The online music community was recently rocked by a situation involving 19-year-old rapper and singer XXXtentacion (known as X by his fans). After being detained on weapons charges, he received domestic violence charges, specifically “aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment and witness-tampering.” He had previously pleaded no contest to firearm and robbery charges and was ordered to serve six years probation. After this scandal and testimony from his pregnant ex-girlfriend, his career is on thin ice despite praise from rap superstar Kendrick Lamar. The parallels between this case and the infamous Chris Brown-Rihanna incident are striking, but this situation is more extreme in two ways; the charges are much more serious because the girl was pregnant, and X is only 19. The events have restarted the conversation on misogyny and violence in hip-hop culture.
During the dawn of the internet, artists began to find out that slipping up was becoming increasingly deadly. In the era of instant, eternal documentation, mistakes are not easily forgotten. The public itself is a different beast, and may forget certain events and transgressions as the days go by. Whether or not the public chooses to forgive, though, and exactly why, is difficult to pin down. Why are certain artists let off the hook more easily than others, and how does the type of mistake factor in?
XXXtentacion still managed to get a feature on Noah Cyrus’s “Again” during this whole ordeal, but the track was faced with heavy criticism even before it was released. Maybe one can assume she did not know about the charges before featuring him, but collaborating with him is a undeniably bad move and a public relations nightmare, especially given that most of Noah’s audience consists of young girls. Today, we are obligated to be less lenient, especially toward perpetrators of violence toward women. Some say that it is not enough to punish X for his crimes: we must punish anyone who works with him. After all, how could a young female artist condone such violence against another young female? Again, maybe it is just bad timing, but the situation plays out badly for them both.
Within niche communities, it becomes especially important for artists to understand the sensitivities of their fanbase, as they have the power to dismantle careers like digital termites. Take for instance Pwr Bttm, the queer punk duo that experienced career collapse following allegations that their lead member, Ben Hopkins, committed sexual abuse. A week and a day after the allegations broke, bands pulled out from their tour, their label dropped them and virtually all music streaming sites removed their music. The response time of the industry was staggering in this scenario, because of the self-policing nature of the queer music community. The backlash was so strong that Pwr Bttm was wiped off the map, yet the same repercussions never fell upon X, who arguably committed a more serious offense. It does not seem that the community that gave X a platform to stand on is as interested in self-policing, and this points to the deeper issue of misogyny within the music industry.
Perhaps it is humility that separates these cases. It is rare for an artist to avoid mistakes, and rarer to admit them. The simplest way for an artist to quickly bounce back is an admission of wrongdoing and a promise to be better. Humility will not save X from his trial, but every day that passes without a public apology is deadly for his career. Chris Brown at least made steps to apologize and repair his reputation — not that he should be forgiven — but his actions are a positive example, especially for XXXtentacion. The key is to act quickly — the public is becoming smarter and less forgiving. Second chances are not given out every day.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 5 print edition.
Email Tye Musante at [email protected]