What Culture Are Rap Talk Shows Serving?
Sometimes, a “healthy debate” isn’t so healthy.
On the Nov. 20 episode of Complex’s Everyday Struggle, co-host Wayno summated Tekashi 6ix9ine’s legal plight by declaring that Brooklyn’s Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods merely saw him as a “cash cow” and never “gave a f*ck about” the artist who was recently swept up in a federal gang indictment. His co-host DJ Akademiks retorted “that may be true,” yet speculated that 6ix9ine, who is facing life in prison on seven charges, may have felt all along that there was “genuine love” from the Bloods as they were willing to commit violence on his behalf.
Wayno laughingly shook his head in dismissal of Akademiks’ naive comments, communicating disdain on behalf of the viewers who wondered why Akademiks was refuting his powerful truth with speculation that served no one. It’s an expression that Wayno, like former Everyday Struggle host Joe Budden, has found himself making often.
Everyday Struggle, like Revolt’s Joe Budden-led State of the Culture and other discussion-driven rap media, is produced and cast to project divergent viewpoints on rap and other issues dear to hip-hop fans colloquially deemed “the culture.” Fiery arguments about a new album or rap beef are compelling, but when the topic shifts to larger social issues that affect the survival of viewers, that healthy debate format can become unhealthy.
Instead of leading the discussion by denouncing harmful rhetoric and worldviews, certain personalities on these shows have too often legitimized them. Akademiks is a shameless apologist (and provocateur) for his rapper friends’ abuse and misdeeds. State of the Culture panelist Remy Ma has marred her reputation among many black women with protective comments regarding accused (and convicted, in the case of Cosby) rapists R. Kelly and Bill Cosby. Joe Budden, who has faced numerous accusations of domestic violence (Budden has denied the allegations; one case was reportedly dismissed in 2016), denounced co-panelist Scottie Beam’s “fake women empowerment bullsh*t” in a passionate diatribe. He proudly shared the clip the day before the full episode premiered, knowing that his conflation of feminism with wanting to “lock up all the men” would cause a viral firestorm. These moments have been widely ridiculed, but they’ve also been widely shared—which is the main goal for executives at Complex, Revolt, and other conglomerates that produce these programs. As cultural commentary shows continue to amplify regressive worldviews in the name of ratings, clicks, and views, it’s often worth wondering what culture they’re actually serving. Who benefits from these discussions?
During the prime of print media, outlets like VIBE, The Source, and Village Voice aimed to edify their readership. Dean Van Nguyen reflected for Pitchfork that, “rather than stick to the rigged constraints of traditional music criticism, writers used the music as an entry point into discussing race, identity, youth, and broader culture” by writing about “the L.A. riots, the crack epidemic, and gun laws” with “insights as cutting as those of KRS-One, Public Enemy, and other socially-engaged artists of the era.” But as YouTube has become rap media’s primary domain, the well-studied insight of those leading voices has been replaced by ill-informed bombast in a chase for views.
In May, Revolt Media laid off a third of their staff. They signed Joe Budden a week later. With that kind of transition, they likely expected the fireworks that he brought to Everyday Struggle, where he berated Akademiks, as well as artists like Lil Yachty, four days a week. With State of the Culture, Revolt sought to parallel Everyday Struggle as hip-hop’s answer to televised forums like ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption and First Take, HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, and CNN’s Crossfire.
All of these shows operate on a premise that there’s a middle ground to be met, but their discussions more closely resemble people beating on opposing sides of a brick wall. In the case of ESPN’s suite of shows, the results can be endearing, but TV news network’s point-counterpoint format cultivated an atmosphere where CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News shows consist of panelists simply out-yelling each other and not learning anything from their conversations on hot-button political issues.
We’re seeing the outward implications of their faux-diplomacy in real time. Political debate shows legitimized bigoted personalities like Bill O’Reilly, Corey Lewandowski and others who sustain negative pathologies about issues like anti-immigration legislation, Islamophobia, police brutality, and other societal scourges. Every time they’re projected in front of millions, and an opposing panelist has to dignify their comments after they say “womp womp” to Mexican children being separated from their parents like Lewandowski did, bigots who think like him are emboldened and validated. Their confirmation bias tells them that they’re right. The visibility of figures like Lewandowski is directly tied to violence, as conservative commentators have become whisperers of white nationalism.
Rap’s online media is suffering from a similar dynamic of contributing to the normalization of the wrong things in a hip-hop world that’s ironically as intolerant as the conservatives they claim to hate. The Breakfast Club continuously offers a platform to people espousing homophobic and transphobic views such as comedian Lil Duval, who joked about killing trans women, and City Girls rapper Yung Miami, who recently doubled down on comments that she would beat her child if he was gay. On Everyday Struggle, Akademiks refuses to hold his friends like 6ix9ine and XXXTentacion accountable. Akademiks recently outdid himself by deflecting from XXXTentacion’s admitted abuse of his girlfriend by saying that “we don’t know the context” of the slain rapper literally saying “I f**ked her up” in leaked audio. His response is especially troubling because in May, after falling out with XXXTentacion, he vindictively played audio of XXXTentacion screaming at a woman without context.
On State of the Culture, Remy Ma has disappointingly aired sympathetic comments toward R. Kelly’s predatory behavior by puzzlingly surmising that “most rapists don’t eat your a**.” She also defended Bill Cosby after his rape conviction by saying “I feel that some of [his 60+ accusers] are lying.” In the midst of her advocacy for Cosby, she told the State of the Culture panel that “I’m defending people that have been done wrong.” But with her careless comments, she, like some of her ill-informed peers, are doing their supporters wrong.
State of the Culture panelist Scottie Beam concluded their contentious Cosby discussion by noting that it should have been centered on “how we talk to men and women who violate men and women” and “eliminating rape culture,” not arguing about Cosby’s guilt in the first place. Then they moved on to the next topic. That conversation ultimately served no one but people who financially benefit from the show’s view count and Cosby advocates who continuously contend that Cosby is the victim of a racialized conspiracy. For every person who exclaimed “that’s what I’ve been saying” and felt vindicated by her counterproductive comments, many more were failed.
Hip-hop media as a collective owes us more than surface level discussion and careless deflection. Issues like racism, rape culture, discrimination toward the LGBTQ community, and others are being discussed more than ever before by hip-hop fans on social media and elsewhere online. These issues are more than 10-minute segments to hurl off the cuff, unlearned opinions at—they’re life and death, and deserve that weight. So many fans of hip-hop are continuously being abused and dying in this climate that takes their cries too lightly, merely contending that they’re “lying” or that there’s not enough “full context” to believe them. Rap’s leading voices can’t be parroting those statements, especially on shows portraying themselves to be proponents of hip-hop culture.
As long as serious issues are trivialized as spectacle and mere #content fodder on these shows, then media personalities will continuously alienate fans who refuse to see their traumas casually misrepresented and dismissed in between topics on Cardi B and Kanye West. They will continue to undermine their platform and sustain the status quo as representatives of a culture of capitalist-minded sensationalism before one that respects its audience.
The resolution is simple: If these outlets can’t find more people willing and able to offer learned insight during these conversations, then they should simply refrain from talking about them and stick to lighter topics. When it comes to discussing—and ultimately dismantling—abusive constructs, there is no middle ground to be met. Ending these abuses is a one-sided discussion, and there’s no debating that.