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Playboi Carti, "Magnolia," and Hip-Hop's Problem With Women

Playboi Carti is rising in fame on the strength of his song "Magnolia."EXPAND
Playboi Carti is rising in fame on the strength of his song "Magnolia."
Courtesy photo

On July 7, just weeks after making this year’s XXL Freshman List, Atlanta rapper Playboi Carti was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport for alleged domestic battery. News outlets reported on a scuffle between him and his girlfriend that ended in Carti pulling the woman by a backpack strap into an Uber. The cops charged him with a misdemeanor, and he posted bail and went on his way.

The headlines likely disappointed some Carti fans. But the incident probably won't stop them from indulging in his recent hit, the catchy, perfect-for-summer "Magnolia."

The standout track of Playboi Carti’s self-titled mixtape, “Magnolia” is a perfect party tune, placing carefree bars about running from cops and hiding it in your sock above one of the bounciest, breeziest, slightest beats to grace major radio in a while. Composed by producer Pi’erre Bourne in a car on the way to the fried-chicken restaurant Zaxby’s, the production is the best-crafted part of the song, with drums and synths, as well as the unforgettable name drop — “Yo, Pi'erre, you wanna come out here?” — making it the kind of infectious, unfussy track you could listen to hundreds of times.

But part of the song’s success is also due to the fantastic, mischievous hook — “In New York I milly rock/Hide it in my sock” — as well as Carti’s use of ad libs. Supplementing lyrics with verbal interjections — mouth noises, related words, and monosyllabic call-outs like “Ay” or “What” — ad libs play like comic book sound effects and are used by many Atlanta rappers, including Migos and Young Thug. Carti is known for them in particular thanks to features on A$AP Rocky’s “Telephone Calls” and “RAF,” where he mostly ad-libs rather than raps.

Frankly, Carti’s alleged offense at LAX probably won't dilute anyone’s opinion of "Magnolia." The song is too big and the reported crime too small, at least by the low standards to which the music industry holds its stars. This is, after all, the same culture that excused accusations of child pornography against R. Kelly. Shortly after Carti's arrest, BuzzFeed News posted a shocking, detailed report accusing Kelly of holding several women in a cult, controlling what they do and say, and forcing them to engage in recorded sexual encounters. Such allegations would be hard to believe in a vacuum, but Kelly’s long history of sexual misconduct — from his marriage to a 15-year-old Aaliyah to the 2002 controversy over urinating on an underaged girl — and the depth of the reporting give them credibility.

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After the story came out, many said they would never listen to R. Kelly’s music again out of discomfort or indignation. But R. Kelly isn’t the only artist to commit acts of horrific abuse and remain successful. Chris Brown continues to sell tickets and records despite his brutal assault of Rihanna in 2009, as well as allegations of other threats and assaults against other women. Dr. Dre has never quite lived down his 1991 assault on journalist Dee Barnes; in the recent HBO documentary The Defiant Ones, he says, “It’s a major blemish on who I am as a man.” And the problem affects artists in every genre: Bona fide music icons such as Jim Morrison and John Lennon are among the countless musicians accused of violence against women.

Hip-hop, as part of the larger misogynistic music industry, has had a problem with women for decades. Whether it be negative representations, misogynistic lyrics, or violent crimes, the genre continues to value profits over justice. So where should listeners draw the line? How many hits does it take to make us overlook an artist's dark side? At what point do a musician's crimes become so great that we cannot support his music? When do we stop separating the art from the artist?

The answer isn’t clear, but we do have a piece of guidance from Dr. Dre: “Any man that puts his hands on a female is a fucking idiot.”

Playboi Carti. With Pi'erre Bourne and Young Nudy. 8 p.m. Sunday, July 30, at Club Cinema, 3251 N. Federal Hwy., Pompano Beach. Tickets cost $25 via ticketweb.com.

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