When I was a small child, I had an imaginary friend. His name was Boo Boo and for about a year and a half, I blamed him for every deliberate act of disobedience I perpetrated. "Boo Boo made me do it" was my ultimate mea culpa; I'm sure my mom even thought it was cute for about 2.5 seconds.
Over the past few decades, hip-hop has become America's personal Boo Boo. It's a genre that has long been earmarked as a convenient scapegoat for societal maladies, even the ones that have cast a shadow over human interactions far before hip-hop was even a wink in its father's eye. Despite that, and despite a lack of definitive empirical evidence supporting the assertion that hip-hop directly causes acts of crime and rampant misogyny, the blame rap music narrative still prevails.
In reality, holding one style of music accountable for problems humanity has battled for virtually all of history only further marginalizes the people who create it. And though rap is more global and diverse than ever before, it remains prominently (and rightfully) associated with black culture. When media outlets and personalities like Miley Cyrus inject a dialogue that frames rap music as only being violent and detrimental to women, that reality is then projected onto the people most directly associated with it. Unfortunately, those kinds of projections carry implications that go on to influence the way people of color are perceived in the world.
On top of that, blaming music for poor choices lessens the need for culpability in instances where accountability should be the only option. By reinforcing the idea that people are somehow unable — on a moral, empathetic and critical level — to separate artistic expressions from real world rules of engagement, we set the precedent that no one is actually responsible for their own actions.
The rise of Pompano Beach rapper XXXtentacion (born Jahseh Onfroy), whose single "Look At Me!" catapulted him to viral fame, is a prime example of why blaming rap music for misogyny and violence can not only backfire, but actually manifest a culture in which people genuinely start to act on that belief system.
In October 2016, the 19 year old allegedly beat his then-girlfriend while she was pregnant. While gruesome pictures purporting to show the aftermath of the attack circulated on the internet, so did X's music. His profile was also given additional visibility thanks to an unexpected beef with Drake. Some fans disputed the beating ever occurred, while others minimized the incident as a by-product of X's gritty image and being "real."
It's a markedly different reaction than what Chris Brown received back in 2009 when he infamously assaulted Rihanna. This could partly be due to the lack of real clarity regarding X's alleged crime. Nevertheless, the reaction (or lack thereof) indicates that we've reached a critical point in popular culture where hip-hop, violence and misogyny have been so conflated that the idea of a rapper potentially brutalizing a pregnant woman does the opposite of deterring their fanbase. In fact, as of right now, X is set to release new music with Diplo and is also one of XXL's "Freshman of the Year" candidates.
Yet his ongoing visibility is not the fault of hip-hop music. It has more to do with the willingness of platforms and people with the power of influence to lazily dismiss or glamorize the abusive real-world behavior of rappers as just being part of hip-hop culture.
In doing so, they fail to recognize a very important distinction: lyrical tales of criminal pursuits or even the verbal degradation of women, while uncomfortable, is not the same as actually carrying out those acts in real life. And even when an artist's body of work becomes a journal of distasteful real behavior, it's up to us as individuals to think critically enough to separate the two without applying blanket generalizations to an entire genre in the process.
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