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Pop Culture

Violence Kills the Soundcloud Star—Or Does It?

My boyfriend—who is always in and out of record label headquarters for his business—sat down on my couch last night and said, "Just found out about Trippie Redd pistol-whipping a woman and I'm pissed, 'cause now I can't listen to him anymore." I stared at him for a second and smiled because I didn't know what to say, and he just went on. "One of my favorite songs this year was a Trippie Redd song. Five of my favorite songs last year were Trippie Redd and then he had to go and do that, and I'm upset I can't listen to him anymore."

I tenderly suggested that what he should be more upset about the woman who was injured and how normal such an occurrence has become. He said he couldn't comment any further because he "doesn't know what actually happened." I asked him if that mattered. I asked him if he was surprised. Strangely, or maybe not, he said yes. This is the kind of response I typically see from men who have truly just been through it all—an artist they once enjoyed is no longer enjoyable! What a tragedy, what mayhem, what distress. A talent ripped from a young man's earbuds, departed from grace far too soon, a fallen anti-hero. What mischance. What misfortune (I'm being sarcastic, if you can't tell).

My boyfriend’s response to Redd beating a woman upside the head with a gun was honestly nothing short of what I expected. In the past (a week ago), he mentioned how he understands why people can't let go of XXXTentacion, or Teka$hi 6ix9ine, or Kodak Black, even though he has to (maybe because he's dating me but I hope not). He went on to defend that their music is "honestly really fucking good" and "no one else sounds like them." Well, in my reliably unsubstantiated opinion that I'll absolutely take to my grave—and that I've voiced during conversations like these—there are hoards of non-violent young men dying to break into the hip hop scene with an even better sound. And the time we (NOT me, y'all) spend wasting on violent assholes detracts from the time we could be spending seeking out people who deserve fame, money and the platform to be a forced-role model (I say "forced" because anyone with a platform is, now, a role model, whether they signed up for it or not). These young men exist. These guys may not have "69" tattooed all over their face and body, rainbow hair and grills, bright-red dreads, black-out eye contacts, 14k gold chains, mugshots, a history of violence, but they exist.

My boyfriend's comments took me back to my year spent arguing with XXXTentacion's biggest fans, ever since X asked his fanbase to dox me—tweeting something like "get this stupid bitch"—after I tweeted an insult (that he's so short he'll have to stand in as one of Santa's elves last Christmas to pay his bills after being charged with assault). Precisely two people actually messaged me, one of them with an Invader Zim avatar told me they hope my firstborn is a miscarriage. I carried on with my day and life, and X almost immediately deleted the tweet. But I’ve maintained my criticism of X and his fans for a year now, and I'm always inundated by the same people in my replies, all young men I'd be willing to bet a 1,000 dollars are all younger than me, telling me it's "about the music, they can separate what he did," or that, "He hasn't been convicted yet. If he's guilty I'll stop supporting him, but he's innocent until proven guilty," or, my favorite: "That article could be fake."

Anything that would give someone a basis to suppose X is innocent has been thoroughly debunked. No woman is out to get him, or his money—his victim is actually living in fear, several miles away from him, completely broke, emotionally destroyed, incapable of even leaving her apartment without looking over her shoulder. She is unable to repair the damaged optic nerve in her skull (due to X's abuse) because X’s adoring fans reported her GoFundMe as fraudulent—even though it's been reported that X, himself, donated 5,000 dollars to it (this is one of the closest things abusers can do next to flat out admitting their guilt). So, please, tell me, wise men of social media, what did she gain from it? "Clout?" As she suffers in the Florida heat this summer, alone, deserted by all of she and X's mutual friends who were reportedly threatened by him into silence, and into her abandonment, you couldn't even tell me her name. For the record, GoFundMe re-opened her account, and within 24 hours she’d raised 12,000 dollars. Of the funds, 11,000 dollars came from an anonymous donor. Any guess whose guilty ass that might be?

Why can't young men just let their Soundcloud deities go? "She's just doing it for clout" has become the favorite, go-to reply to criticisms of rappers who have been abusive and violent toward women. It just doesn't make sense. And it also, it doesn't actually matter if the woman was unfaithful, ran her mouth or even faked a pregnancy. No pregnant or non-pregnant woman deserves to be threatened with a barbecue fork pelvic exam until they faint from fear. No woman deserves to get pistol-whipped. Sorry, I just can't think of a single thing that woman must have said to Redd that earned her a concussion.

I'm holding my breath waiting for Redd's fans, as they begin to understand what happened—not through the news but through social media. I predict they will prefer to blindly believe that the dude they listen to on Spotify has nothing to gain from hurting a woman, saying shit like, "Damn, another desperate woman begging for clout..." But they’re wrong because men who hate and harm women all gain one thing every time they strike a woman: power, assertion of dominance and control. The holy trinity of abuse.

I have a few theories about the men who will continue backing up these losers until their last dying breath, the first being that I don't think young people can distinguish between real and "fake news," and as fake news has been a word firmly integrated into Western society for more than two years now, it's likely become harder than ever for young people to trust the news. Labeling something as "fake" also gives fans a good out, and the capacity to redirect blame.
The bigger-picture dilemma is that music industry big shots tend to cling to what's working, rather than what's right, and what appears to be working is violence from the jump.
A few weeks back when 69 decided, against all intelligence, to beef with Chief Keef—allegedly having his crew fire shots at Keef in NYC—an article began circulating the following day claiming 69 was in critical care for being shot, himself, in LA. This article, which has since been removed, belonged to “Buzzfeed Community,” and written very poorly—to anyone in media, or anyone over 25, the blog post was obviously fake. I had to explain the difference between Buzzfeed News and Community—asserting that their news staff is actually responsible for beyond impressive journalism, something young people, I suppose, doubt could be true—but for a split second, my own boyfriend believed it. And for much longer, so did many others. With hoaxes like these now being called “fake news,” I can see why this is getting difficult for younger people. Young people no longer understand—if they ever did—the trouble journalists go through to make sure a story can run. Recording conversations, digging through legal files, confirming facts with law enforcement, running the story through editors a million times, waiting for a legal team to process the story and make 100 percent sure it's considered journalism, complete with literally, only facts, like the most recently reported piece for Miami New Times. Or maybe these fans don’t even read the articles? 

Another theory is that all of these young men, all of these fans, just hate women. I'm sure they'd disagree and say something paltry about loving their mother or having a sister or daughter, but the evidence is right in front of me: they're telling me they don't care enough about women to put down the music and move on to different and better performers. Or, they really, really idolize the performer, and they're not willing to let "a clout chasing woman" get between them and their projected fantasies of how that performer should behave. And then there is the theory that they just love the violence. Violence is rewarded in the Soundcloud community. X actually became famous because he was arrested and his mugshot went viral in the same week his first single dropped. He's been climbing the Billboard charts since, and that’s no matter how many digital publications dedicate articles to listing reason why we should stop "making this man famous” ( likely due to my first two theories being at least marginally accurate). What kids in 2018 read made-for-millennial publications like Noisey or Complex, let alone a well-reported piece from a small Miami newspaper? Violence is rewarded, so why are we surprised when our favorite artists commit similar atrocities against women? Maybe these young fans have either never experienced abuse, or witnessed violence against women, in which case—lucky you, bitch. Or, more sinisterly, they've witnessed it and have grown numb to it, or were maybe raised to believe some women deserve their injuries.

My worst theory is that abusers protect and validate other abusers. This one is pretty simple. Of course you don't think this artist did anything wrong—you're guilty of doing that yourself! If he did something bad enough to get locked up for, then what does that make you? Or are young men perhaps viewing these men as their homies? Never betray the homies, right? Men have always been so blasé about having any convictions whatsoever. Whether my theories are trash or not, we're living in a corrupt age where young men have found something relatable in violent men, have thrust them into the spotlight with no regard to their victims, and now cling to them, desperately, like perhaps their favorite rappers' very real crimes would be a direct reflection on themselves. We've been over X, but there are more.

Kodack Black was indicted for first-degree sexual assault of a woman and then violated his parole and was charged with a few more things, including child neglect, and sentenced to a year behind bars. This hasn't stopped 15-year-old Danielle Bregoli aka Bhad Bhabie from proposing getting his first initial tattooed on her. Teka$hi 6ix9ine has been convicted of having sex with a minor, a 13-year-old girl when he was (according to him) 17, and filming it, but that didn't hinder his hit "Gummo" from climbing Billboard to the top 10, and hasn't stopped influential people from broadcasting praise. We even have Tay-K, a violent 17-year-old rapper who hasn't been violent against women, as far as we know. But the rising star may not get the chance because he's been involved in a slew of suspected murders and became famous for releasing a song about outrunning the police on his murder charges while outrunning the police on murder charges. His mugshot, like X's, went viral. Tay-K is, while a horrifying entity for sure, sadly a victim of the school-to-prison pipeline in the United States, which favors sending Black and Latinx youth from disadvantaged backgrounds to prison instead of granting them the chance to rehabilitate or even graduate. Before they even realize they have options, they’re taken from them, often for life.

But the issue here isn't Tay-K, it's not even X, or 69, or Kodack. It's that *something* is magnetically pulling violence to the forefront of what's deemed worthy of popularity. R. Kelly was already wildly famous before people found out he was a piece of shit, and then later found out he was a piece of shit operating basically a working dungeon for women, Woody Allen was already famous, Roman Polanski was already famous, Bill Cosby was already famous, Chris Brown was already famous. Sid Vicious certainly wasn't pushed into publicity when his mugshot went "viral" for stabbing his girlfriend to death in their hotel room. Our obsession with violent men has certainly been around for a while, so there's no point trying to argue with me in the comments that this has "always been a thing." Because what hasn't always been a thing are performers rising in fame because of their crimes. And with many of the men I've spoken about here, that's exactly what's happened.

All of these men are also devastatingly young. Teka$hi 6ix9ine is 22, Kodack Black is 21, XXXTentacion is 20, Redd is 18, and Tay-K is 17. And as I've said before, they're not really the issue. Yes, it's a predicament for me that men like this exist, but they do exist, everywhere, I’ve witnessed it first-hand in a violent relationship of my own, and as reporter Tarpley Hitt pointed out in the Miami piece, these men are typically a "banal, unglamorous, half-likable kind of figure whom women around the world encounter every day—someone who isn't profoundly addled as much as pathetically insecure, obsessed with power, and incapable" of not hurting women.

These men will always exist. To me, the bigger-picture dilemma is that music industry big shots tend to cling to what's working, rather than what's right, and what appears to be working is violence from the jump. But record labels aren’t being physically forced into investing in violent men—no one is holding a gun to their heads. This issue is ethical, and young people are being betrayed by it. By co-signing these men, you’re telling young people you don’t care, so they shouldn’t care, because it’s “all about the music, man.” We (and by we, I really mean people in the music industry) need to do better. If these artists weren't picked up immediately—marketed as either sad, or cold-blooded, or any of the array of things that appeal to youth right now—they maybe could have gained a cult following, sure, but they certainly wouldn't have all broken through the "Hot 100" so fast, often charting all the way up to #1. 

Declare moral expectations, remove problematic music and don’t back down. We don't need any of these performers to feel complete. A new one will be along in a years' time. Women deserve it, and for what it's worth, so does the next generation of young men.

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