Why Hip Hop Never Had a #MeToo Movement | Crooked Media
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March 23, 2024
What A Day
Why Hip Hop Never Had a #MeToo Movement

In This Episode






Tre’vell Anderson: So, Erin, the other day I heard a deeply unserious phrase that I’ve heard otherwise serious people use many times in the last few years. And I want to talk to you about it. 


Erin Ryan: Okay. Was it momtrepreneur? Webinar?


Tre’vell Anderson: Close. Okay, but the phrase I was thinking of was post me too era. I bet you can guess why. 


Erin Ryan: Oof. That one really grinds my gears too. First of all, it implies that all of the work of the cultural movement to confront and address power and sexual abuse and harassment is done and behind us. Of course, you know, many abusers were called out and rooted out. And I don’t want to downplay the work of those who made sure those stories were told. However.


Tre’vell Anderson: Yes a big ol’however, all right, there is still more accountability to be had for whole parts of the entertainment industry that didn’t have their reckonings while everybody was talking about Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, right? 


Erin Ryan: Like miming and Cirque du Soleil? Are you talking about those parts of entertainment? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, very cute guesses once again, but I’m actually talking about the music side of the industry and particularly the world of hip hop community. But now, with a new spate of lawsuits against Diddy, maybe hip hop’s MeToo moment has finally arrived. [music break]


Erin Ryan: I’m Erin Ryan. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


Erin Ryan: And this is How We Got Here, a new series where we explore a big question behind the week’s headlines and tell a story that answers that question. 


Tre’vell Anderson: On our minds this week, why did the MeToo movement miss a huge part of the music industry? And is it finally time for the hip hop loving community to take out the trash? A content note, this week’s episode contains details of alleged sexual abuse and harassment. If you’re going to continue listening, and I hope you do, make sure to take care of yourself. 


Erin Ryan: Okay, so let me set the scene for this week’s story. It’s November 2017, and the Los Angeles Times runs a story featuring some pretty serious allegations against Def Jam Recordings mogul Russell Simmons and director Brett Ratner. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, so I was a reporter at The Times, and my colleague Amy Kaufman was spearheading that story. 


Erin Ryan: Oh, wow. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And this was definitely like the quote unquote “height” of the MeToo movement, right? If it had a height. Because a month prior, The New York Times and The New Yorker had come out with twin stories detailing the life and crimes of Hollywood super producer and super predator Harvey Weinstein. 


[clip of unspecified news reporter] It began Thursday with a scathing New York Times report. Stories of women reportedly being paid off to keep silent about Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And that unleashes, right, a flood of stories from people in and around Hollywood sharing their own experiences with sexual misconduct. 


Erin Ryan: In only a month, allegations had come out against director James Toback. Kevin Spacey, the head of Amazon Studios, Danny Masterson, Louis C.K., Jeremy Piven, Jeffrey Tambor and more. It’s a whole basketball team worth of sex pests. Around that time, it seemed like every day there was a disgusting allegation against a powerful man in a prominent newspaper. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Very much so. And according to that November 19th, 2017, L.A. times story, back in the 1990s, then 17 year old model Keri Claussen Khalighi was at a casting call when she was allegedly forced into sex acts with Simmons, with Ratner serving as his accomplice. Simmons strongly denied the story, saying that everything happened with the girl’s consent. In a statement, he even went so far as to imply that Khalighi was, quote, “ashamed that her boyfriend had found out” about their quote, “long weekend together.” Then he blamed the whole thing on being a Playboy who was a work in progress. 


Erin Ryan: I mean, he was an adult man and she was under age. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. But it keeps going, right? His statement went on, quote, “I have made choices that have offended some of the women in my life. It’s not cool to be a Playboy and a new consciousness understands this.” [scoff] He added, quote, “I never knowingly caused fear or harm to anyone. For any women from my past who I may have offended, I sincerely apologize. I am still evolving.” 


Erin Ryan: Oh boy, a lot to unpack there. Not enough time. So then what happened? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Well, Russell’s statement about how he’d never hurt a woman in his life made it to the wrong woman, right? 


Erin Ryan: Oooh. Okay. 


Tre’vell Anderson: A week later, a screenwriter named Jenny Lumet wrote a column for The Hollywood Reporter under the self-explanatory headline, Russell Simmons Sexually Violated Me. She accused Simmons of sexually assaulting her when she was 24 years old. 


Erin Ryan: Lumet had made a name for herself as the screenwriter of The Mummy and Rachel Getting Married. 


[clip from unspecified movie] I am Shiva the Destroyer and your harbinger of doom for this evening. It’s going to be perfect. Oh God. [?]. 


Erin Ryan: But she was also entertainment royalty, the daughter of legendary screenwriter Sidney Lumet, who directed Network and a lot of other iconic works, and the granddaughter of singer Lena Horne. 


Tre’vell Anderson: After The Hollywood Reporter contacted Simmons about Lumet’s allegations, he defended himself, saying that his memory of the night differed from hers, but that he was stepping down from his business to work on himself regardless. And HBO’s All Def Comedy Series took his name out of the credits. 


Erin Ryan: But then a couple weeks later in stories in The New York Times and LA Times, four more women accused Russell Simmons of rape that occurred between the years of 1983 and 1996, and five more accused him of sexual misconduct as recently as 2016, and all of them fit his M.O. from other allegations. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Now, some of these accusations came from other women in the industry. A music journalist, Sherri Hines, of the pioneering all girl hip hop group Mercedes Ladies, a comedian and actress from a hit HBO series. The NYPD, started investigating Simmons the day after the stories came out, and over the next several months, more and more allegations hit the press. And then came the lawsuits. And then– 


Erin Ryan: –Justice? Some kind of financial penalty? 


Tre’vell Anderson: None of the above. Russell Simmons took his ass to Bali, okay. And he’s been there for the last few years, even as allegations against him kept rolling in as recently as February of this year. 


Erin Ryan: Wait, so why Bali? I mean, it sounds nice, but there must be another reason. Tre’vell, does Bali have an extradition agreement with the US? 


Tre’vell Anderson: It does not. 


Erin Ryan: Ah ha.


Tre’vell Anderson: Ok. Which means, right, that if law enforcement in the US finds that Simmons should be charged with any of his alleged crimes, he’s kind of untouchable. 


Erin Ryan: But not unvisitable apparently. Famous people have continued to visit Simmons in his little oasis. From Taraji P. Henson to Usher, even though it’s absolutely no secret what he’s been accused of, by how many people and how pervasive this pattern seems to have been. So what gives? 


Tre’vell Anderson: So there’s a quote from Jenny Lumet’s column in The Hollywood Reporter that crystallizes an issue that the hip hop community has been grappling with when it comes to misconduct, right in its own ranks. Lumet said, quote, “there is so much guilt and so much shame. There is an excruciating internal reckoning. As a woman of color, I cannot express how wrenching it is to write this about a successful man of color.” 


Erin Ryan: Hmhm. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And what she’s talking about there is this cultural catch 22 that we as Black folks often find ourselves in. Because of the violence and oppression that folks who uphold white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, shout out to Bell Hooks, have inflicted upon us, we sometimes feel like we can’t talk about the mainly Black men who are harming the Black folks who ain’t men in our communities, right? And we feel like we can’t do that, at least not in public, because it’ll be like beating a dead horse, compounding what our men have to go through in this racist world, even if it’s accused and in some cases, confirmed predators like Russell Simmons or record executive L.A. Reid or rapper Mystikal, or R&B singer R. Kelly or Diddy. Okay, who we’re going to get to in a moment. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. Time and time again, powerful men within the hip hop community have been outed as abusers, only to have industry ranks and fans close around them, making sure they get a second, third, 10th, 20th chance. People like Chris Brown, Bobby Brown and Kodak Black people were even taking Tory Lanez’s side after he shot Megan Thee Stallion. And he’s like nobody. But what you’re describing here isn’t unique to hip hop. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Exactly right. Many historically excluded communities, especially, find ourselves navigating these types of circumstances. But you know these are my people, right? And I believe in sweeping around my own front door before sweeping around somebody else’s. Right. And so I wanted to tease this super complex reality out a bit. I called up Taylor Crumpton, a wonderful journalist who covers music and culture, and I was really struck by this analogy she came up with likening hip hop to a home. 


[clip of Taylor Crumpton] Those who know the history of hip hop can trace the genres that were leading up to it that were Black and then became white over time. Blues, country, rock n roll, jazz, funk, right? All the things that made up hip hop to be what it is. There has always been this overt ownership of hip hop. If we need to have some leaders in place so they can be the gatekeepers and we can protect this last cherished Black culture production, right? One of the first gatekeepers, Russell, Def Jam, then you have Diddy, Bad Boy, you got Jay-Z. They become the pinnacle of success of what to look up to. And it always has to be a man. And it always has to be the male. Right. And that takes from like the Malcolm X, MLK like style of leadership and activism. Right? You must be the one to protect me. The Black man must protect the household. But as we know, looking back, many people were harmed in those households. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Now, Erin, I don’t know if this was a thing in your home coming up, but, you know, you don’t let people who not in your house know your dirty laundry. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, it makes perfect sense, especially if to continue Taylor’s analogy, people outside of the household were constantly looking for reasons to tear the house down. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Right? Taylor asserts that hip hop has basically become the house of Black cultural production and innovation, and a house in which, ultimately, anyone who was not a straight, cisgender Black man was subjugated to some sort of violence in order to keep the house intact. Here’s Taylor again: 


[clip of Taylor Crumpton] As hip hop turned 50 last year, yes, there was an overt array of women and LGBTQ folks, and some of my favorite rappers are trans drill rappers. Right. Because there is a way in which they can really articulate a very violent beat in the same way the world is very violent to them. That I think is [makes kiss sound] is chef’s kiss. But we’ve yet to dismantle the house. It’s just being replicated with each generation and the unfortunate part about the replication is that the dad has gotten everybody to invest in the humiliation and the degradation of the mom. It not only needs to be men protecting men in hip hop, men have now women investing in the attack of other women in hip hop. We also see this type of behavior evolve into women attacking other women to protect men in hip hop. Right. So very much in which white supremacy doesn’t need white people to maintain its structure. Misogynoir in hip hop no longer needs men to protect itself, it has women. 


Erin Ryan: Hmm. Well, it sounds like we are seeing glimmers of accountability within hip hop, but the hip hop industry has fumbled so many chances to hold men accountable before now. Another person that comes to mind in this conversation is Doctor Dre. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Right. Doctor Dre is the former member of the rap group NWA, who now has a Global Impact Award named after him at the Grammys. 


[clip of unspecified Grammys host] It is now my honor to present the Doctor Dre Global Impact Award in the presence of Doctor Dre himself, by the way. To the one, the only. I mean, come on y’all, you’re going to have to get on your feet. Jay-Z. [music plays for a second]


Tre’vell Anderson: So I guess we can say life is treating him well. But back in the day, he had this very public altercation with a woman by the name of Dee Barnes. Dee Barnes is one of the first Black women hip hop journalists and was part of a rap duo called Body and Soul. And here’s what journalist Gerrick Kennedy, who wrote the book Parental Discretion is Advised. The rise of N.W.A. And the dawn of gangsta rap had to say about the incident. 


[clip of Gerrick Kennedy] She survived a really terrible physical attack from Doctor Dre. This is not a moment where we need to have a conversation and say alleged, because this is he has admitted he did what his legal obligations were at the time. But the reality is the attack was then and now so unconscionable that part of why it will always come up is because for so long there did not feel like there was atonement from him. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And so, Erin, this conversation isn’t new, right? Just with Doctor Dre and Russell Simmons alone, two people in corresponding moments that in theory could have been a tipping point of sorts for the industry, but it wasn’t. Here’s Gerrick again. 


[clip of Gerrick Kennedy] This is the conversation that we’ve been having in so many different types of ways for so many years. And yes, we’ve had these moments where we actually can see a shift, but like, it will never sit well with me, that it quite literally took 25 years and documentaries and all of that stuff for R. Kelly. It took so much for us to then say, oh, hmm maybe we got to think of this differently. Or oh, maybe Aaliyah is also a survivor of this man. And so it’s so interesting when we have this culture of accountability, which we do. But some of it is performative, though, right? Even now when we have these conversations, it’s like we want all these things to be true simultaneously, while also completely absolving ourselves from any level of like participating in it. 


Erin Ryan: Mm hmm. And just to remind listeners, Aaliyah and R. Kelly were married when she was 15 and he was 27 years old. And that was something that people were okay with. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. 


Erin Ryan: At the time. And R. Kelly’s lawyers were in court literally this week trying to appeal his child sex crimes and trafficking convictions that finally came out in 2021 and 2022, which again was another moment where a lot of people maybe would have expected a shift. But nope. [music break]




Erin Ryan: I guess now’s as good a time as ever to talk about P. Diddy. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, a man known by many, many names who, like some of these other folks we’ve already mentioned, is maybe was we’ll see a titan of industry. Here’s how August Brown, a reporter covering pop music, the music industry and nightlife policy for the L.A. Times, described him. 


[clip of August Brown] Sean Combs is one of the foundational figures of taking hip hop from a kind of New York regional, underground, new form of pop music to a commercial juggernaut that it became into the ’90s and 2000s between, you know, ushering into artists like The Notorious B.I.G. to popular acclaim, he uh he signed major liquor deals with your [?] Ciroc vodka brand. His main contribution will probably be the utter meshing of hip hop culture and corporate capitalism into something that is both entertaining and incredibly profitable. 


Erin Ryan: And Tre’vell, as a member of the TRL generation, P Diddy, aka Puff Daddy a.k.a. Sean Puffy Combs had his fingerprints all over the soundtrack to my formative years, literally growing up on a farm. Um. [laugh] There was even a weird reality show about him on MTV that I think you and I recently discovered we both watched. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yes! 


Erin Ryan: And on that episode of the show, there was an iconic moment where he made wannabe musicians hike from Midtown to Juniors in Brooklyn for some cheesecake. 


[clip of Diddy’s show on MTV] Yo, fam. Puffy just told us to go to the store in Brooklyn and bring him back a cheesecake and walk! He say what? 


Tre’vell Anderson: [laughter] Listen. A moment in reality television history, if I do say so myself. 


Erin Ryan: Absolutely. 


Tre’vell Anderson: But the reason Diddy is in the headlines right now is because of a recent slate of sexual assault allegations that came to light thanks to a change in law that extended the statute of limitations for this sort of lawsuit in New York and California. August breaks down how that’s playing out for Diddy. 


[clip of August Brown] One of the most explosive suits to come out of that was Diddy’s former partner Cassie, coming forward and claiming some really grotesque, really awful incidents of abuse that stretch throughout their entire romantic relationship. And she laid it out in pretty unsettling detail in ways that really were impossible for Diddy to come back from. And in the wake of Cassie’s bombshell lawsuit you know there were at least three other suits that came forward under that same New York law claiming similar allegations of you know sexual assault, physical abuse that stretch back into the ’90s up closer into the present. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. So Diddy settled that suit with Cassie literally 24 hours after it was filed, which is not legally an admission of guilt or anything. He’s actually denied all of the allegations against him, but it seems like Cassie opened the floodgates for more alleged victims to come forward. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, I definitely don’t think we get to this moment where there are a handful of public allegations against Diddy without Cassie’s brave example, really. And the most recent allegation comes from producer Rodney Lil Rod Jones, who worked on Diddy’s 2023 album. Back in February, he filed a lawsuit accusing Diddy of sexually harassing and threatening him for more than a year. The suit also said that Brown had footage of Diddy and several of his associates allegedly participating in illicit behavior and sexual assault. Now, in addition to that cultural catch 22 we mentioned earlier, these powerful men in music were well versed in using legal intimidation tactics and old fashioned fear to keep their victims scared and silent. Here’s August again. 


[clip of August Brown] One thing that he was very effective at, that we learned in our reporting, is using NDAs to kind of lock people into his ecosystem and feel like they can’t speak up. We have talked to like several people who have either broken them or acknowledge signing in them who said, like, yeah, this is a very rich, very powerful man. And when you get brought into his orbit, you’re obliged to sign one of those things. And he’s, can be very litigious, he can be very both charming and threatening. And someone with that much money and that much power within the industry, it takes a lot of gumption to go up against him and either break an NDA or find a way to speak out in spite of one. And I think up until the Cassie suits, I think a lot of people still to this day probably remain afraid of him in some capacity. 


Erin Ryan: You know, I recently went into a celebrity’s house and they made me sign an NDA before I went into their house. I wasn’t even– 


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen. 


Erin Ryan: It was during the daytime. [laughter] It was during the daytime. NDAs are so commonly– 


Tre’vell Anderson: They’re all over the place. Yeah.


–used and it it seems like Diddy used them all the time. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. 


Erin Ryan: So is this it? Is, is this this moment the long awaited MeToo moment in hip hop? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Well we’re definitely gonna see right for Diddy those allegations will continue to play out both in real court and the court of public opinion. Russell Simmons is in Bali. So there’s that. Certainly there are countless other people in hip hop and the music industry more broadly that also deserve accountability for the harm and in some cases, crimes that they committed and commit. But there are two things that are sticking with me right now. The first is something Gerrick Kennedy, who wrote the book on NWA, said, which is that instead of trying to deem this moment as the start of some hopeful shift in the industry, we really, as a culture, should be doing something else. 


[clip of Gerrick Kennedy] I think we owe it to ourselves to sit in it because of the years of inaction, because of the fact that this is a genre of music and it’s a hard pill to swallow. But this is a genre of music that’s literally built off of the debasement of women. If we’re going to just say it. And with that means that there is no space for any other point of view other than a cis heterosexual man. Part of why we got to sit in it is because of the fact that there has just not been enough work done. There has just not been enough transparency. There has not been enough accountability. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And the second thing is from Taylor Crumpton, who had a message specifically for those of us who are consumers and fans of hip hop.


[clip of Taylor Crumpton] I encourage people to take an Afro futuristic approach and think about the ways in which people can be successful in hip hop without the sacrifice of others. So I think folks have to figure out individually, as consumers, how you can disinvest from these men in hip hop, because it seems like they’re not going to change their ways. So what are the ways you can put your resources and your voice and your power as a consumer, as someone who’s in this culture towards people who actually really love and care and respect you, instead of someone who is going to be at rolling loud and say something that’s going to impact not only you, but everybody around you, right? 


Erin Ryan: I love her characterization of that as Afro futuristic because now I’m thinking, WWOBD, what would Octavia Butler do? [laughter] And this is a conversation we’re seeing remixed over and over again across different segments of arts and entertainment. Should audiences be holding industries accountable when industries let problems fester for too long? Like is that our problem as as fans and consumers? And for that matter, how much responsibility falls on artists who would risk everything by stepping out of line and taking on a powerful abuser? And for the bystanders, when does acting out of self-preservation turn into a straight up cowardice? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, there are a lot of questions that we all should be asking ourselves that many of us have been asking ourselves. And I don’t think there are clear cut answers to them, per se. But if we never asked the questions, we’ll never get to that promised land we’re working toward. 


Erin Ryan: While there is more conversation to be had on this topic, and I’m sure there will be more conversation had in the future. But that is all the time we have for this week’s How We Got Here. We’re here every Saturday for a closer look at the stories behind the headlines. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And for your daily dose of news, be sure to check out What a Day every weekday. For now, let’s have Dee Barnes’s group Body and Soul play us out. [clip of Dee Barnes’s music starts playing] [Tre’vell sings along for a moment]


Max Fisher: What A Day’s How We Got Here is a Crooked Media production. Our producer is Austin Fisher. Emma Illick-Frank is our associate producer. Evan Sutton is our sound editor. Kyle Seglin, Charlotte Landes, and Vasilis Fotopoulos sound engineered the show. Production support from Leo Sussan, Itxy Quintanilla, Raven Yamamoto, Natalie Bettendorf, and Adriene Hill. And special thanks to What a Day hosts Tre’vell Anderson, Priyanka Aribindi, Josie Duffy Rice, and Juanita Tolliver for welcoming us to the family.  [Dee Barnes’s music still playing]