Examining Cancel Culture in Music

As times change, people’s sense of values changes as well to fit the social standard they have set for themselves. It’s a climate change that can’t be denied because someone’s personal life and relationships can be directly affected by it. Each generation having issues that it stresses more than others. Some issues stretch across generations but today’s social climate stresses the importance of racism, homophobia, misogyny, and sexual assault. If one does not fall on the right side of these issues, they can be swiftly “canceled”.

You have probably heard this term more than once in casual conversation in millennial circles. Whether it’s in person or online, the simple act of canceling someone or something is just dismissing it in all of its entirety. And while it is a simple act itself, the actual rejection of said thing can be easier said than done. When it comes to music, canceling someone or something can have a huge impact on an artist’s career and their forthcoming work. It is done when an artist shows signs of “problematic” behavior. This being something that often aligns with the previously mentioned acts and being on the wrong side of the social climate.

Acts that have been canceled as of late and saw repercussions on their relevance and power in hip-hop and R&B include Nicki Minaj, Kodak Black, Sabrina Claudio, R. Kelly, and Tekashi69. Nicki has suffered a loss in fan base with the attacks on sex work, Claudio went quiet for almost half a year after the discovery of a Twitter account that was used to disparage black women, and the rap sheet for 69 is probably the longest, even though he’s only been relevant for the past year. In the #MeToo era, anyone accused of these actions can and will be easily dismissed in different circles. But the thing is that some of these “canceled” artists are thriving, especially in hip-hop.

Hip-hop, in particular, has always been a complex moral landscape to navigate. Historically, having problems with homophobia, sexual assault, and misogyny. Of course, there is the fact that some of its most popular artists having sketchy to problematic past themselves. Big Pun, a great in the game, was a known abuser but is still held in reverence. The artist that are current superstars weren’t the best in their pasts. Gucci Mane threw a woman off his moving bus for not having sex with him. Of course, he is one that has “reformed”, but a lot of others haven’t. XXXTentaction never publicly apologized for the acts of his apparent allegations but was always apologizing for his past behavior. Joe Budden stated on his podcast that for better or worse, “hip-hop has accepted everyone”. Unfortunately, he is right.

Now, the act of cancellation isn’t a group decision that is decided by a higher power and followed by the masses. The act of canceling comes down to a personal decision for the consumer. Some consumers choose to separate the art from the artists. But in today’s climate, there shouldn’t be a line anymore. R. Kelly, after many decades of thriving, has flourished and made many comebacks after every incident, just because his music was good and gave listeners “Ignition”. He then used his power in the industry to create a cult. From this, we, as an audience, learn that keeping some of these people in financial and social power can only increase the problem. But alas, most fans, once they’ve stuck to an artist, they don’t stop sticking with them. Look at Chris Brown. It’s the reason why the act of “canceling” comes down to the individual and is never decided and acted upon a predetermined day.

The majority of these artists that still have fan bases and haven’t been completely “canceled” are male. After Kanye West decided to publicly support Trump, many denounced him and have boycotted him but Ye still put up enough numbers to question on whether he really was canceled. This wasn’t the first case of his problematic behavior either. He’s had many morally complex situations but has kept his clout. Nicki, on the other hand, has been damned for her many acts. And while the criticism is justified, there is a level of hypocrisy. She worked with alleged abuser Tekashi69 and received hate like hell. Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole both endorsed XXXTentaction but have been safe from the backlash. It’s a double standard, plain and simple. The female artist is dismissed for less than their male counterparts. Neither behavior should be let go and should be addressed.

The fans of artists almost have a strike system set-up to determine whether they should support an artist after the problematic behavior. If there is less than three strikes, they seem to forgive and forget, but others aren’t as lucky. The frequency of behavior determines everything. The status of legend can also help them. Nas was accused by Kelis of abuse but all talk has seemed to disappear because he is so well respected that it’s not affecting his overall place in the game. They’re granted diplomatic immunity. There is a danger of this because we don’t know what will continue to happen or disperse behind closed doors.

While all these issues of problematic behavior should be addressed, that won’t make someone automatically dismiss the entirety of an artist. As previously mentioned, some artist reform and rebrand themselves. They give public apologies and try to become more “positive”. Sabrina Claudio has recently released new music and addressed her past behavior a second time and appears more genuine than the previous attempt to retain good favor. BROCKHAMPTON was also in the negative light when Ameer Vaughn’s past came up and had to completely rebrand and apologize. These apologies seem genuine, and now it is up to the listener to forgive these artists.

Ultimately, that is the final decision. Do you forgive and forget or banish them to cancelation hell? It is the gripping and poignant question. There is an overwhelming amount of artists in hip-hop that have been problematic. Trying to find one with a completely squeaky clean past or present is damn near impossible. You have to decide where on your moral compass you want to stop the buck. The greater point is that there should be a buck. There should be a line. Because if you don’t cancel someone, regardless if others do it or not, are you really about practicing what you preach? Is the very thing you’re willing to fall for being broken down by whom you’re standing with? That is up for you to decide and history will tell you where that falls.

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Featured image taken from this website

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