Trigger Warning: The following article contains detailed descriptions of domestic and sexual violence. Reader discretion is advised. Additionally, this long form article has been broken into three parts. Here is a link to each part: 1970s, 1980s-1990s, 2000s-2020s.
The chickens have come home to roost for Hip Hop.
This week, Cassie filed an explosive lawsuit against Hip Hop pioneer P. Diddy that alleged graphic and horrid sexual and domestic abuse. In her lawsuit, Cassie claims, among other things, that Diddy raped and abused her. Unfortunately, this has become a norm in Hip Hop; a powerful man is accused of abuse and nothing further happens – no cancellation, no remorse, and no accountability. Although Cassie and Diddy have settled out of court for an undisclosed amount, the allegations beg the question: are abuse and Hip Hop intrinsically linked?
Cordae once said, “Lately all my idols, they been failing me – catching sexual assaults and some felonies.” This was a critique of old school Hip Hop in response to J. Cole’s critique of the new school. For quite some time, people have held this sentiment about Hip Hop – that the genre normalizes violence in general but against women especially. In 2018, Buzzfeed writer Sylvia Obell asked, “Will time ever be up for abusive men in Hip Hop?”
Detailing high profile domestic violence and sexual assault cases like Russell Simmons and XXXTentacion, she noted, “When it comes to beloved artists who are accused of gruesome, if not criminal actions, the prevailing argument from fans is that letting go of an artist whose music has been a major part of their lives is difficult.” Really, fans have developed parasocial relationships with entertainers, evidenced by the fact that some people still haven’t muted R. Kelly, who is serving time for his crimes against women.
Some will say, “you have to separate the art from the artist,” but what happens when the art promotes the artists’ violent behavior? Going back to the example with The Pied Piper, he wrote songs for Aaliyah Haughton’s first album Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. In these songs, he would describe his abusive relationship with Haugton, who was underaged when Kelly secretly married her. Although this example is not about Hip Hop specifically, Kelly’s collaborations with Hip Hop artists makes it relevant to this story.
After all, he has collaborations with Biggie Smalls, Twista, Jay Z, and Nas, whose reluctance to condemn his disgusting behavior is indicative of the problem with Hip Hop: violence is normalized. To understand this, we would have to go back to the beginning.
In 1973, Hip Hop was founded by Kevin “Afrika Bambaataa” Donovan and Amad Henderson, according to Okay Player. Their rallying cry about peace, love, and unity was adopted by “b-boys, breakbeat aficionados, DJ, rappers and aerosol artists,” Eric Arnold wrote. Yet, in recent years, there has been a troubling layer added to Bambaataa’s legacy: sexual abuse.
Ronald Savage, a former member of Bambaataa’s Universal Zulu Nation, said that Bambaataa abused him in a video for The Daily News. Following his accusation, three other members of the Zulu Nation came forward alleging that Bambaataa had abused them too, Vibe reported.
In an interview with New York Daily News, Hassan Campbell, another one of Bambaataa’s alleged victims, called him a “pervert” and said “he likes little boys.” While many distanced themselves from Bambaataa following the allegations, some came out in his defense. KRS-One, another Hip Hop pioneer, told Drink Champs podcast hosts he didn’t care about the allegations.
Later, he would cement his position when he told an interviewer in Birmingham, England, “Afrika Bambaataa has to deal with Afrika Bambaataa. The accusations made against him are made against him. They’re not made against Hip Hop.” The problem with this defense is that Afrika Bambaataa is not the only Hip Hop pioneer to be accused of abuse, so maybe there is a critique to be made against Hip Hop.
Bambaataa is one of the founders of the genre, and he allegedly molested several little boys; this set a precedent.
1980s and 1990s
Going into the 80s and 90s, the abuse allegations continued to pile up. Perhaps the most glaring example is that of Lil Kim and Biggie. In an interview with Drink Champs, Jermaine Dupri told N.O.R.E. that he saw Biggie pull a gun on Lil Kim. Later, Kim would confirm the allegations and detail her “violent” relationship with the late rapper.
For Hot 97, she told the show hosts that all she attracted was violent men. She went on to say that in the industry, men were given free passes, while women were subjected to abuse. “When we were together, it always turned into a Lover’s quarrel or a Lover’s nest.” She added that Biggie had two sides to him and chalked it up to him being a Gemini and him possessing dual identities.
During the interview, Kim took a mostly positive approach, but Biggie was not the only abusive rapper discussed. They also mentioned Big Pun, whose wife Liza Rios has documented his abuse. In an interview, Liza said that Pun was a “clearly a sociopath.” She added that, “I’ve been pistol whipped, I’ve gotten 16 stitches in my face, I got 3-4 stitches in my lip, I had 6 stitches in my fingers.”
Yet, when anyone brings up Pun’s extremely violent ways, his supporters defend him. When his friend and collaborator Fat Joe made a birthday post honoring Pun, a fan noted that Pun pistol whipped his wife. In response, Pun’s other friend Remy Ma commented that the fan was a “Hating Harriet” and had probably never been pistol whipped before because she was running her mouth.
This level of vitriol is commonplace when calling out abusive men. Another layer to the vitriol is the mocking, which we’ve seen numerous times with Dee Barnes, who was abused by esteemed producer Dr. Dre. We previously reported on Dee Barnes’ story, but in an interview with Wendy Williams, more information was revealed regarding Barnes’ abuse. Williams asked Barnes if Dre had ever been sexually violent towards her, and Barnes said she could not confirm nor deny it, according to Hip Hop DX.
However, Dre was not the only member of NWA to face these types of allegations. The Daily Beast reported that, “In 1993, former members of the rap group settled a lawsuit brought by a young black woman named Sheila Davis, who claimed that MC Ren had raped her aboard the group’s tour bus in Alabama in July 1989. (MC Ren, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and Dr. Dre were all named in the suit).” This young lady was 16 at the time of the incident, and a paternity test proved that there was a “99.8 percent probability that MC Ren was the biological father.”
MC Ren denied these allegations but did make remarks about the Dee Barnes incident. After she accused Dre of abuse, Ren said, “That’s what she get. I hope she get it again.” So, once again, we have a case of Hip Hop pioneers acting violently toward people and young people in particular. Like before, this set a precedent for the genre moving forward.
2000s – 2020s
Sadly, it would not be the last time that a popular Hip Hop star would be accused of sexual relations with a minor. In more recent times, Kodak Black and Tekashi69 have both been accused of child sexual assault. Yet, like Dre and Bambaataa, they have not been canceled. As of today, Black has 28.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify, an indication that the problem is only persisting. For 69, he has 8 Million listeners. While significantly less than Black, he still has a considerable amount of fans.
Going back to the opening example with R. Kelly, we can see why these younger artists are not getting “canceled” for their abuse allegations; it’s because the older generation has normalized it. When Spotify tried to mute R. Kelly, Kendrick Lamar threatened to take his music down if they did not put Kelly’s music back up.
This is just one example of the normalization. Another example is the lack of cancellation for Drake, who has been caught texting minors and even kissing an underaged fan on stage. Despite these well-documented signs of abuse, there is no cancellation in sight for the Canadian rapper. Rather, there is normalization of his behavior.
If one of the top MCs in Hip Hop can get away with grooming and sexual abuse, then it is Hip Hop’s problem, despite what KRS-One said. Moreover, Hip Hop does not just normalize abuse by male acts but also abuse against female acts. We saw this in real time with Megan Thee Stallion’s trauma.
People who had never supported Tory Lanez came rushing to his defense as soon as he was accused of domestic violence. From the glass allegations to the DNA on the gun to blaming Kelsey Harris, the goal post constantly moved during Lanez’s highly publicized trial. We saw the problem displayed on a Jumbotron: hip hop and abuse are intrinsically linked.
There is no other conclusion to come to when Talib Kweli has been harassing a Black woman for three years because she made a comment about his wife. What other conclusion can you draw when Russell Simmons is still upheld in the community? How do we move forward when Joe Budden is still able to have a say in Hip Hop, despite allegations of causing his baby mother’s miscarriage?
Spoiler alert: we don’t. Until we can confront and eradicate Hip Hop’s ugly truth, then the genre will forever be linked to violence.