In rap, just like in any other art form, authenticity is crucial. An artist’s ability to connect with perfect strangers is contingent on their emotional vulnerability; half-truths and posturing won’t cut as deep as a confession. A rising class of rappers are communing with their fans more honestly than ever. Young up-and-comers like XXXTentacion and Kodak Black have all been praised for the way they keep it real, speaking out on painfully personal topics (suicide, cycles of abuse, their own crimes and incarcerations) that other celebrities and artists won’t touch. But celebrating the authenticity that’s clearly connecting with these rappers’ fans can feel like an absolution of the crimes that they’re confessing to. And when rising stars stand accused of violence against women and sexual assault, the hip-hop community on a whole is responsible for reckoning with the messages that these young men are sending, as opposed to just heralding the honesty of their messaging.
The entertainment industry has an undeniable problem with complicity; a history of forgiving talented men and all but erasing their crimes. Still, the grim magnitude of the allegations against these young rappers sets them apart.
On Friday, Pitchfork ran an alarming piece excerpting the deposition of a young woman who was allegedly abused by XXXTentacion. The rapper, whose debut album 17 entered the Billboard 200 chart at number two this month, was charged last fall with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness-tampering. That woman’s testimony is as detailed as it is disturbing. Pitchfork reports a series of alleged attacks and abuses in chronological order, beginning two weeks after the woman moved in with XXXTentacion. According to her testimony, “He slapped her and broke her iPhone 6S, because she had complimented a male friend on his new jewelry. (XXXTentacion later repaired the phone.) Later that day, XXXTentacion left the room and returned with two grilling implements—a ‘barbecue pitchfork’ and a ‘barbecue cleaner,’ she said—and told her to pick between them, because he was going to put one of them in her vagina. She chose the fork. He told her to undress. He was lightly dragging the tool against her inner thigh when she passed out. He did not penetrate her with it.”
Recounting a litany of incidents, the alleged victim described various injuries she sustained from the abuse, such as black eyes, large bruises, and loss of vision. Pitchfork details, “About a week and a half into their stint in Orlando, the woman and XXXTentacion were on their way to a show together. They listened to one of XXXTentacion’s songs in the car and she sang along with his verse. Then she hummed along with a verse from a featured artist on the track. After that, XXXTentacion fell silent and left her in the car outside the venue. Inside, they got into a fight. When they arrived home after the show, he took her into the bathroom. ‘And he was asking me why I was singing his friend’s part of the song, if I like him, why do I like him, like do I ever look at his Twitter,’ she said. Then, XXXTentacion head-butted her, punched her, stomped on her, and put her in the bathtub, where he continued hitting and kicking her. ‘He also wanted to cut out my tongue because I was singing the song,’ she said. She tried to run away down the street. He tackled her, causing her head to hit the pavement.”
The reported victim recalled XXXTentacion threatening to kill her daily. In October 2016, she discovered that she was pregnant. That month XXXTentacion, allegedly cognizant of the pregnancy, threatened to kill her and her unborn child: “He then started elbowing, head-butting, and punching her. He strangled her until she almost passed out. He took her to the bathroom and demanded one last time that she tell him everything or he would kill her in the bathtub. She couldn’t even recognize her face in the mirror—it looked ‘distorted’—and her left eye was completely shut and ‘leaking blood.’ She was losing vision. She vomited.”
XXXTentacion’s October 5 trial for this case will not be his first. In the midst of the alleged abuse, XXXTentacion was arrested for an armed home invasion which took place in November 2015 (the rapper ended up pleading no contest in March 2017). According to Complex, the rapper’s popularity exploded while he was serving time. A separate Pitchfork article delves deeper into the connections between XXXTentacion’s various alleged crimes and his growing influence: “As unsettling as the charges against Onfroy are, they don’t seem to have diminished his allure in rap circles.”
“Depressingly, the accusations—beating his pregnant girlfriend, strangling her, forcibly confining her against her will, and then trying to bribe her not to testify against him—coincide almost exactly with indications of the rapper’s swelling celebrity,” Marc Hogan continues. “In comparison to the sharp spike of interest in X lately, Google Trends data suggests hardly anybody was searching for him before last October, when the battery allegedly occurred.” Hogan goes on to cite the various stars who have either overtly shouted out the 19-year-old or appear to be influenced by his style, including A$AP Rocky, Danny Brown, and even Drake.
It would be hard for any admiring artist or diehard fan to plead ignorance to XXXTentacion’s violent tendencies. This is not a case of an artist actively trying to rehabilitate his image; in fact, a decent portion of XXXTentacion’s public persona seems to be dedicated to maligning his alleged victim. In December, the rapper’s Twitter account published a now-deleted photo of the alleged victim’s nude body from behind, followed by the tweet: “All I ever abused was that pussy.” In a recorded phone call from prison, XXXTentacion seemed to deny the abuse, saying, “I did not beat that bitch, she got jumped…And by the way for all you dumb fuck-ass n----- that thought this stupid bitch was pregnant, I got the paperwork signifying that she wasn’t pregnant, so when I get out I’m fucking all your little sisters in the fucking throat hole.”
XXXTentacion was a member of XXL’s prestigious 2017 freshman class, which is as clear a sign as any of how the rapper has managed to thrive in the face of controversy. XXXTentacion has that in common with Kodak Black, an alumnus from last year’s list. Like XXXTentacion, Kodak Black has seen his popularity rise from behind bars, and has been the subject of lengthy and unresolved debates on hip-hop world misogyny and conscious music consumerism. The 20-year-old’s Project Baby Two just became his first number one album on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts, with his first Hot 100 hit “No Flockin” landing on the heels of a prison stay and 2016 sexual battery charges.
According to a police report from that South Carolina assault, “The woman Octave is accused of sexually assaulting is a fan from Columbia, S.C., who had just attended his show. The accuser and a friend went back to the Comfort Inn and Suites in Florence to hang out with the rapper and another person…Octave pushed her onto the bed and then the floor, where he sexually assaulted and bit her, according to the allegations. He told the woman he couldn't help himself, as she screamed and tried to push him off her, the report says.”
While XXXTentacion and Kodak Black make for eerily parallel case studies, they can also be contextualized against artists like Tay-K, a 17-year-old murder suspect who rapped about cutting off his own ankle monitor to make a break for it, and Kevin Gates, who was convicted of battery for kicking a female fan during a performance. There are two concerning trends at play here: violence against women, particularly fans, and violence as cred/capital (the idea that these controversies might actually be fueling artists’ careers).
The comedian Eric Andre recently decried the increasing popularity and acceptance of morally reprehensible rappers, tweeting, “I was just looking at World Star Hip Hop on my IG and they’re always promoting XXX and Kodak Black. and I got upset. I was like, why can I complain about racism freely, but criticize a rapper's sexism and everyone gets butt hurt. I was also mad at myself for promoting XXXTentacion’s music the other day. my friend was like, ‘that dude beats up pregnant women :(‘” He concluded, “1 out of 3 women are beat, raped, or murdered in their lifetime. that’s 1 billion women. Shits got to stop. No more apathy or indifference.”
At Vulture, Craig Jenkins surveyed the “new wave of rap violence” and drew the following conclusions: “We owe it to the women who say they’ve been hurt by these artists to stop offering them space in interviews to trash their accusers before everyone gets their day in court. We owe it to the (increasingly) young fans of these guys—who place their safety in the hands of both artist and venue at every concert—to ensure that the performer onstage isn’t acting against the best interests of his audience…The current climate of simply shoveling more money and clout at rappers with dangerous tendencies and hoping they’ll straighten themselves out is untenable.”
If we fail to call these rappers out at the beginning of their careers, no doubt we’ll soon be seeing their alleged abuses and assaults reduced to asterisks in glowing interviews and lengthy Wikipedia articles.