Over the past few years, SoundCloud rap has taken over pop culture and controversial artists such as XXXTenacion and 6ix9ine have taken the media by storm.
It seems that much of their publicity stems from the legal challenges they face rather than the music they produce. Moral panic has always surrounded music that comes with each new generation, but the amount of SoundCloud rappers involved in violent crimes is quite staggering. Many of them have been involved or charged with crimes such as sexual assault, robbery, murder and gang violence. Nonetheless, our current generation still flocks toward their music. In 2017, Nielsen SoundScan figures indicated that eight of the 10 most listened to artists in the world were rappers. All this controversy leads rap fans to ask themselves whether artists’ personal lives should be judged separately from their music.
That is a complicated question, considering most rap songs draw upon the artists’ personal lives. It is hard to decipher when these artists are being truthful or simply exaggerating for the sake of their stage persona. For example, in the early 2000s Hip-Hop artist Eminem faced backlash for his crude lyrics in songs like “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Kill You,” in which he raps about murdering his wife and mother. Many of his other songs also mentioned domestic violence and murder, but he was never charged or even allegedly believed to be associated with those crimes. In an interview with TMZ in 2004, Eminem stated that his lyrics are simply meant to express how he feels, but he would never act on them. “I do say things that I think will shock people. But I don’t do things to shock people,” he said.
However, this new-age rap music has shown that artists are living by the lyrics in their songs. Rapper XXXTenacion alludes to domestic violence and murder in many of his songs such as “Look at me!” and “Carry On.” According to The Guardian, XXXTenacion was sent to trial for alleged domestic abuse charges (beating his pregnant girlfriend) before he was murdered in 2018. The article also refers to another SoundCloud rapper, 6ix9ine, who is currently facing life in prison for charges relating to gang activity and may have to enter the Witness Protection Program if he is ever released.
Vulture magazine also mentioned that the rapper Trippie Redd had two arrests in 2018— first, for fighting another rapper, FDM Grady, and then another for allegedly pistol whipping a woman. Additionally, it was reported that Lil Pump spent a few months in jail for violating his parole and Lil Xan spent time in rehab for opioid addiction in 2018.
Perhaps most shockingly, an 18 year old rapper Tay-K was arrested for armed robbery that left one man dead in July of 2019. According to the New York Times, his song “The Race” was actually written as he was fleeing from the cops. “The video, which has been viewed more than 173 million times on YouTube, featured a baby-faced Tay-K posing with a handgun next to his own wanted poster, and caused a stir online for its unabashed muddying of the line between art and life,” the article states.
For artists like Tay-K, it is hard to make the case that music should always be judged separately from the artist. Tay-K capitalized off of his horrendous crime, and it’s likely that many listeners were only interested due to morbid curiosity.
The same phenomenon occurred with rapper XXXTenacion. According to Google Trend Data, the rapper’s stardom began to soar in October of 2017 immediately after the assault against his girlfriend. His hit song “Look at me!” was released back in 2015, but reached number two on the Billboard charts in 2017.
In all, fans of Hip-Hop or any other genre of music should be free to listen to whoever they want. An article by The Guardian offers a better solution to this problem that does not include censoring crude lyrics. “While labels aren’t always champions of pastoral care, when SoundCloud rapper Smokepurpp signed to Interscope, the label had immediately advised him to deal with his drug use,” the article states. Although suggestions such as these may not ensure all signed artists will clean up, it does provide an incentive for those artists to get control over their lives.
Katie Jensen may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org