Gen-Z & The Next Generation Of Rap: Continuing Support Of Abusive Men
It’s been fifteen months since the #MeToo movement was re-popularized by Alyssa Milano on Twitter. Since then, charges of sexual assault have led to the firings of Harvey Weinstein from The Weinstein Company, Kevin Spacey from House of Cards, and Charlie Rose from his eponymous PBS show. The wave of support towards women and the condemnation of sexual harassers reached countless industries including education, politics, finance, sports, the military, and the Church. USA Today wrote that sexual harassment had finally become a fireable offense, but this reckoning never reached the music industry, where figures like Antonio “L.A.” Reid or R. Kelly are allowed to prosper even after numerous claims of unlawful harassment, sexual abuse, and domestic assault. This is especially relevant in the hip-hop and rap industries, where the line between braggadocious, exaggerated lyricism and the truth has blurred with few repercussions for even the most heinous offenders. Even those condemned by the courts can remain innocent in the court of public opinion, as listeners continue to rehash the decades-old argument of separating art from the artist.
Domestic abuse specifically has been a problem in rap and hip-hop from their beginnings. Chris Brown remains the quintessential poster child for abusers who are supported by society and allowed to prosper. Chris has been nominated for more than ten Grammy Awards in the years since he assaulted Rihanna after a pre-Grammys party in 2009, complete with photographic evidence and confession of the assault. The NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton includes Dr. Dre‘s alleged assault of Michel’le but conveniently forgets his vicious assault of television host Dee Barnes, which the rapper has apologized for and has come to regret, saying that “any man that puts his hands on a female is a [sic] idiot.” The grandfathers of rap, Biggie Smalls, Tupac, and Nas all faced domestic abuse charges, meanwhile “Hypnotize” has been used to sell Oreos and “California Love” is still bumping everywhere from 1OAK to middle school dances. Eminem released a track in 2017 aggressively apologizing for abusing his ex-wife Kim Scott, which wouldn’t be the first time he has musically commented on the cycle of abuse in his romantic relationships.
Then there’s R. Kelly, who’s a monster on an entirely different level with accusations of sex cults, imprisonment of women, and grooming of minors as ‘sex pets,’ which we might have seen coming if we’d all just been a little more concerned about “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number” in 1994 and a cultural pattern of burying the abuse of black women so we could listen to “Ignition (Remix)” for the fiftieth time. Even the viral documentary detailing R. Kelly’s alleged abuse towards woman only repopularized him, with streams increasing 116% in the days after its release. (Literally, WHAT?!) What all this history shows is that domestic abuse has always been a problem in the genre, especially against women of color. These stars rose during a time before the #MeToo movement, the public testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and a general cultural consensus that we were going to finally start believing women. They also came to prominence in a time before social media was there to put the rich and famous under constant surveillance, making plausible deniability even harder for consumers who would prefer to listen ignorantly.
After the creation of Instagram and Snapchat in the 2010s and the increasing popularity of other social media websites like Twitter and Facebook, there was a new generation of rappers who weren’t associated with any domestic abuse charges. Drake may be the musical predecessor to XXXTentacion’s sad boy flow, but while Aubrey Graham might have gotten a porn star pregnant, he’s the musical opposite of the violent misogyny associated with his genre’s forefathers and the generation that would succeed him. Travis Scott, Future, Chance the Rapper, and Mac Miller made it to the top while respecting women in their personal lives, and J. Cole has said he won’t associate with people who hit women. Abuse was proven to not be a pre-requisite for fame in the modern rap and hip-hop industries, and the threat of being caught through constant surveillance via social media may have given even ‘harder’ rappers some pause before bragging about crimes against women. This generation of musicians wasn’t perfect — A$AP Rocky supported multiple artists accused of domestic violence, Quavo and Offset have both had their run-ins with law enforcement, old-soul Kendrick Lamar supported X during his horrible controversies, Drake suspiciously reconciled with Chris Brown after he and Rihanna split for good, and Young Thug was booked for intent to sell meth, but these offenses pale in comparison to the mess that was yet to come and the violence perpetrated by those who came before them.
Now, as Gen Z creeps towards adulthood, there’s an entirely new group of fledgling rappers who are regressing back into worsening patterns of abuse against women, even while other industries are pivoting away from the idolization (or, even, ignorance) of misogyny and assault. Media psychiatrist and domestic violence expert Dr. Carole Liberman traces the celebration of domestic violence in current rap to the general concept that ‘violence sells’ and a rebellion against the rise in feminism as these artists see feminist movements as “an attempt to control and emasculate them.”
Lesser names like YoungBoy NBA and Famous Dex gained ground even after both rappers were caught on camera allegedly beating their girlfriends, and XXL’s Freshmen List has included at least four rappers accused of major battery charges against women in the past three years. Trippie Redd allegedly pistol-whipped a woman, A$AP Bari had broken out as a solo artist last year even after a video emerged of him pulling a naked woman into a room while threatening to rape her, and even the corny rapper Lil Pump is trying to legitimize himself by bragging about beating up a girl in the seventh grade. His music isn’t particularly good, but people still look past him glorifying abuse in the same way they look past minor gaffes, like Lil Xan hating on Tupac or Post Malone generally disrespecting the genre, his fans, and his own music.
Setting aside his recent racketeering arrest, Tekashi 6ix9ine essentially distributed child pornography and pled guilty to three counts of sexual misconduct with a thirteen-year-old girl, but people will defend his involvement in the incident while we’re supposed to believe his claims that he couldn’t tell the difference between a pre-pubescent teen and an adult woman. The same apathy is extended to artists like Kodak Black, who was accused of viciously raping a woman as she screamed for help four months before being included in the XXL‘s Freshman Class and one year before reaching number three on the Billboard 200. His arrest relating to that very graphic sexual battery charge spawned the #FreeKodak campaign, bringing with it a complicated commentary on the criminal justice system’s bias against black men, society’s erasure of black women, and questions as to whether freedom from punishment should also mean freedom from accountability, an issue explored in more depth by Noisey.
The best example of problems arising through this new wave of artists and their fanbases is XXXTentacion. If you’re unfamiliar with the specifics of the domestic abuse charges filed by his ex-girlfriend Geneva Ayala, I suggest you take a moment to read the horrifying report published by the Miami New Times. In what is described as “unrelenting, torturous domestic abuse” that the rapper admitted to on a recording posthumously released by XXL in 2018, X’s abuse borders on psychopathy, but fans still voraciously defend X against detractors. This man who once beat his cellmate and smeared his blood across his face in a display of blatant homophobia and who allegedly beat his pregnant girlfriend until he fractured her eye socket in two places has been turned into rap’s new martyr. The Atlantic drew connections between X and his idol Kurt Cobain, a self-destructive depressive whose great love story lead to the vilification of Courtney Love.
X’s story of glorifying abusers isn’t one confined to rap music. John Lennon hit women. Jimmy Page had a years-long sexual relationship with a minor. Rick James held a 24-year-old hostage for days before kidnapping another woman and beating her during a twenty hour period. The difference here is that accounts of such a drastic and violent nature related to newer artists are now almost exclusively being brought to light within the hip-hop community, and while the last generation of rappers learned to be cautious with the rise of social media, the rappers who were born surrounded by it apathetically use it to document their worst crimes. Vulture suggested this may be due to a fundamental misunderstanding of rap music among its younger listeners, comparing this new wave of rap violence to nu-metal, which kept the aggression of rap music without acknowledging the place of disenfranchisement and cultural unrest that created the basis for its vitriol. Many of X’s fans were youths with mental issues who could relate to his own mental illness but hadn’t yet developed the emotional resources to understand that mental illness shouldn’t be used as a justification for abusive behavior. Those same fans are the one who will defend his actions and attack his detractors in cold blood, rebels without causes echoing the disenfranchisement of otherized people in their violent actions but not in their rooted intentions. Even worse, according to the Atlantic, a lot of these fans grew up surrounded by so much misogyny that they just don’t believe women. When searching for a singular answer to why our culture is still supporting domestic abusers in rap, the Guardian put it well: “a teenaged mixture of sorrow, denial, vulnerability, brutishness and shocking callousness.” That, and talent.
X’s album ? is remarkable. That has never been contested in the think pieces and news reports detailing his crimes and exploring the origins of his cult of personality. The question is how a remarkable album has become enough to soften the blow of reports of remarkable crimes against women. Many teens may not have the compassion to understand the implications of their support of artists like XXXTentacion, but grown artists currently supporting X need to ask if they really want men who committed heinous crimes to be representing their industry moving forward or to be the paradigm for their exhaustion over the prison industrial system. Plausible deniability isn’t an ignorant comfort we’re allowed in the age of digital media, and it’s time to retire arguments about moral absolutism or separating art from its artist.