To many denizens within the Republic of Hip Hop—particularly from its younger sect—he’s an antagonist. An Oakland-bred, New York-based curmudgeon who exists only to terrorize rap’s current crop of would-be auto-tuned superstars. But to hip hop’s more seasoned occupants, Ebro Darden is a sentry—a warden of sorts who protects hip-hop from itself by ruthlessly vetting its deluge of solicitors.
From his base of operations—cultural cornerstone, the "Hot 97" radio station—his gavel is his microphone, his bench is a Hudson Square neighborhood studio, and his robe has been replaced with his trademark salt-and-pepper beard. And from this makeshift courtroom, landmark rulings are delivered daily—all courtesy of his popular “Ebro in the Morning” show that’s broadcast to millions of listeners every morning.
But instead of a jury of their peers, to the chagrin of the Republic’s inhabitants, the fate of many a rap career rests in the hands of Darden’s deputies—radio personalities Peter Rosenberg and Laura Styles, who collectively dismantle the pleas and testimonies of almost every Lil Yachty or Post Malone brave enough to take the witness stand.
As such, the latest to do so was Pompano Beach upstart Kodak Black. His forthcoming album, Dying to Live, summoned him into the lion’s den to receive either Darden’s blessing or banishment. And as you can probably guess, the final verdict was anything but favorable.
Over the course of Kodak’s 17-minute cross-examination, Darden and company dissect his unlikely ascension into rap royalty, his unquestionable status as the forebearer of Cardi B’s smash hit “Bodak Yellow,” and of course his upcoming album. But as with all things involving Darden, inevitably the “ZEZE” rapper would have his mettle tested.
What was lost in this battle of wills is that even in the era of aggressive political correctness and #MeToo, hip hop has still proven itself incapable of administering proper accountability.
After questioning Kodak about his relationship with Jay-Z, Darden eases into the rapper’s eventual undoing. “You often reference how the world is against you,” he asks. “Is that how you still feel?” Kodak responds by drawing a comparison between himself and the predatory nature of vultures (“The world don’t favor the vultures”) then segues into reaffirming his disbelief in karma—a concept he rebuked earlier in their interview with “I don't want to believe in karma because I don't want to believe that the stuff I did would come back to me.” And with that, the scent of blood contaminates the water. The die is cast. The trap is set.
“Look, it’s a pleasure to meet you, man. Looking at all your cases and everything you’ve been through, and I know the recent one right now is very sensitive,” Ebro says. “But we take sexual assault serious. And we can’t get into any details, but we hope to have you back so we can have a deeper conversation about that because it’s a serious topic.”
While Darden’s journalistic integrity is admirable, Kodak’s body language interjects on his behalf. He sways back and forth, failing miserably at suppressing his agitation. Sensing the shift in temperament, Rosenberg attempts to steer the conversation away from the violent tides of accountability, but Kodak ain’t having it. So with gavel in hand, Darden addresses the elephant in the room.
“You seem upset I brought it up," Darden says.
After a lengthy silence, Kodak presents his case to the jury.
“I feel like sometimes when niggas be going through shit y'all be entertained by bullshit,” Kodak sneers. “So change the subject or I'm finna walk out."
Unimpressed by his ultimatum, Darden deliberates for all of two seconds before delivering his verdict.
"We don't have to talk about nothing else,” Darden growls. “We could be done right here.”
And with that, another rapper is cast out from the kingdom. Hip hop’s latest casualty of pride, naiveté and ego.
In the Republic of Hip Hop, amnesty is a natural resource, and this speaks volumes about the expectations of its beautifully flawed citizens.
But while this spat fueled outrage from Darden’s detractors, what was lost in this battle of wills is that even in the era of aggressive political correctness and #MeToo, hip hop has still proven itself incapable of administering proper accountability in regards to the countless incidents and allegations of violence and sexual misconduct perpetrated against its very lifeblood—black women.
While the rest of the world has adapted to this new status quo—which most recently has extinguished the career of former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, as well as the trajectory of comedian Kevin Hart—the Republic of Hip Hop remains a self-governing sovereign state where external influence is met with derision. Instead of exiling its deplorables, they’re elected into public office. Or exalted as heroes.
Fallen star XXXTentacion—whose posthumous release Skins recently debuted at the top of the Billboard charts—is universally revered despite charges of false imprisonment, witness tampering, and aggravated battery of a pregnant woman that followed him to his grave. YoungBoy Never Broke Again enjoyed a banner year despite being indicted on kidnapping and aggravated assault charges after footage surfaced of him manhandling his girlfriend.
But none of this is a new phenomenon, as R. Kelly proves every time he’s still allowed to perform on stage despite his own laundry list of transgressions.
So while Darden might’ve expressed uncharacteristic regret in how he handled his showdown with his 21-year-old foe, the greater concern is the sense of entitlement that Kodak Black possessed. Because in the Republic of Hip Hop, amnesty is a natural resource. This speaks volumes about the expectations of its beautifully flawed citizens, as well the priorities of its parliament.