Collaborating With Abusers Is Wildly Profitable for Latinx Artists. That’s the Problem.

Puerto Rican singer Farruko is on top of the world. His eighth studio album La 167, released on October 1, is already platinum—no doubt buoyed by massive hits “La Tóxica” and ubiquitous rave anthem “Pepas.” But the album also includes a dubious distinction: a writing credit for Robert Kelly on the song “Lambo,” which samples the beat from the 2009 “Wonderful” by Ja Rule, R Kelly, and Ashanti. 
Farruko is hardly the only Latinx artist working with well-known abusers. In September, Rauw Alejandro released a collaboration with Chris Brown, whose widely publicized 2009 assault of then-girlfriend and singer Rihanna has done little to stop his career. Similarly, histories of violence against women are largely ignored in discussions of artists like Don Omar, whose  ex-partner accused him of pointing a gun at her in 2014, and Arcangel, who was arrested for battery during a domestic dispute with a woman in 2019.
This is, of course, not relegated or particular to the Latin music industry. For example, Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald, best known professionally as producer and songwriter Dr. Luke, continues to work with some of the industry’s biggest names despite highly publicized accusations of abuse and an ensuing legal battle with Kesha; he regularly works with artists under a number of pseudonyms that barely cover his tracks, including on Doja Cat’s massive 2020 hit “Say So.”
But given R Kelly’s particularly visible, long, and violent history of sexually abusing young girls, a decades-long scheme of trafficking for which he was recently found guilty, and the herculean organizing effort of Black women to bring light to this abuse, lending him a writing credit for a sample on a platinum album in 2021 feels especially egregious. (Farruko and his team did not respond to a request for comment.) How, some of us might ask, is it even a sound decision—if not on a moral level, at least on a business level—to visibly and materially support such a storied abuser? But the truth is that violence against women has never been bad for business; in fact, there is much money to be made by collaborating, crediting, and hopping onto the often largely untarnished musical legacies of violent men. In La 167's first week, the album, which ascended Billboard's Top Latin Albums, earned $16,807 in sales; this is more than ZAYNE's Nobody Is Listening, Lil Wayne & Rich The Kid's Trust Fund Babies, and Lil Yachty's Michigan Boy Boat. Similarly, Rauw Alejandro and Brown’s “Nostálgico” debuted at No. 6 on the Latin Digital Song sales chart.

Violence against women has never been bad for business; in fact, there is much money to be made by collaborating, crediting, and hopping onto the often largely untarnished musical legacies of violent men.

Although the rise of the Me Too movement brought with it a flood of calls for accountability for the violent behaviour of powerful men, it also triggered a visceral backlash. But despite endless lamentations decrying the rise of “cancel culture,” powerful men who harass, assault, and are otherwise violent toward women in their workplaces and personal lives rarely face consequences for their behaviour. In many instances, the powerful men whose violent behaviour against women has come to light in media maelstroms have faced little more than brief periods of social unpleasantness from a limited group of people. After a few months of time out of the limelight, they often return quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, to profitable careers after little to no effort at accountability.
The few exceptions to this rule—men like Harvey Weinstein and R Kelly, who have been convicted for their long histories of sexual abuse—violated women and girls for decades; their well-known schemes were long casually swept under the rug as open secrets, while women’s lives and dignity were merely the cost of business.
Of course, everyone makes mistakes—sometimes very big ones. Even those who cannot imagine perpetrating the kind of violence that these men have enacted on women might recoil at the thought of their work and lives being judged in the light of the worst thing they have ever done, regardless of what that may be. The truth is that we are all capable of harming people, and it’s likely we all have and will in small or large ways. But conditions for forgiveness require accountability, something most of the men who have been so-called “canceled” have not sought. Most powerful men publicly accused of violence against women seem to have barely contended with their abuse, much less publicly admitted their role in harm, apologized for it, or made meaningful efforts at repair. And when the person doing the harm has a large platform and a legion of adoring fans, efforts toward repair must be made for the person harmed, insofar as they might want to participate, and culturally. 
When we do get public apologies from artists who seek to cultivate a persona of thoughtfulness and inclusion, they tend to be toothless sentiments that skirt around the issue and say nothing of their roles in perpetrating harm, such as J Balvin’s recent apology for his role in the “Perra” music video with Tokischa. The video was widely criticized as racist for images of Balvin, a white Latino man, towering over two Black women on all fours whom he is holding with leashes. “I want to offer my apologies to all the people who felt offended,” he stated, as though those who raised criticisms are the only harmed parties worth apologizing to. Similar to most faux apologies, Balvin neither names exactly what it is that was offensive nor the ways he plans to act differently in the future.

Continuing to see artists credit, collaborate, and thus materially support abusers is more than disappointing—it is insulting and harmful.

The work of transformation, true transformation, is gruelling, painful, and long; to have to contend with this work publicly is an experience most hope to never know. But the alternative for public figures accused of harming women and vulnerable communities—digging in their heels or quietly biding their time and hoping the world once again forgets about the women casualties of their growth and success—simply reinforces violence and is unacceptable.
Continuing to see artists credit, collaborate, and thus materially support abusers is more than disappointing—it is insulting and harmful. To see some of the industry’s biggest players continuing to give abusers further opportunities for financial gain while women, queer, transgender, and nonbinary artists and producers are a well of talent vastly underrepresented across all levels of the industry shows little has changed systemically despite the Me Too reckonings and protests of “cancel culture." What will it take to change the dynamics of an industry that continues to make it massively profitable to collaborate with well-known abusers instead of investing in other talent, particularly women, trans, and nonbinary people? 

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