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Art vs. The Artist: Is It Okay To Celebrate The Work Of Bad People?
As the shocking death of rapper XXXTentacion still publicly resonates, Kieren Williams explores the indeterminate morality of separating music from a problematic musician
Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy, known by his stage name XXXTentacion, died June 18th 2018. He was an undeniably talented artist who confronted his own struggles and demons in a way unseen in most of mainstream society. More than that, he did it on a public platform that made it impossible to hide anything. He bore his entire soul to the world through his music, both the good and the bad.
“In songs like ‘SAD!’ and ‘MOONLIGHT’, XXXTentacion let others know they weren't alone in their suffering
And yet, in spite of all of this, whenever his music comes on I find my thumb hovering over the skip button. This is because XXXTentacion, to be brutally honest, was not the best of human beings. The most notable crimes he committed were the aggravated battery of a pregnant woman by strangulation and brutally beating a man whilst in prison- you can listen to the interview he freely gives on it here. He was a great artist but a flawed man to say the least. You could argue that we all have flaws and that we all make mistakes, but there's making a mistake and then there's strangling a pregnant lady, trying to kill a man in prison, and then callously boasting about it. The art was amazing, but was the artist lacking?
“The art and the artist are one and the same, one reflects the other. It is the prism through which it examines the world, the axis it makes sense of life upon
A solution? Well it's pretty simple. Don't listen to their music, surely?
Some would argue that a prison sentence, like the one that XXXTentacion faced, is punishment enough as it is what the law states and, because of this, no further action should be taken against them. Others would point to why this debate is raised over only XXXTentacion as other artists are celebrated despite their crimes, many simply earning the title of 'problematic' at best. And, if we are going to start crucifying artists for their crimes, then where do we stop? When pop stars try to bully lesser know artists, do we clamp down? Or is it reserved to only those who have committed serious enough crimes? I would also like to point out how this debate is often the reserve of hip hop alone whilst other genres escape free of persecution.
“I would argue it's not as simple as a separation between the art and the artist because there is no actual separation and, as such, when supporting one, we do the other as well
Artists need to understand their actions, their crimes, affect themselves beyond a simple jail sentence, a fine (that they can easily pay) or a slap on the wrist. However, this must only be implemented on artists who are deserving of such punishment, who have been found guilty under a court of law, not just those whose lyrics you don't like and who you can whip up a mob of angry mothers online to go after. It cannot be a precedence of censorship on lyrics people don't agree with; that is not a crime nor anything wrong. It has to be a controlled process that requires a bottom up emphasis, but also help from the larger streaming services on top. What I'm emphasising is the control such actions needs to be executed with, that punishment should be served. I believe this with all my heart, but the lines drawn on who is deserving of such a thing must be definite and clear. Mob mentality cannot takeover, but artists must know that, if they commit crimes, they shall suffer and their art will too.
I try to skip the songs of problematic artists, though not as often as I should. I feel none of us do. This is why I say it starts from below with us. We all need to be more critical on our actions and their consequences, how we lend support to people we know do not deserve it. There isn't a separation between the art and artist, to pretend so is ignorant and harmful to the plight of those who suffer because of them. The art and artist are synonymous, and should be treated as such, for better or worse.