Everyone forget he’s a rapist? https://t.co/iuZQdb7xoY
— Kaneki Ikari (@bewitchking) November 3, 2018
Did you know that in 2016, Kodak Black was charged with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl, ignoring her pleas for him to stop as he forcibly performed oral sex on and penetrated her?
If you answered “no,” you’re in the majority. Kodak Black’s sexual assault is all but forgotten at this point. As his name circles back into the press with the video for Gucci Mane’s hit single “Wake Up In The Sky,” featuring hitmaker Bruno Mars, it’s a story that needs to be retold.
Kodak Black is an example of how the music industry not only ignores predators, but actively rewards them. This is also true of 6ix9ine, who pled guilty to the use of a child in a sexual performance—though he somehow skated by without jail time. Despite the failure to comply with the terms of his original 2015 plea agreement and his involvement with the 9 Trey Bloods, 6ix9ine’s recent sentencing resulted in four years of probation for the rapper, as well as a requirement to complete 1,000 hours of community service and avoid gang activity. He does not have to register as a sex offender.
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In both Black and 6ix9ine’s cases, the victims did what the world tells them to do. They reported the crime and started a legal investigation. In Black’s case, the legal system did its job, and Black received one year of jail time for his act of sexual assault. In 6ix9ine’s case, it did not. All the while, both musicians have remained relevant and received heavy radio play of both new and old singles.
2018 has been a landmark year for Kodak Black and 6ix9ine, with both of their biggest hits to-date landing at numbers two and three on the Billboard Hot 100 list, respectively. Their success is reflective of how, in the wake of #MeToo, heteronormativity combined with toxic masculinity is amplifying the next generation of music superstars.
In my conversations with male musicians, there is a private anxiety that all of them seem to share on some level. What if, God forbid, a fan lies about her age? What if everything they’ve worked for comes crumbling down based on a decision they made under false pretenses?
It’s a valid question, but an unlikely scenario. And yet, with almost every one of my cisgender male artist friends I’ve spoken to in the last year, that fear has shadowed discussions of justice for sexual assault victims. Especially if the sexual predators in question are young, popular, and successful male musicians.
With the rise of any movement, there is an understanding that the definitive systems of power that fuel our society are at stake. You can be a cisgender man or a male-presenting person, agree with the tenants of the #MeToo movement, and still feel conflicted about what that might mean for you. That’s just human nature, and I don’t necessarily think every man or masculine presenting person should be faulted for that. No one is ever going to be born with perfect knowledge of another person’s experiences; “to live is to change, and to be perfect is to change often.” What matters is the desire to change, and the steps taken to do so.
However, we’ve created a social economy that thrives on the notion of client-facing perfection. There is no room for nuance on the cold void of the Internet, and that applies to the condemnation of artists too. The entertainment industry “cancels” performers for using slurs and hate speech, but only when it’s convenient for them to do so. Take the case of Megyn Kelly, a news anchor with a history of jaw-dropping racist remarks, for example. Kelly was only fired from her NBC contract when she drew enough bad press to potentially cause financial losses larger than her $69 million salary payout for the company.
Surprisingly, the demand for black-and-white stances on social issues allows for bad actors to keep seeping through the cracks. Words are everything online, but in reality, they don’t mean that much. The cycle of “outrage” is a marketing tool now, rather than a legitimate catharsis against abusive behavior. It’s particularly bad in the music industry. It seems as if one hit song wipes our memories enough to let criminal misdemeanors slide—or at least remain muted in relation to the “art.” That creates a reward system for the people who really should be cancelled. The people who have faced the legal system after being charged with crimes of sexual assault and abuse, and in some cases, served jail time.
One could argue that music has the fastest turnaround out of every field of the entertainment industry. Thousands of artists are signed to labels every year, and a very small percentage of them go on to see any real success. When you’re a hot commodity, things happen quickly in the music industry. A song is a faster project to produce than a television show, and there are a lot of aspiring, compliant musicians in the world. If you’re causing problems, you can be out just as fast as you got in. So why is it that Kodak Black and 6ix9ine are at the top of the charts, despite years of legal troubles and limited major releases?
While the #MeToo movement has sparked important, healthy conversations around consent and abuse, it has ignited a baseline sense of gendered tribalism. There is a reason that Kodak Black, 6ix9ine, XXXTentacion, Doctor Luke, and countless others keep getting chances. It’s because the system is rigged now more than ever. The masculine monolith of the music industry indicates that those in power not only feel fear, but anger.
Why bet the farm on someone who you know to be a sexual predator? It’s a “fuck you” to anyone who threatens to dethrone the countless gatekeepers that hoard whatever money there is to be made in music. Because it always comes down to money. The “fuck you” mentality is a catharsis to men feeling anxious about their own sense of security, and their own frustration facing the monumental amount of work to be done to change their perspective. Change is hard and the status quo is easy. Change is so hard, in fact, that labels will spend large swaths of their marketing budget just to make sure nothing ever shifts. Powerful people in the music industry will hold the line with the worst of them in order to protect generations of gendered wealth.
Nobody is sorry, because nobody really has to be. 6ix9ine and Kodak Black have not only shown a lack of remorse for their actions, they’ve both openly violated the terms of their parole and plea deals. They are not sorry, because they know that if they are, their careers are over. Their role as pawns in the counter-attack to punishing predators is the only leg they truly have to stand on, and as long as they continue to comply with the powers that be, they’ll be rewarded. Need more proof? It’s right there in the Billboard charts.