Why Does the Industry Continue to Support Artists Who Have Done Terrible Things?
Months ago, the film industry was shaken by the brave women behind the #MeToo movement. The general public became more aware of the misogynistic behavior that occurs behind the scenes, and the careers of Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, and other offenders ultimately suffered.
While it’s great that many people finally feel brave enough to speak out, it’s surprising that the music industry has yet to have its #MeToo movement, especially because many have been vocal about their negative experiences with certain artists and producers.
About two weeks ago, I was excited to hear that rapper Lil Dicky had released a new single. I am huge fan of his music and comedic stylings, and had been waiting for a follow up to his Professional Rapper album. I was a little bit disappointed when I found out that his new single “Freaky Friday” features Chris Brown, and I expressed my disappointment in the form of a tweet, which later went semi-viral.
For hours, Chris Brown fans flooded my mentions and came for my neck, reiterating that “he made a mistake 9 years ago,” “he should be forgiven,” “you’re not perfect either,” and every form of attempted justification one could think of.
Although his infamous domestic violence incident with Rihanna occurred over 9 years ago, he has committed other offences since then. Following a 2011 Good Morning America interview, Chris Brown threw a chair out of a dressing room window. In 2013, he also got into an altercation with singer Frank Ocean, in which Brown called Ocean the f-slur and threatened to shoot him. In 2017, his ex-girlfriend Karrueche Tran was granted a restraining order against him after Tran claimed Brown had previously beaten her and threatened to kill her. For some reason, all of these incidents have been swept under the rug.
Because I am such a big fan of Lil Dicky, I, admittedly, watched the music video for his Chris Brown-assisted “Freaky Friday.” In “Freaky Friday,” Lil Dicky wishes he was “cool” like the other hip-hop artists. Dicky and Brown then wake up the next morning having mysteriously switched brains and bodies. Brown’s history aside, the concept was unique and somewhat humorous. Given that Brown is arguably the most relevant hip-hop artist across all genres, the song’s concept probably wouldn’t have worked with any other hip-hop artist. While pop often crosses over with rhythmic music, there aren’t a lot of mainstream hip-hop artists who can sing and dance like Brown. Could it have worked with Quavo? Maybe. Ty Dolla $ign? Probably not.
Brown is not the only artist with a dark past. In 2016, rapper XXXTentaction was arrested for aggravated battery of a pregnant woman. Currently, he sits at number one on the Billboard 200 with his sophomore album, ?.
Last month, rapper 6ix9ine’s debut album Day69 reached number four on Billboard’s 200, despite 6ix9ine having plead guilty to sexual misconduct with a minor in 2015.
Rapper Tay-K has a long list of legal troubles. He was arrested in 2016 for the murder of Ethan Walker and was a witness to the murder of Sara Mutschlechner earlier that year. In 2017, Tay-K was placed on house arrest and later cut off his ankle monitor to flee to Elizabeth, New Jersey. On the way to Elizabeth, NJ, he physically assaulted a 65-year-old man in a park in Arlington, Texas. Despite Tay-K’s extensive criminal history, his song “The Race” was featured in the season two premiere of FX’s “Atlanta,” has gone on to receive platinum certification, and was named the number one song of 2017 by The Fader magazine.
The question is, why have these artists been able to see such success despite their criminal backgrounds?
The problem isn’t hip-hop culture. There are plenty of hip-hop artists who don’t beat or rape women and don’t murder innocent people. There are also plenty of artists who ask for consent in their songs (e.g. “Booty” by Blac Youngsta). The problem lies within the executives behind the large record labels, who sign these artists as a means of gaining a larger market share.
Once these artists are signed, the label markets them as “cool” or “interesting” new artists, secures them press spots, and allows them to re-tell their story, seemingly making their controversial pasts disappear.
Personally, I make it a point not to stream music by artists who have committed criminal offenses. I don’t go out of my way stream music from XXXTentacion, Kodak Black, 6ix9ine, or anything produced by Dr. Luke. I’ve also purged my music collection of songs by R. Kelly, Chris Brown, and other known offenders. Despite the fact that Tay-K’s “The Race” had received much press coverage last year, I had never heard the song until it was played on the season two premiere of “Atlanta.”
Admittedly, I’m not perfect, and in some cases, do wish I could listen to R. Kelly or Chris Brown’s music without putting any money in their pockets. However, I also believe it’s time to bring attention to artists with both talent and integrity. Instead of listening to artists like XXXTentation or 6ix9ine, why not pay attention to artists like Kyle, Anderson .Paak, or Vince Staples? Also, the talents of female hip-hop artists, like Kamaiyah, Snow tha Product, and SZA often go overlooked.
There are plenty of artists capable of cranking out a rhythmic/urban banger who haven’t committed assault or murder. Those are the artists that the industry needs to bring to the forefront.
Could the music industry be on its way to having its #MeToo moment? With Rihanna’s recent take down of Snapchat, signs are pointing to yes. Also, rapper Cardi B noted in a recent Cosmopolitan interview that video models and strippers deserve to have a voice in the #MeToo movement as well.
Times are changing, slowly but surely. Although the music industry has yet to have its big #MeToo, it is surely on the horizon. However, it is largely up to fans to make changes in their listening habits. As music consumers, we’ve got to stop handing out chart placements and RIAA certifications to artists who don’t deserve these feats. We can do this by refraining from streaming music by abusers, murderers, and sex offenders.
If we all participate in this form of protest, the labels will be forced to pay attention and bring real talent back to the forefront.