by: Zachary Draves

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As the world is coming to terms with the grotesque 2016 video of Diddy physically assaulting his former girlfriend Cassie and the larger investigation into other alleged incidents of violence and even sex trafficking on his part, the beloved community of hip-hop cannot afford to let this slip on by. 

The conventional way of thinking is that when we are confronted with a vicious and sometimes hidden societal reality (i.e. domestic violence) in the context of a high-profile case, we have this supposed collective “come to Jesus moment” where we say we can and will do better and that this moment puts it all into perspective.


Unfortunately, due to our seemingly incurable disease of short-term memory loss, we are quickly back to business as usual as the issue falls off the radar. Meanwhile, the problem continues to go unaddressed and lives continue to hang in the balance. 

Then, when another high-profile incident inevitably occurs, we repeat the same talking points in the moment before turning our attention elsewhere. 

Now is the time, albeit way past due, for hip hop to return to its origins that made the music and, more importantly, the culture a beckon of hope, to be a voice for the voiceless. In this case women and girls who are the victims/survivors of domestic violence and men taking on a greater role in being part of the solution. 

Too often we think of domestic violence as a “women’s issue”, but in truth it is everybody’s issue. 

Domestic violence has damaging and lingering effects on everyone impacted, especially the victim. One can only imagine the emotional, psychological, and certainly the physical trauma that Cassie endured then and now with that video being replayed and reposted on a loop for the world to see. 

Not to mention having to listen to some try to blame her for her abuse. 

To be clear, despite what some who blame hip hop for everything wrong in the world, domestic violence is not a hip hop problem, it is a societal problem. 

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.1
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc.

Domestic violence existed before hip-hop and has, in certain instances, been romanticized in movies, music, TV shows, books, and other forms of mainstream popular culture. So hip hop by no means is the primary culprit, it exists within a larger male dominated culture saturated with normalized violence.

That is not to say that all men are abusers or tolerate abuse; they are not, and they don’t. Saying so gets us nowhere. But it is incumbent for men to be invited in to be leaders in the effort to root out domestic violence, and doing so requires us to redefine what it means to be a man.

We as men, are told be tough, strong, aggressive, dominate, emotionless (with the exception of anger) and not to show any signs of weakness or vulnerability. 

Hip-hop has always been male-dominated, and male artists are usually considered forbearers of the culture.  It is generally anticipated for them to make music that reinforces those gender stereotypes, refers to women and girls as b words, hoes, and sluts with little regard for their personhood, and to call out other men who don’t fit into those rigid conventions of traditional masculinity by calling them weak, soft, pussy, etc. 

So, in this post-Diddy moment, men have to look inward, start with themselves, and ask if they are contributing to the problem by turning the other cheek and, if so, how they can be part of the solution. 

Sadly, Diddy posted a supposed “apology” video without acknowledging Cassie or Cam’ron going on CNN and was blatantly disrespectful to host Abby Phillips when she asked him legitimate questions about the case, which will be front and center. 

Luckily, good examples of manhood in hip-hop culture need to be heard.  

The legendary Chuck D from Public Enemy has been a consistent voice in calling out sexism and misogyny in interviews and in songs such as “Revolutionary Generation” off of the seminal 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet:

Day to day, America eats it’s young

And defeats our women

There is a gap so wide we all can swim in

In 2016, Killer Mike, after cutting ties with Life or Death CEO Heathcliff Berru after it was revealed he had engaging in acts of sexual violence, took to Facebook to encourage men to do better:

Men have to be able to tell our friends and peers when they’re wrong. We cannot just say it’s not my problem. We can’t expect ppl (sic) to improve if we’re not willing to hold them accountable and push them to be better.”

The Beastie Boys took a huge turn from some of their original sexist lyrics in 1994 when on the song “Sure Shot”, MCA rapped”

I want to say a little something that’s long overdue / The disrespect to women has to got to be through / To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends / I want to offer my love and respect till the end.”

At the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, Adam Horovitz called for concert promoters and venues to do more to protect women from sexual assault in the aftermath of the horrors of Woodstock 99 that summer that saw repeated incidents of rape. 

In 2013, J Cole, who has always been introspective, released the song “Crooked Smile” featuring the legendary TLC and it became his own version of “Unpretty” from a male perspective.

Take it from a man that loves what you got / And baby girl you’re a star, don’t let ’em tell you you’re not / Now is it real? Eyebrows, fingernails, hair / Is it real? if it’s not, girl you don’t care / ‘Cause what’s real is something that the eyes can’t see

The Palestinian rap group DAM called out gender based violence on a global scale in their 2015 song “DAM”

We abuse her in Egypt then oppress her in Lyd / Women trafficking in the U.S. then rape her in India / Then expect her to be on time to raise the kids / Are we talkin about Super Woman, or a human being?

Outside of the music, filmmaker and anti-sexist activist Byron Hurt’s 2006 film Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes presents a groundbreaking examination of how manhood is represented in hip hop. Longtime journalist and human rights activist Kevin Powell has been at the forefront of the need for men to change and become allies to women and girls. Scholars such as Mark Anthony Neal, Kiese Laymon, Marc Lamont Hill, and Michael Eric Dyson have used the power of the hip-hop intellectual to call out the social structure of patriarchy.

Contrary to what some would believe, there are positive men in hip hop and those are the voices that we need to amplify so that men can see what healthy masculinity within the culture looks and sounds like.

Hip-hop has historically been on the side of the oppressed and pushing back against systems and structures embedded with oppression (racism and classism). Just as much as there needs to be that level of resistance against those forces of evil, the same needs to apply to sexism and misogyny because it is all interconnected.

Cassie, Dee Barnes, Drew Dixon, and all the other brave women in hip-hop need allies, and it is incumbent upon the men to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. 

This is real, so let’s get it real.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline number at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or Text “Start” at 88788. 

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