Friday afternoon, my co-worker and I were joking about Leslie Jones’ turning up to “Get Right” at Jennifer Lopez’s concert last week. She was telling me that’s how she looked on the stairmaster that morning with her revamped workout playlist that included the 2001 J. Lo hit, when she added, “and you know I didn’t get the Fab remix due to all of his current shenanigans.”
It was eerily ironic that she made that remark because I’d been thinking about the tracks on my own Spotify playlists that morning and how many included the Brooklyn rapper who allegedly knocked out the two front teeth of his long-time girlfriend and mother of his two children after punching her in the face seven times. “By end of 2018 ima be left with Fred Hammond to listen to on Spotify,” I joked with her via Slack. “Fab is on too many remixes I love.” But could I still love those songs as much now, knowing the violent nature behind one of the men on the verses?
The conversation concerning separating an artist from his art is one that will likely never end. At some point we’ve all had to face the fact that the men and women who’ve given us some of the greatest songs, beats, movies, TV shows, and many other forms of entertainment and artistry, quite frankly, aren’t worth a damn. In some cases, that doesn’t matter one bit. So what if celebrity X is a complete a–hole? I’m still gone bop to his new hit. But when we get into matters of morality and criminality –and acts of violence specifically perpetrated against women — sometimes the actions of the individuals’ turn the melodies in our ears from sweet to sour.
I can count on less than one hand the number of people I personally know who can still listen to R. Kelly’s 12 Play and not feel sick to the stomach at his documented history of sexual misconduct with young girls. And even though it’s painfully hard not “Step in the Name of Love” whenever some misguided DJ turns it on at a family gathering, a lot of us can’t rectify doing so when we’d rather see the women he allegedly has trapped in his abusive cult step out from under his predatory grasp.
But the buttons certain celebs push are different for everyone. For instance, many in the Christian community were no longer interested in Kim Burrell’s vocals after she vocalized her perception of homosexuality as “perverted” last year, but R. Kelly continues to perform in front of large crowds throughout the country. As does Chris Brown, whose 2009 assault on Rihanna no one has been able to forget. Will Nelly be able to do the same when the pending rape case against him is settled? What about Trey Songz who has been accused of physically assaulting several women now? Can you still swoon over these R&B stars and sway to their beats knowing another another woman has potentially been on the receiving end of their swinging fists?
I don’t ask this question to say one decision or the other is right. I ask because it’s a tricky conflict that’s present nearly every time I want to press play. My Fred Hammond comment was meant to be a joke, but the more I truly reflect on some of the heinous actions of some of our biggest musicians — past and present — my song choices become less about what I want to hear and who I can tolerate. So far, R. Kelly is the only one I’ve given an official “ain’t no coming back” stamp, but there are plenty others I’ve had to place on timeout for a period when their behavior got out of line. But where a lot of these other stars will eventually land on my Do Not Play playlist I can’t say.
Are there any singers’ you can’t listen to anymore because of their actions?