XXXTentacion was a uniquely modern dichotomy.
Leading a brutal, vicious, at times extremely abusive life, his music somehow cracked the unique code needed to go viral. Downcast, raw, almost lo-fi on certain releases, the Florida rapper racked up astonishing streaming figures, outstripped even some stadium-filling peers.
Yet the contradiction between his compelling music and the brutality of his private life was never one major streaming platforms could solve. Accused of enabling an abuser, Spotify hurriedly introduced their ‘hate content and hateful content’ policy, removing XXXTentacion from their official playlists – in effect, severing his primary link to monetised streaming.
The move caused an outcry from several prominent rappers, with pressure from the likes of Kendrick Lamar forcing a backtrack from Spotify. Now, with XXXTentacion’s short life brought to a halt in a Florida shooting, the service has back-tracked completely, adding his music once more to their playlists.
It’s a move they’ve hinted at for some time, with many pointing out the very select nature of the policy. It’s something XXXTentacion himself commented on – how can his music be removed, he argued, while everyone from David Bowie to Real Estate, James Brown to Miles Davis be allowed to remain? All are accused of despicable acts, yet all are allowed to place their music freely on the service.
Vickie Nauman, an industry consultant who has worked with Spotify in the past, seemed to sum up the thoughts of many when she told Billboard: “It is virtually impossible to police millions of songs, lyrics, contributors and artists. Where and how do you draw the line?”
“I support taking a stand and not willingly sponsoring a known violent artist,” she said, “but it’s quite unclear to me how you can consistently monitor and apply any sort of similar editorial/social/cultural standards across art on any scale.”
And so it proved. Spotify began their rollback a matter of days after announcing XXXTentacion’s removal, leaking news to Billboard that the Florida hip-hop star would – eventually – be restored to some of their playlists.
Using the rapper’s death to do so, however, is exceptionally crass and astonishingly cold. XXXTentacion’s music has been added to the streaming service’s hugely popular RapCaviar playlist while the This Is XXXTentacion playlist has been boosted to a prominent position on Spotify’s user interface.
It’s an unbelievably insensitive move, a boorish, mindless surrender on principles Spotify broadcast to the music world. XXXTentacion may be dead but the people he abused are still alive, still dealing with the ramifications of what happened to them.
Pitchfork obtained a 142 page transcript of a lengthy interview with the rapper’s ex-girlfriend, and it contains graphic, deeply unsettling details of physical and emotional abuse that amounts of torture.
Furthermore, it completely torpedoes Spotify’s own ‘hate content and hateful content’ policy. The platform’s VP Jonathan Prince described the policy on its roll-out as being focussed at music “so particularly out of line with our values, egregious, in a way that it becomes something that we don’t want to associate ourselves with.”
The contradiction between their aims and their actions is stark, and one fans are already commenting on:
I see why Beyonce said fuck spotify, just a few weeks ago they were bashing XXXTENTACION & taking him off all the playlist now they're trying to capitalize off his passing smh...#XXXTentacion pic.twitter.com/IEU5IojWFi— YOUNG & BANDSOME (@JappOffJones) June 19, 2018
Personally, I think @Spotify is fake as fuck for removing @xxxtentacion songs but then as soon as he dies they put his shit at the top of Rap Caviar. Profiting off his death and shit. If he wasnt good enough to be on your shit when he was alive dont switch up now— Jake Hallman (@JakeyDingo) June 19, 2018
Bruh @Spotify how can y’all say R.I.P @xxxtentacion but when he was alive y’all took him off Spotify now you guys act like y’all didn’t do nothing to him R.I.P @xxxtentacion pic.twitter.com/G5egfJ2gYq— Tommy (@liltommyski) June 18, 2018
The moral dichotomy running through XXXTentacion’s life and work is something that has been there from the start, a gruesome facet that fans are still wrestling with.
You can choose to listen, or choose to ignore, but for Spotify to attempt to somehow do both is an act of corporate ambulance chasing that deeply injures the service’s reputation.
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