorse whichever music they please. The issue is that she wasn’t even aware of his history, due to the overwhelmingly positive publicity the rapper has received after his passing. It is virtually impossible to listen to an Apple Music or Spotify Hip Hop playlist without almost accidentally listening to Xxxtentacion or 6ix9ine, the former of whom has been recorded admitting to his crimes, and the latter of whom has already been charged for sexual misconduct. Morality is treated as such a malleable concept in the modern era, with the increasing popularity of cultural relativism as a philosophical worldview, and I am not suggesting we start telling people not to listen to certain music and ranking some songs as morally superior to others. The point is that sexual crimes should not be glossed over simply because a rapper is popular. Hip Hop needs its own #MeToo movement.
For too long casual sexism has been an inherent part of rap music, with people like myself ignoring it with the justification that a lot of rap lyrics are purely fictional, written with the intention of fulfilling the gang-member, drug-dealer stereotype. But while Film is clearly making the effort to give women the respect they deserve, Hip Hop is flailing way behind.
People should be free to listen to these artists if they choose to. But in my view, their music should not be actively endorsed in the way it has been, simply to increase revenue for streaming services and record labels, in the process ignoring their sexual misconduct cases. At the moment, it is harder to avoid these artists than it is to listen to their music. Over the past couple of years Hip Hop has become a burgeoning feature in the charts, and I am as happy as anyone about this. However, it is crucial that the flourishing of this overwhelmingly male-dominated genre is not accompanied by the undoing of the positive steps made by numerous powerful female chart presences, such as Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Little Mix, and Jess Glynne to name a few.
The Hot 97 backlash is the last thing that Hip Hop needs. The genre needs to start showing more respect to victims of sexual assault, just as Ebro was trying to do in his Kodak interview. If you ask me, Hip Hop needs to start showing more respect to women in general - we need fewer songs objectifying women, and more songs made in the ilk of Lil Yachty’s ‘Worth It’, for example, which subverts this culture in his tackling of the issue of body image:
“I love you for who you are,
God don't mess up at all,
Even when he make us with flaws”
This attitude should be standard, rather than the exception.
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?