My friends and I were driving through the hills of Grizzly Peak in Berkeley, California, blasting our favorite artists as we zipped past curve after curve. I handed my friend the aux cord, a signal they could pick the next song. Being given the aux cord when riding in the car with friends is synonymous to being given the power. And with great power comes great responsibility.
“Play X”, my friend suggested, referring to popular Soundcloud rapper XXXtentacion.
But I didn’t want to. I knew XXXtentacion had been convicted of domestic abuse and assault multiple times before and it made me uncomfortable to listen to his music knowing my plays were what was filling his bank account. I laughed off the suggestion and played another song off the hip hop charts.
In this time of activism and being “woke”, how do artists like XXX and Kodak Black sit at the top of the chart every week? I’ve noticed that even movements set to free these incarcerated rappers, like #FreeX, have skyrocketed them to popularity amongst youth listeners who see their conviction for domestic abuse or rape as mere roadblocks in the way of their music career. According to DJBooth, after #FreeKodak started trending across social media sites, Kodak’s “Tunnel Vision” jumped 19 spots, earning him the first top ten hit of his career.
My friends who still listen to these artists argue that they can separate the music from the artist. They brought up directors like Woody Allen, or producer Harvey Weinstein, both of whom have faced sexual assault allegations. Does that mean we never watch another movie produced by the Weinstein company again?
Contrary to popular opinion, I think we should leave these artists behind.
Every time we listen or watch something produced by a rapist, not only are we adding to their wealth, we are normalizing rape and domestic abuse. By streaming Kodak Black or XXX, we are allowing their talent to excuse their behavior. This leads to rape culture, which is built on normalization of rape and violence.
Even though I don’t think quitting listening to Kodak or XXX will magically cure our society from rape, it’s a step in the right direction. I want Hollywood and the music industry to send the message that alleged rapists like Casey Affleck or R. Kelly aren’t welcome no matter what level of talent they have. This can be as simple as skipping a song on a playlist and explaining your reasoning behind it.
So next time you get control of the aux with friends, know it’s not just about the music. You have a chance to make change and hold media makers accountable.