Self-image is a funny thing, isn’t it? I obviously see myself as the kind of social media participant who is very much in control of her online emotions. Gone are the days of trigger-happy Facebook Tracy. Now I channel my anger into clever, sarcastic blog posts or hoard bits of outrage and under the guise of responding to tweets, release my little nuggets of wisdom (“I totally agree. This perfectly demonstrates…[something which I’ve been seething about for months and have written about in several draft blog posts which never made it on to the actual blog]”). I’m certainly not one to shout at strangers on Twitter and especially not at celebrities!
Well, that seems to be changing. I recently posted an angry rant in response to a tweet by all round dandy R’n’B singer Jidenna…and even more shamefully deleted it. I wish I hadn’t deleted it. I was confused about some of the surrounding facts but at the end of the day it was a tweet not a claim form.
Jidenna’s tweet referred to deceased rapper XXXtentacion. Very briefly, XXX was shot dead on 18 June 2018. Prior to his being shot, Spotify had stopped streaming XXX’s music. The reasons they stopped streaming his music included accounts of horrific domestic violence allegedly committed by XXX against his ex-girlfriend. XXX also admitted to a gruesome attack against a gay inmate who was apparently “staring” at him. Reading this http://www.miaminewtimes.com/music/the-real-story-of-rapper-xxxtentacion-10410980 and other articles, including his ex-girlfriend’s testimony and pictures, I am not at all convinced by XXX’s denial of DV. He was 20 years old when he died and awaiting trial for the DV charges.
Following his death, which came shortly after the revelations of his violent past, his fans naturally showed their grief on social media. There were also a number of people actively celebrating his death with memes, tweets and the like, presumably because of his domestic and homophobic violence. Jidenna’s discomfort over these celebrations turned into a tweet-rant about how we all did stupid things at 20 and how anyone can change (interestingly enough he seemed to accept that the DV allegations were true). He asked where our compassion is and seemed to come to the conclusion that woke twitter, not XXX, were the real villains here. He even went so far as to compare XXX to Malcolm X – apparently a shoplifter and abusive towards women at that age (is it very wrong to point out that, firstly, in no way was the level of Malcolm X’s abuse remotely comparable to that of XXX’s and secondly, Malcolm X did believe women were inferior to men although like Jidenna, he thought they were to be protected or revered or something benevolent that does not quite reach equality?).
A number of people took Jidenna’s point a bit further. T-Pain stepped out boldly with a series of bizarre tweets (‘Look your father in the eye and ask him how many times he’s thrown your mother across the room. The silence is scary, right? Right?’ The silence is because your father is contemplating how much money he will have to contribute to your state-enforced ‘rest and retreat’, T-Pain).
The tweets turned into a familiar attack on the left for replacing “compassion with moral superiority”, for being dogmatically intractable, tolerating no dissent from the party line, holding no truck with oppressive ideas like forgiveness and sympathy (which people keep calling empathy – must look up these words again) and just generally being bad, illiberal liberals. According to these people, XXX may have been bad but so were a lot of people at 20 and we were under some sort of duty to ‘forgive’1 him because of his youth and talent.
I won’t debate these points at length – I’m not sure I’m knowledgeable enough to. There are so many questions starting with the bizarre assumption that majority of people can relate to XXX’s damn near homicidal psychosis, a natural discomfort at seeing people openly celebrate someone’s death, why on earth people would have ’empathy’ for a very bad person, whether it is fascistic to say that anyone who mentions how apparently talented he was hates women and as stated above whether it’s now wrong to refer to the sheer level and depravity of his abuse or whether all abuse is equal.
What this case highlighted to me is how little regard American hip hop, and to some extent RnB, and its artists have for women. Specifically in relation to this incident and has been proven time and time again, these artists have no qualms about working with abusive men. As long as the abusive man in question is popular enough they will continue to be impervious to his abuse. As this article shows http://www.vulture.com/2018/06/a-complete-timeline-xxxtentacions-controversial-career.html, a number of artists weren’t discouraged by the tales of XXX;s stupendous violence from working with or copying him. Kendrick Lemar even threw a hissy fit when Spotify stopped streaming his music. This has been the case with Dr Dre and the distinctively unrepentant repeat-abusing Chris Brown and will be the case with Nas and Fabulous. The only thing that may make other artists pause is the possibility of any public backlash .
It is of course artists’ prerogative to work with whoever they want (and I reserve the right to my private, dark opinions) and they are free to ‘rest in power’ XXX into the devil’s arms if they want to. What I found particularly enraging about Jidenna’s tweets is the pious admonition of people who can’t mourn this man’s death or even those who are happy he is dead. He does not consider whether these people may have been DV survivors or watched their loved ones perish at the hands of an abusive man. Armed with moral and spiritual blackmail, he jumps to the conclusion that they are liberal posturers desperate to prove their wokeness. He preaches the power of redemption, not by providing a scintilla of evidence that XXX has changed, but by referring to a completely different man, a man who died over 50 years ago and whose memory is supposed to evoke unquestioning loyalty.
Actually I don’t believe he jumped to the conclusion. I think he is completely indifferent to XXX’s abusive behaviour and only framed his tweets in that way, I think, to add the appearance of morality and even-handedness. And then to add insult to injury, he threw in some shallow wording about respecting women and how he is thinking about XXX’s and other domestic violence victims. This is of course crap since there wasn’t a peep from him about DV prior to this man’s death. He, like many of XXX’s fans – celebrities or not – seemed annoyed that something as trivial like violence against women could stop a young rapper’s career. As you know, every time a rapper fails to reach his full potential, no matter how much vile crap-spouting that full potential entails, an angel loses a wing2 .
Perhaps I’m being harsh on Jidenna . It’s safe to say I have never warmed to him; not sure why – is it the arrest scene in the Classic Man music video or the fact that he apparently is not going marry a woman who can’t cook jollof rice or just the almost lethal levels of grooming and styling? So much of so little consequence to choose from. Whatever the reason, I’d obviously just been waiting for an opportunity to unleash a tirade at him and that’s enough reason in itself for deleting my tweet.
But more seriously, as tweep Kim Love says, it seems like since the 1990s with the onset of groups like N.W.A., American hip hop has turned on black women. In songs they’ve called us every name under the sun, spoke proudly of domestic violence and rape, demonised us, dehumanised us even – we are now female dogs and garden implements – dissected us, divided us into body parts, dragged us by our hair, put us on leashes, slid credit cards through our butt cracks…the list is endless. And it’s getting worse. There is conscious rap and religious rap but as I told my husband (who came into our marriage fully prepared to argue against hip hop to the death with me and has done so admirably notwithstanding his false start of angrily questioning me about RAGGA song ‘Boom-boom Bye’) not all American rappers are misogynistic; just the successful ones it seems.
I can’t figure out whether it was because of genuine hatred or just a convenient sacrifice. I watched a documentary about hip hop once that suggested that it was an antidote to all the saccharine love songs by Luther Vandross and the like. So…just an afterthought then. This would explain why I was one of the few people silently and bitterly cursing Ice Cube as he gave his impassioned speech to Bill Maher about the latter, as a white man, not being able to use the ‘N’ word. ‘Black people are not going to allow that anymore!’ he wobbled – one of the pioneers and reasons that women are customarily referred to to as bitches and hoes.
It’s astonishing that black women put up with it for so long. We done more than this – we’ve internalised, endorsed and distributed it. We wouldn’t tolerate tweets which are a tenth as derogative but feminists are happy to be fan girls of rappers who spread these vile and harmful lyrics in the name of art. I think we might have got distracted because of the initial push back from white Americans; perhaps we were fooled into thinking we, black men and women, were in this together. Now that mainstream has embraced hip hop, and people have tacitly accepted that it is impossible for them to publicly condemn hip hop without being accused of an act of racism, these artists have exported wholesale their lyrical artillery against black women.
Off-stage, the story is the same. Rappers are beating, harming and disfiguring their significant others as least as much as other men. It’s certainly not a case of only using those lyrics on stage. It is, for many of them, who they are. The stories keep repeating themselves. The ones who don’t are often illogical, rampant sexists or are not concerned enough to distance themselves artistically from abusive rappers.
Obviously hip hop is not responsible for violence against women nor is it the first kind of art that has normalised this violence. However, as illiberal as this sounds, I think almost 30 years of this has had a real effect on relationships and especially how black women are viewed and devalued. I read screenshots of conversations that go like this:
Boy (heartbreakingly young): ‘I like the way you look. Please come and hang out at my apartment’
Girl: ‘No thanks’
Boy: ‘Fuck you, you bitch hoe! I’ma track you down and…..’ (insert your fave’s preferred act of violence)
This is what I think women should do. I don’t know how sexist British rap is but as far as American rap is concerned the default position is not to support any particular rapper until he has proven himself to be an ally or not harmful to women. Listen to the entire album – for free of course as buying it rather defeats the purpose. Give them two strikes to vent at failed relationships and then they are out. These men care about themselves and the industry and that includes any abusive man who can escape any consequences of his abuse against women. It’s time we start doing the same. But no one will listen to me of course……
1I’ve put ‘forgive’ in inverted commas since XXX did not do anything to most of the social media commentators. The way to stop people from saying that they are glad that a man, who may very well have ended up beating women to death, is dead is bring up the irrelevant concept of forgiveness. This is supposed to fill people with remorse and drive them to demonstrate their capacity to forgive by forgetting their outrage at the alleged DV and and continuing to support and buy XXX’s music, presumably.
2The part in italics is stolen wittiness