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From Usher to Action Bronson: Toxic Artists & the Notion of Problematic Favs

August is a month full of anticipated music from deplorable people.

I once tweeted, “Imagine wasting your one problematic fav slot on someone as try-hard as A$AP Rocky.” The tweet flopped, but I contend it was quality content—and particularly reflective of the decisions fans will have to make during these next few weeks.  

Today (August 7), with the 16th anniversary of Usher’s 8701 serving as its introduction, this month promises to be one in which many hip-hop and R&B fans will be heavily confronted with the inner conflict inherent in consuming an artist’s work while rejecting its toxicity. Tainted by either their words, actions or ignorance, certain artists find their careers defined by the matrix wherein the potency of their craft is reconciled against the quality of their character.

Some, like Rocky, eventually wind up further along one of these axes than the other. With others, like Usher, having given us masterworks like 8701 while also being an allegedly terrible person, the problem is more evenly plotted between both, making it difficult for fans to draw the line.

During the same week in which the public decided to wash their hands of all things R. Kelly—an admittedly easier decision—court documents obtained by Radar Online were published, indicating Usher paid a woman $1.1 million in 2012 after knowingly and deceptively infecting her with herpes. Since then, more women have come forward accusing the otherwise revered singer of the same.

While I wouldn’t say he’s my own problematic fav, I’m quite sure I’m not alone in feeling at least mildly trashy for dancing (terribly) throughout my apartment to Usher’s music while his victims grapple with their health being forever altered behind his actions.

There has to be a way for fans to find balance in our indulgence, though. Perhaps with each stream of a song featured on 8701, we should donate 87 cents (or $8.70 for those of us who aren’t music writers) to an organization that counsels and assists victims of sexual assault—as stripping someone of their agency and exposing them to an STD you never disclosed is absolutely a form of sexual violence.

As we move past August 7 and hit August 18, with the release of A$AP Ferg’s Still Striving mixtape, fans will face a similarly unnerving, seemingly elementary yet nonetheless persistent question begging whether we value fire music over the lives of women.

It's more than likely we oversimplify the conundrum when guilt triggers that type of question in our minds. The same emotional intelligence that leaves me hurting for victims of abuse, and empathizing with their humanity, also allows me to recognize my own and not fault myself for sometimes rocking to enjoyable music made by deplorable people.

A$AP Ferg isn’t that, though. All things considered, he seems to be a decent person himself. However, he’s also one of many, many black men sternly unwilling to condemn a friend for abusive behavior, thus enabling and empowering said behavior.

Last month, a video leaked capturing A$AP Mob co-founder A$AP Bari "allegedly" sexually assaulting a woman in a hotel room. In the clip, Bari is seen demanding oral sex from a naked woman he pulls out of bed and slaps on the rear as she runs away from him very clearly and fearfully saying things like “stop” and “no.”

The video was damning enough for Nike to cut ties with the designer and his VLONE brand, but apparently not damning enough for A$AP Ferg to say anything more than "it’s unfortunate and I’d rather leave it at that” when asked about the incident on Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning.

Unfortunately for Ferg, he’s never made grown men memorize choreography the way Usher did with “U Remind Me,” so I don’t have any issue admitting his cowardice will probably keep me from listening to his forthcoming mixtape.

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While I joked A$AP Rocky is a waste of a problematic fav, he is slightly more deserving of the backhanded praise than Ferg, both as a trash individual and a creator of music. As Rocky has progressed as an artist, projects attached to his name have been improving with each release.

His most recent solo album, AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP, was good, and the compilation album he curated with the Mob last year, Cozy Tapes Vol. 1: Friends, was even better. On August 25, a week after Ferg’s release, Rocky and the Mob will follow-up the first installment with Cozy Tapes Vol. 2: Too Cozy. Admittedly, despite Rocky in the past suggesting that black women shouldn’t wear red lipstick, referring to Black Lives Matter as a bandwagon, and continuing his personal and working relationship with alleged serial rapist Ian Connor, Vol. 2 will be hard for me to skip. I suddenly understand why my tweet flopped.

Also releasing albums on August 25 are Action Bronson, with Blue Chips 7000, and XXXTentacion, with 17.

Toting a well-documented laundry list of criminal charges, including one for viciously beating his pregnant girlfriend, Tentacion is a verifiably awful person, as well as a wildly unimpressive rapper. Why anyone would consider him their fav is beyond me and whatever tools I lack to grasp nonsense. But the fact remains that a select few do consider the 5’6" terror their favorite artist, and we should pray for such a lost demographic and the women they encounter. I intend to stay as far away from this release as X’s bodyguards were from him that time Rob $tone ran up and punched the barrettes out of his hair.

A more curious case of separating the art from the artist lies in the back catalogue of Action Bronson. Based on rapping ability alone, it’s reasonable to expect a significant number of fans to consider the bombastic MC their favorite artist. Unlike all the other problematic favs we’re forced to acknowledge this month, most of Bronson’s offenses are actually in his music, which makes them difficult to ignore.

Within the past two years, Bronson has been removed from multiple lineups following petitions from prospective attendees outraged by the violently misogynistic lyrics present on his 2011 song “Consensual Rape.”

While there’s currently a well-intentioned campaign within rap journalism to purge the scene of abusers like XXX and Kodak Black, Action Bronson seems to receive some sort of inexplicable pass. Not much has been said of his transgressions since he first made headlines for them. Outlets seem to be as uninterested in labeling the rapper problematic as he seems to be in not being that way.

In the midst of forced and backtracked PR apologies for his song clearly promoting violence against women, at one point, Bronson responded to the firestorm by tweeting, “FUCK ALL YALL HATERS BLOW DICK.”

That declaration echoed the way he once responded to fans who criticized his transphobia on Instagram. After posting a picture captioned, “Close up of Drunk Mexican Tranny after Bes poured a bottle of water on its head,” the rapper berated offended commenters, saying, “HAHAHAHA U PUSSIES ARE SO SENSITIVE,” and admitting, “I love Gay People. Trannies not so much.”

Eventually, he offered a bizarre apology, writing, "My Mother is Upset. The Picture i posted on Instagram was Distasteful yes, But in no way was i trying to offend anybody from the Gay and Lesbian Community. It wasnt even a Transvestite it just honestly looked like one. I was stupid and i apologize for any hurt caused. In closing I still dont give a fuck what anyone things i love everyone and Blow Me from the Back."

Beyond the hate speech once professed on his Instagram, for people who don’t regard Bronson highly enough as a rapper to consider him their favorite one, it may prove difficult to listen to Blue Chips 7000 and not feel unsettled by a voice who once rapped, “Don’t get me pissed off, fuck around and rip your tits off.”

With any other artist, we’d turn the music up to drown out the realities that make us uncomfortable. But with Bronson, the music only canonizes his vileness.

In the sands of morality, we all draw different lines, sometimes on entirely different beaches. What’s universal, though, is we only get one. Whether it be at the feet of Bronson, Tentacion, Rocky, Ferg or Usher, decide where you choose to draw your line carefully this month, as the tides of accountability are rising faster than ever these days.

Happy August.



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