If the Artist is Trash, So is the Art

This article discusses sexual assualt and domestic violence.

The year 2017 saw a remarkably quick rise to fame for underground rapper XXXTentacion. Known for his warped lo-fi sound, XXXTentacion has been the subject of critical acclaim and increasing fan devotion over the past year. His SoundCloud followers have skyrocketed from 20,000 to 1.29 million, and he has over 15 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Last month his debut album “17” premiered at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Oh, and one more thing – in October 2016, he was arrested and charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness-tampering. A trial is set to begin next month.

On Sept. 8, the popular music magazine Pitchfork released details from the deposition of XXXTentacion’s ex-girlfriend, in which she describes disturbing acts of domestic violence that he committed while the two were in a relationship. The article has caused many people to speak out in criticism of the rapper.

However, this news is not new. These charges have been public information for months, but they haven’t hindered XXXTentacion from ‘blowing up’ in the public eye. It should not have taken a gruesome testimony to make people care about XXXTentacion’s abuse.

Although the latest details have caused public opinion to shift, the rapper’s monthly Spotify listeners have only continued to grow. Many of his Twitter fans have continued to support him.

The public’s apathy toward the XXXTentacion case is only one example in the long history of the music industry’s – and society’s – tolerance of abusers.

In November 2016, rapper Kodak Black was arrested for sexual battery. Instead of shunning him, Twitter took to the hashtag #FreeKodak. Earlier this year, his latest mixtape “Project Baby 2” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.  

In July 2017, BuzzFeed published an article with allegations that R&B singer R. Kelly was holding young women against their will in a “sex cult.” Even without this recent development, the singer has faced a multitude of previous sexual assault and harassment charges. Furthermore, in 1994, R. Kelly married 15-year-old singer Aaliyah. He was 27.

Current musicians are not the only culprits of sexual misconduct. David Bowie, Jimmy Page, and many other classic rock stars were known for statutorily raping their underage groupies.

All of these examples raise the question: Can we separate the art from the artist? How do we reconcile our love for the music of abusers with their history of abuse?

I don’t think it can be reconciled. We are, quite clearly, living in a rape culture – a society that normalizes sexual assault and violence against women.

If you truly identify as a feminist or even just believe that women should be treated as equals, do not give these artists your money. Do not attend their shows, do not buy their albums. If you must, listen to their music in ways that won’t provide a profit to the artists. It’s hard, I know. I’m notoriously a huge fan of R. Kelly’s “Ignition” myself.

Art cannot and should not be separated from the artist that creates it. If you cannot hold celebrities accountable – people who you haven’t even met – how can you be expected to hold accountable the people closest to you? 

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