"Got no sympathy for hoes / I’ll slap a bitch!" rages Slimmy B of SOB x RBE on the song “All Facts Not 1 Opinion" from the Vallejo rap group's new album, Gangin II, miming a slapping motion as he says the words in the music video.
SOB x RBE aren't the only young, rising rap artists making light of violence against women in recent releases. Twenty-two-year-old breakout Atlanta star Playboi Carti also brags, "Got me mad as shit, so I slapped that bitch" on "R.I.P." from his album Die Lit, which peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's rap albums chart in May.
The dialogue surrounding misogyny and abuse in rap culture—whether in lyrics or real life—has been a constant for decades. But it's notably regressed since last fall, when the #MeToo movement reached a fever pitch. Yes, some of the main protagonists in that debate, namely 6ix9ine and XXXtentacion, continue to elicit a loud minority of detractors. But 6ix9ine has enjoyed chart success and a high-profile collaboration with Nicki Minaj despite his guilty plea to using a child in a sex tape. Meanwhile, many fans and artists have re-imagined the late XXXtentacion as a romantic fallen hero while glossing over the allegations of brutal domestic violence against him.
"I'ma be sympathetic to a kid who has clearly been through so much f-cked up shit that he inflicted this on someone else," rapper J. Cole told Billboard in September. In the same interview, Cole expressed disappointment with his hero, Nas (Nas' ex, Kelis, recently accused him of domestic violence). But even as some factions of the rap world grapple with talented artists who have appalling accusations against them, we seem to not have a problem with lyrics that reinforce the same behavior.
This isn't to say that domestic violence shouldn’t be categorically exempt as thematic material in rap. There are plenty of songs where it's treated with nuance, such as when Vic Mensa raps with remorse about choking his girlfriend on the 2016 track, “There’s Alot Going On": "She came out the room swingin', hit me in the jaw / I was really tryna fend her off / But I ended up in the closet with my hands around her neck / I was trippin', dawg." (Mensa recently stoked XXXtentacion fans' ire with his unreleased freestyle from the BET Hip-Hop Awards, which air on Oct. 16. He says he was calling out a "trend in hip-hop of championing abusers.")
Still, one of the challenges of critically discussing abusive artists is the increasing pushback against the concept of "cancel" culture. "We’re talking less about whether a work is good art but simply whether it’s good—good for us, good for the culture, good for the world," writes Wesley Morris in a recent essay for The New York Times. His concern is that morality and so‐called identity politics are overtaking aesthetics as the primary reasons for celebrating popular art. Besides, "cancel" culture doesn’t seem to work in popular music, which is more decentralized and less contained by corporations than the film and television industry.
It’s one thing to try and "cancel" artists’ careers over taboo lyrics and real‐life criminal allegations—and indeed, there are some corners of social media that try to do that—and another to insist that artists simply be held to account for their bodies of work. No one claims that '80s and '90s rap stars like Beatnuts (where Psycho Les called himself “the crazy rapist” on "Reign of the Tec") or Geto Boys (with their notorious rape-and-pillage horrorcore classic, "Assassins") should be wiped from history. However, rap audiences' tastes have evolved considerably over the past 30 years.
As Rich Homie Quan and Rick Ross learned when they apologized for their lyrics on the songs "I Made It" and "UOENO"—which both coyly described rape scenarios—that type of material is becoming less acceptable, especially in front of mass audiences. Hip-hop loves its outlaws, but outrageously noxious tropes about sexual assault and statutory rape have become taboo. If the culture is to continue to evolve, it’s worth asking why rap songs about beating women still fly under the radar.
At its best, rap music reflects society as a whole, no matter how beautiful or ugly. But tracks where violence against women is treated like a joke—like Playboi Carti's "R.I.P." and SOB x RBE’s "All Facts Not 1 Opinion"—seem beyond the pale now.
People of all genders deserve better from the art form.