The music industry still hasn’t figured out a way to rectify the fact that some of the people who are allowed to step through its doors and flourish are also reckless, predatory, and, in some cases, dangerous. Unless an artist is speaking out about an injustice done against them — like when Meek Mill was sent to jail earlier this year — the impact of crimes that celebrities commit against others is often swept under the rug as the business of performances and promotion go on without a hitch. In other words, the industry has no clue what to do with men that bring in a lot of cash despite doing really horrible things. And there is no better evidence of this than the stories that have come out about two Gen-Z rappers.
Tekashi69 (also stylized 6ix9ine) is probably breathing a sigh relief right now. Rather than serve any jail time, the 22-year-old rapper (real name Daniel Hernandez) was sentenced to four years probation on Friday for sexual misconduct involving a 13-year-old. The act was filmed and posted online in 2015, Hernandez later plead guilty to the use of a child in a sexual performance. According to Vulture, his admission was given under a “youthful offender” plea agreement that required him to obtain a GED, perform 300 hours of community service, and stay out of trouble. Hernandez failed to adhere to these requirements when he was arrested twice in 2018 — once for assaulting a 16-year-old fan and again after a traffic stop where he was also accused of assaulting an officer — prompting prosecutors to push for jail time during his sentencing on Friday.
In the wake of a decision that keeps him out of jail and able to continue building his career in music, it's understandable that Hernandez would be in a triumphant mood. He threw a party later that night to celebrate (the same party where his bodyguard was apparently shot). What I don’t understand is why media outlets like The Shade Room appear to be celebrating right alongside him. The Instagram-forward platform that boasts over 14 million followers not only broke news of Hernandez’s legal outcome, but reposted several cheerfully-toned pictures of him smiling and celebrating his daughter’s birthday. On Sunday, Power 105.1 — the nationally recognized NYC hip-hop radio station — hosted its annual Powerhouse NYC concert, bringing Tekashi69 out as surprise performer. The station released the following statement after the event, “Tekashi 6ix9ine receives a lot of hate from the media, but we got the opportunity to see the real 6ix9ine.”
What is clear from hip-hop’s treatment of both of these men is that institutions that help make big stars like XXXtentacion and Tekashi69 are still operating without a framework of social consciousness.
Before XXXtentacion (neé Jahseh Onfroy) was fatally shot in June, he was facing charges that included aggravated battery of a pregnant victim, false imprisonment, domestic battery by strangulation, and witness tampering. Harrowing testimony from his victim sent the internet into an uproar and sparked a debate about censorship when platforms like Spotify sought strip his music from their curated playlists. Since his death, Onfroy has been uplifted by other music industry players as a tragic martyr of creativity and talent in hip-hop. He posthumously won Best New Artist at this year’s BET Awards, and just last week, producer Mally Mall told The Cruz Show that Onfroy has unreleased music in which he collaborated with Rihanna and The Weeknd that will be coming out soon. That same week, audio recordings surfaced of Onfroy admitting to being violent towards his then-partner and participating in several stabbing incidents.
What is clear from hip-hop’s treatment of both of these men is that institutions that help make big stars like XXXtentacion and Tekashi69 are still operating without a framework of social consciousness. The music industry still hasn't been taken to task for repeatedly empowering men who prey upon and abuse women. James Brown, Ike Turner, Bobby Brown, R. Kelly, and Phil Spector have left a long legacy of ignored misogyny and sexist violence in the music industry. No matter how public or abominable the accusation, though, the beat literally goes on for these men and their careers. While the television and film industry slowly but surely moves to untangle the mess of its own institutionalized sexism in the wake of #MeToo, their musical counterpart has turned up the volume refused to listen.
I won’t pretend to have the answers. I think that our inclination to use a binary system of cancellation and standom for our favorite celebrities is counterproductive. It's true that the heinous actions of these artists don't cancel out their talent. Nor are they justifications for either of them to die, as some extremists suggested after Onfroy's death. However, platforms and companies that have the power to amplify the voices of artists to reach millions of ears, eyes, and hearts have a responsibility to at least engage in conversations about the systemic nature of misogyny. They certainly should not ignore issues of consent that plague so many of their male artists. Sure, listeners should engage in ethical consumption of the music they love. But at what point do we demand more of radio stations, media sites, artists with huge independent platforms, and record labels? How long do rapists, abusers, and predators get to be big elephants in a room that sounds really good? When do we demand that violence against women be taken seriously?