Dr. Dre, the hip hop icon in the center of the movie “Straight Outta Compton” has issued an apology in the New York Times to “all the women he has hurt”. His apology refers to the social media backlash surrounding the revelations of his abuse of his former girlfriend musician Michel’le, music reporter Dee Barnes, and rapper Tairrie B.
Is he sincere, or is it an attempt to control the public relations angle of a highly successful movie? Where are we in the bigger picture of violence against women in the hip hop industry?
In truth, the abuse as detailed by the women occurred in the 80’s and early 90’s during the heyday of the gangsta rap group NWA. However, these allegations have been swirling around for years, only gaining traction as the movie “Straight Outta Compton” grossed close to $60 million in its opening weekend.
What is most perturbing is the acceptance of violence against women, and the reaction of those who heard the allegations prior to the release of the movie.
Earlier this year, 90’s R&B singer Michel’le (of “No More Lies” and “Something in My Heart” fame”) opened up about her life in an interview on the radio morning show “The Breakfast Club” with DJ Envy and Angela Yee. Michel’le is currently a cast member on the show “R&B Divas LA”. But the interview questions focused on her relationships with Dr. Dre and Suge Knight. She revealed that Dr. Dre used to beat her regularly, to the point that she sustained five black eyes and multiple broken ribs during the course of their relationship. Michel’le confirmed that she had heard a joke by a female rapper that the brand “Beats by Dre” was a reference to the beatings she sustained in their relationship. It was clear that her abuse was common knowledge in the rap community of that time.
It was a sad interview, with her telling her story in her distinct, baby like voice. What disturbed me was reading the Facebook responses her interview. Many folks commended her telling her story. But some (all of whom based on their profile pictures were African American women), said some pretty nasty comments. The comments ranged from “Why is she talking about this now?”, to “she’s just jealous and trying to stay relevant”, and “She’s trying to keep a brother down, she should keep this to herself”.
The comments revealed tendency of some in the African American community not to believe domestic violence victims (especially celebrity ones), assuming they want to “tear down a good black man”, “doing it for fame”, or “trying to get something out of it”
Let’s look at some of the arguments given point by point.
Maybe she’s ready now. Maybe the emotional scars have healed. She’s been in therapy, and clearly is a stronger person. Maybe she knows that neither Dre nor Suge can harm her or her career. She’s also older, and wiser. This occurred in her early twenties; she’s sharing a cautionary tale about the perceived glitter of getting with a baller and the dark side of hip hop. In listening to the interview, DJ Envy was very direct in his question about her relationships with both men. Was she supposed to lie to protect her abusers? To what end?
And, more importantly times have changed. DV is a bigger topic of discussion, especially with recent high profile cases in the NFL such as Ray Rice. This was not the case in the past.
She’s just trying to tear a good black man down.
Why is it hard to believe that the leader of a gangsta rap group that glorified violence, who referred to women as b$&@’s regularly, who was sued for beating the living daylights out of rap reporter Dee Barnes in 1991 could have beaten his girlfriend? A billion dollar deal from Apple doesn’t change his past.
What’s she doing this for?
What struck me is that she isn’t looking for an apology. Michel’le clearly said in her interview that even if he apologized, it wouldn’t matter since it was so long ago. She already has a show. Michel’le was quite clear that she has been working with a therapist to break destructive patterns, and make sure her life goes on a positive track. She has written a book, and is focusing on her role as a mother to her children. So quite simply, Michel’le was just telling her story. In sharing her story, she is letting other women in abusive situations know that they are not alone, they can leave, and there is life after an abuser.
She should just keep this to herself. It’s their business.
We all need to get out of the dark ages, especially those of us who embrace hip hop. Domestic violence is not ok. It must not hide in the shadows as a private secret, to be endured. The question is never “what did she do to deserve it”; the answer is not “that’s just what men do”, or “that’s what you have to deal with as a woman”. If we all demand more of our men (respect, love, fidelity) we will receive more. But it starts with us, by respecting ourselves, and respecting other women.
Abusers love to say “no one will believe you” . For a long time, and still in certain circles, they are right! All of us need to really take a long hard look on where we are on the issue of violence against women. We have advanced to the point that we find it unacceptable in our sports stars, but in hip hop, it seems to be “part of the game”. A man must never put his hands on a woman. Realize that just as quick as you as a man would “go to the death” to defend the honor of your mother or sister if another man laid a hand upon her, what entitles you to do this to another man’s sister, mother or daughter?
Director Ana Duvernay made an incredible statement on Twitter recently “To be a woman who loves hip hop at times is to be in love with your abuser. Because the music was and is that. And yet the culture is ours”.
I grew up in New York, and watched rap music evolve into hip hop. I loved the message music that it was initially, the fun party beats that made you dance, and the call to action that made you stand tall. There are artists that still use hip hop to uplift, inspire and talk about real issues. But for too many artists, it is about glorifying violence, misogyny, and crime. Hip hop has moved from the days of reporting the destruction on the streets to glorifying the destruction. What happened to Queen Latifah and Salt n Peppa rapping about how ladies are queens? Public Enemy rapping about the response times of ambulances in NY, and shining a light on a real issue at the time?
It is not impossible to return to this era. We just have to remember that music is an industry — a business. Our dollars speak volumes. If we support misogyny and violence against women through supporting those artists and movies, then we will not see a change. Dr. Dre’s apology shows that he (or someone in his camp) realizes the business aspect.
Which means we, as consumers, should realize this as well.
Here’s a throwback of positivity circa 1989..