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.
Originally posted on Sosmusicmedia.com
Name: Maxim Mower
Artist: Jess Glynne
Song Title: Thursday
Song Link (YouTube/Soundcloud): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0v30jKH958
Issue: Body Image
“Sometimes I'm shy and I'm anxious
Sometimes I'm down on my knees
Sometimes I try to embrace all my insecurities
So I won't wear makeup on Thursday
'Cause who I am is enough”
Where’s the Meaning?
In this song, Jess Glynne walks us through her inhibitions, before closing the verse with a positive, uplifting statement of intent, proudly singing that she “won’t wear makeup on Thursday” in a rebuttal of her fears and society’s expectations of her. Notably, she conveys how she is desperately trying to ‘embrace all my insecurities’, rather than attempting to cover them up and hide them from the world. This sense of determination is even more rousing, because its optimism starkly contrasts with the worries of the preceding lines. In these Glynne acknowledges and reveals the severity of her struggles regarding other people’s perceptions of her. Powerfully voicing her resolution to forego make-up on Thursday suggests that the aforementioned insecurities (“Sometimes I’m shy and I’m anxious/Sometimes I’m down on my knees”) stem from a lack of body image confidence.
Struggles with body image and it’s most potent form, Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), are increasingly prevalent today, perpetrated and exacerbated by social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, the culture of which puts pressure on women in particular, but also men to an extent, to look a certain way. The widespread use of Photoshop and other photo-editing tools by celebrities, influencers, and general users alike encourages fans, followers and friends to aspire to unrealistic and unattainable body goals.
The final, triumphant line (“‘Cause who I am is enough”) reminds us that the basic purpose of make-up is to cover up imperfections that we don’t want other people to see. Jess Glynne rejects this, arguing instead that we should embrace people’s imperfections and put less strain on people (young women especially) to fit into a mould set for them by society.
Her compelling use of the word ‘enough’, rather than something stronger, such as ‘beautiful’, or even ‘perfect’, impresses upon listeners that we shouldn’t be aiming at traditional, outdated body image standards. We should just be us, as imperfect as that might be, and refrain from passing any judgments or classifications on how people appear, or indeed, should appear.
Lyric of the Week - Kenny Chesney, ‘Get Along
He said all your really given is the sunshine and your name
Chesney’s knack for storytelling is once again highlighted, as he recounts a tale of a religious man giving him some rather deep advice. The song is of course all about the mantra of getting on with those around you (spoiler alert in the title), with a very unsubtly cloaked reference to the Christian principle of ‘Love thy neighbour’. While I appreciate the message, it is easy for songs like this to come across as overly preachy and self-righteous. But that is why I love these two lines, because they add a touch of self-deprecating humour, as Chesney recalls the profound teaching that fundamentally all we have is ‘the sunshine and our name’, but then as the singer is pondering this it ironically starts to rain. Key lesson to be learnt? Apparently you do need to take an umbrella on that summer Nashville trip you’ve been planning after all. Seriously though, as you well know, over at Maximoco HQ we hate too much seriousness, but we are suckers for a good, loving message - so that’s why these lyrics were bound to be a hit with us.
Album Art of the Week - Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
Now, I’m a big fan of bright colours, and I’m not a big fan of rock music. So as I’m staring at this entirely black-and-white, murky album cover from a rock band, part of me wonders what I was thinking choosing this for Album Art of the Week. But for some reason, the image just looks awesome to me - I love the office-style cut-and-paste juxtaposition with the scenes of nature, and the man walking into the ‘eye’ of the storm (quite literally) creates a very ominous vibe. The writing in the bottom left-hand corner adds to the overall mystery, making this look like a poster for an upcoming horror movie, and certainly has a voyage into the unknown feel about it. Just lost out to ‘Performance’ by White Denim.
Title of the Week - ‘you should see me in a crown’, Billie Eilish
Inspired by the famous Moriaty line from BBC’s Sherlock, “In a world of locked rooms, the man with the key is king. And honey, you should see me in a crown.” This song screams confidence compacted into a sassy, pithy punchline. Also poignant because the original quote is about ‘the man’, while Billie switches this to be about herself in an empowering move. And if you’re wondering whether the standard of this blog’s spellchecking is slacking, Billie brands all her song titles without any capitals. Travis Scott did it first. Just saying.
Music Video of the Week - ‘One Day’, Logic ft. Ryan Tedder
To be honest, I started watching this with a sceptical eye. Logic already played the humanitarian card last year with his National Suicide Prevention hit single ‘1-800-273-8255'. ‘One Day’ dropped out of the blue, following a very thuggish Bobby Tarantino mixtape, and handily just in time for the VMAs. Logic performed, of course, and while it was moving it was also in danger of coming across as an attempt to jump on the anti-Trump bandwagon, and using the well-publicised border crisis to fuel another surge up the charts. But whatever your feelings about the actual track, or his VMA’s performance, the music video is undoubtedly poignant and well-constructed. It begins as expected, with a dramatisation of the separation of a family trying to cross into the USA, and then we fast forward to follow the lives of one of the children who has been separated and given a new home, as well as a boy who grows up to become a neo-Nazi. The plot line is a little convoluted at times, but the conclusion more than makes up for this. The message is one that is very relevant to our times, and you can be as mistrusting of Logic’s motives as you like, and I don’t even really like the song, but viewed as an isolated piece of art, this music video is incredibly inspiring and captures what it is trying to communicate perfectly.
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
LYRIC OF THE WEEK
Paranoid, Post Malone -
“Killing myself just to make me a life”
If you had to sum up the modern Western mentality, this is it. We work ourselves into the ground, ruining our health by getting so stressed about deadlines and being productive, and then we use the money we make from our job to try and get our health back. It is an illogical cycle, but one that is hard not to succumb to. So take Malone’s word of warning - yes, plan for the future, and yes, be dedicated to whatever you pursue. But remember that money isn’t everything - family, health and love is.
SONGTITLE OF THE WEEK
Love is still the answer, Jason Mraz
Ok, so clearly this week we’re all about that ‘peace and love, man’. However, I like this title not only because it’s advocating love being the most important thing in life, which it undoubtedly is, and that it is the best way to fight negativity. This is an awesome message, but not that original in today’s music - what I found most interesting is the ‘still’. It touches on how, in this world that everyone keeps telling us is the worst the human race has ever lived in, it is easy to start reciprocating the hate around us with more hate. We naturally feed off the energy other people emanate, but what Mraz is suggesting is that we still meet hate with love - even though in this day and age the temptation to do otherwise will be stronger than ever. Create your own energy.
And if you’re starting to fear that the Maximoco Review is becoming too deep, find reassurance in the fact that I nearly chose Travis Scott’s ‘ASTROTHUNDER’ instead of ‘Love is still the answer’ - for no other reason than I think ‘Astrothunder’ is a really cool word.
ALBUM COVER OF THE WEEK
Side Effects, The Chainsmokers ft. Emily Warren
I’ll be honest with you, I’m not quite sure what this polycephalic tiger is supposed to symbolise. Maybe it’s the head and heart battling against each other, maybe it’s the two lovers being one but fighting against the feeling. I don’t know, but what I do know is I love this drawing. It reminds me of those old-fashioned picture books my grandparents had passed down to my parents, where the art was all very detailed and ornate. Relevant or not, this album cover gave me a Madeleine Moment for my childhood, so this is why it’s tops my list this week.
MUSIC VIDEO OF THE WEEK
In My Feelings, Drake -
Hold on, hold on, before you criticise my choice, I know it’s not that good a song. And I know it’s only famous because of Shiggy’s dance, and Drake is exploiting this by having him in the video. BUT! As manufactured as it might be, it is still very funny. I know it can be corny at times, but I don’t think Drake’s a terrible actor, and I love that he doesn’t take himself too seriously when he tries to make a cheesy meme-fuelled song into a Romeo and Juliet style love story.
Any choices that we missed out? Which would you have gone for?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Okay, let’s get this straight.
Nicki Minaj is not just famous because she is a female rapper, or because she was the first female rapper to really take the industry by storm. She is also not just famous because of her often outrageous fashion sense, and the obvious sex appeal this promotes.
It is a discredit to suggest that these alone have propelled her to stardom - they would have made her a flash in the pan. What has ensured her longevity is her undoubted skill as an artist. She can go bar to bar with just about anyone else in the game, she has hooks that wriggle themselves into your head and don’t remove themselves in a hurry, and she has undoubted charisma.
Also, in my opinion, her verse on Kanye’s ‘Monster’ is the best rap verse of the modern era, if not of all time. Sue me.
But she also has a much greater social role to play, and one which, judging from her recent Beats 1 interview with Zane Lowe, she is very aware of. “There are songs on the album that I feel woman really need right now,” with a message of female empowerment even more relevant amidst the rise of conservatism that has paralleled the ascent of President Trump.
Perhaps the pivotal track is the one that has stirred up the most controversy, ‘Barbie Dreams’, on which Nicki hilariously lists all the rappers that want to sleep with her and why she always refuses their advances. The song ironically inverts a sample from Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘Just Playing (Dreams)’, which consists of him going through all the female R&B singers he’s attracted to. Nicki toys with Drake before dismissing him for being too emotional, claims the monocular Fetty Was has his eye (get it?) on her, and calls out her ex Meek Mill for still pervading her DMs. She is tempted by Young Thug, who famously broke gender stereotypes by wearing women’s clothes on the cover of his 2017 project JEFFERY, but then jokingly raps that she was turned off when she found him stealing her dresses.
This song epitomises what we need more of in 2018 - a woman’s voice in Hip Hop, and good, light-hearted fun. Many were shocked by ‘Barbie Dreams’, thinking it to be a diss track directed towards the various rappers referenced. But this is symptomatic of the problem - artists with their constant introspection and profound musings can end up taking themselves too seriously (rather like I do as a philosophy student, mind you), and here Nicki provides some refreshing relief from this.
For too long in the past women who like Hip Hop have had to endure the constant belittling, objectifying and macho domineering that underlies most of the songs atop the genre, which sound as though they are exclusively directed towards a male audience, even if this is not the intention. Nicki Minaj is a role model, someone who embodies the confidence, fearlessness and self-belief that regular Hip Hop can often detract from.
On her new album, Queen, she fires innumerable warning shots at her ex, but it comes across as strong rather than bitter, resurgent rather than regretful. The focus is very much on her, and her life, not on those who haven’t been able to keep up with her. And she has fun doing it, with the project peppered with entertaining, tongue-in-cheek punchlines, whilst never losing sight of the album’s defiant cri-de-coeur - "Who the f*** you thought you was, tryna stunt on Nick?”
In the strategic chess-board of Hip Hop, the likes of Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West still frantically vie for the throne, but too long have the eyes been trained on the King.
For everyone knows the Queen is the most important player.
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
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?