There is a good chance that if you aren’t a fan of rap music you would’ve never heard the name XXXTentacion. The Florida rapper who made a name for himself on SoundCloud with his high energy and aggressive style of rap, currently has two songs sitting in the Australian iTunes Rap and Hip Hop Top 40 and his debut studio album 17 peaked as high as 29 on the ARIA album charts.
So why are we talking about a 19 year old who is seemingly making a name for himself in the hip hop game? It is due to accusations that have been leveled against XXXTentacion from a former partner, accusations that if true paint X as a truly sadistic individual. On September 8, 2017, music website Pitchfork leaked the victim testimony over charges of aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment and witness tampering. The exact details of the allegations are incredibly graphic and you can find them online if you can stomach them.
This victim testimony surfaced just 2 weeks after the release of 17 but that hasn’t stopped the album from becoming a commercial success or X from reaching new fans. In fact, on September 22, he collaborated with pop singer Noah Cyrus on her track ‘Again’ which spent 5 days in the Australian iTunes charts, peaking at number 78. Clearly these allegations haven’t seemed to deter people from listening to XXXTentacion‘s music and it’s not so clear cut as to whether they should.
It is a question that so many of us have struggled with at one point in time, can you separate the artist from the art itself? Can you enjoy the music of a musician you find morally reprehensible? Can you enjoy a song where the lyrics seem to glorify violence or sexism or homophobia?
XXXTentacion is hardly the first artist to find himself facing horrifying accusations. In 2009 US R&B star Chris Brown pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges against former girlfriend Rihanna. Earlier this year a member of American Queer punk duo PWR BTTM was accused of sexual abuse, a claim that the band still to this day has denied. The list of artists who have been accused of grotesque crimes or even acts of blatant homophobia and misogyny is long, most of the time from artists whose music is clean and non-offensive.
On the other hand you can have an artist like Tyler, The Creator who has made a career out of music that is designed to push boundaries, often containing graphic lyrics of violence and misogyny, with some writers labeling Tyler‘s earlier work as graphic rape fantasies. Tyler is someone who time and time again has been painted as a boogeyman of the music industry. Tyler, The Creator outside of his music however is a seemingly very nice, quirky 26 year old guy from California, raised by a single mother who taught himself piano and has a love of fashion and design, with a clear social consciousness.
On his most recent album Forced Witness, Sydney singer-songwriter Alex Cameron penned the track ‘Marlon Brando’, a song portraying himself as someone who hopped up on drugs is out to fight the boyfriend of a woman he finds attractive. Now although the song is clearly written as satire (and is absolutely brilliant). However if you aren’t aware of Cameron’s oddball humor, the track is one that comes off as glorifying violence such as coward’s punches, with murky misogynistic and homophobic overtones.
Here we have two dilemmas, artist’s who commit crimes that are truly terrible and on the other hand musicians whose lyrical content is uncomfortable to listen to. So what can we do? Well there is the argument that boycotting artists like these is the right way to go. By stopping listening to an artist who has been accused of crimes you are showing you don’t support their actions, and by ignoring musicians with offensive lyrics you are making a statement that you don’t endorse those lyrics.
There is another side to the argument and that is that the art and the artist are separate, and that you can blissfully listen to a song without endorsing the lyrics or the artist behind it. Music exists not just to entertain but also to make statements and push boundaries, and by boycotting an artist like Tyler, The Creator you are limiting freedom of speech.
In the end, music is an art form and like any form of art it is subjective, those who choose to boycott musicians they struggle with have every right to do so, while those who listen to the music of an artist with a troubled personal life are more than entitled to. It is all about remaining conscious of the music you are listening to. Maybe think twice next time you want to throw a Chris Brown appreciation night, or decide to pump XXXTentacion out of the car with the windows down. It’s important to consider the message we are sending through our tastes in music.