As Nas Readies His New Kanye-Produced Album, Why Aren't More People Talking About His Alleged Abuse?
One recent morning, Kelis woke up and decided she’d had enough. At least that’s what the singer-turned-chef told Hollywood Unlocked in a candid interview released on April 26, in which she accused ex-husband Nas of rampant “mental and physical abuse” during the course of their five-year marriage, which officially ended in 2010. In one particularly disturbing memory, Kelis recalled seeing photos of Rihanna’s bruised face following her assault by Chris Brown in 2009, then looking down at “bruises all over” her own body. “I have edited myself for nine years,” Kelis said, “and I woke up this morning and said, 'not today.’"
The music world’s response has been far less staunch. While Kelis’ claims made a ripple in the April news cycle, Nas -- who has yet to comment on the allegations but seems to be quietly encouraging fans who defend him on social media -- has escaped the kind of scrutiny faced by other alleged abusers in the industry in the #MeToo era: The rapper will release his 11th studio album on June 15, the latest in a stack of high-profile G.O.O.D Music releases produced by Kanye West, whose only recent public comments about Nas have treated the album as business as usual. On top of that, Nas will soon hit the road supporting Lauryn Hill on her Miseducation 20th anniversary tour -- a billing that was announced a few days after Kelis’ interview -- among several summer festival slots and an upcoming appearance in the Netflix rap documentary series Rapture.
The allegations are not the first of their kind: In 2006, Nas’ ex-girlfriend Carmen Bryan, with whom he shares a daughter, recalled Nas punching her in the face in a tell-all book. Yet there are some obvious, if disheartening, reasons as to why Kelis claims’ did not put him the crosshairs. For starters, a lack of major chatter around the allegations may reflect a quieter conversation around Nas in general: The now 44-year-old rapper enjoyed his golden era in the late ‘90s and early 2000s and is hardly the buzziest release on the G.O.O.D Music summer rollout, which has included much-hyped releases from Pusha-T, West, and Kid Cudi. The interview with Kelis, who has not released an album since 2014, also arrived during a particularly news-statured time in hip-hop: In the same week in late April, Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer, J. Cole dropped a new album with little notice, Drake teased his next LP, and -- of course -- West returned to Twitter with some inflammatory statements about politics that, to many fans and admirers, cast him in a new light.
Speaking of West, it may be hard for anyone in the star’s orbit to eclipse his antics, considering how West can launch a thousand headlines with a single tweet. And of course, some fans will always be reluctant to give up their heroes, no matter what horrible things those people are accused of. It’s telling that legacies of veteran acts like Led Zeppelin, whose guitarist Jimmy Page dated a 14-year-old while well into his 20s, have more or less been unscathed by the #MeToo movement; even beloved rap icon 2Pac was sentenced to prison in 1995 for sexual assault.
Still, the relative quiet around Nas is just the latest sign that the music industry -- and hip-hop in particular -- has been slow to reckon with the #MeToo movement, even when it comes to buzzier artists who make more regular appearances on charts and playlists. XXXTentacion, 6ix9ine, Famous Dex, YoungBoy Never Broke Again and many more prominent artists all have troubling pasts involving alleged violence against women, yet continue to command chart success -- possibly because of it. As writer Tarpley Hitt pointed out in a Miami New Times profile of XXXTentacion, the rapper’s breakout hit “Look at Me!” was originally posted to SoundCloud in 2015, but it only started picking up traction -- eventually rising to No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April -- once his arrest thrust him in the public eye. Already, another troubling case is making headlines: "Dark Knight Dummo" rapper Trippie Redd was arrested for allegedly hitting a woman over the head with a gun on Tuesday (June 12), the same day he was announced as part of the 2018 XXL Freshman class.
Attempts to grapple with misconduct allegations have had mixed results. Last month, Spotify decided to remove music by R. Kelly -- who has faced accusations of sexual violence against women for decades, recently inspiring a #MuteRKelly boycott campaign -- and other artists facing allegations from its curated playlists as part of a new hateful conduct policy that the company has since rolled back. The policy was quickly met with concerns over fairness: Top Dawg Entertainment’s Anthony Tiffith warned Spotify of the policy’s potential “slippery slope,” and Kendrick reportedly threatened to pull his music from the service, echoing a widespread argument that the policy unfairly targeted artists of color.
Other cases have had more swift results: Last October, Marilyn Manson split with longtime bassist and guitarist Twiggy Ramirez after Ramirez was accused of rape; the next month, hip-hop mogul and Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons stepped down from his companies following numerous rape allegations, which he denies. More recently, Ameer Vann was kicked out of BROCKHAMPTON after being accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct (he has vaguely denied the allegations); the rap collective even canceled their remaining tour dates to “regroup.”
It’s possible we’re so accustomed to waking up to headlines accusing public figures of crimes against women that it’s becoming hard to keep track of the who, what, where and when -- so much so that news sites from Vox to Glamour organize meticulous, constantly-updated lists with hundreds of accused names.
Yet it’s hard to imagine anyone being desensitized to the chilling details of Kelis’ allegations. Kelis, now 38, called the relationship “tumultuous and toxic,” saying that tiny actions like her waving to someone at an after-party could send Nas into an alcohol-fueled rage; she added that he once ripped a door off its hinges in anger. She says she was hesitant to leave Nas or go public with her story, partly because she didn't want the allegations to overshadow her career and partly because she still loved her husband. It wasn't until she became pregnant with their son, Knight, whom the former couple recently settled a contentious custody battle over, that she filed for divorce in 2009. “At seven months pregnant I was terrified,” she said. “I was like, ‘I cannot bring a person into this. I gotta get out.’"
Nas may be saving his response to the allegations for his album -- his last record, 2012’s Life Is Good, addressed the end of his marriage, and the album cover featured him posing with a piece of Kelis' actual wedding dress. (And West & Co. have been known to work on music up until the last minute.) Still, the case paints a worrying picture of an industry still struggling to make sense of its role in policing alleged bad behavior, even as the #MeToo movement has led to major upheaval in everywhere from Hollywood to the restaurant world. And that’s what makes the lack of major scrutiny around Nas so concerning, regardless of whatever potential consequences may or may not come his way: with each allegation the music world fails to give proper attention, the easier it becomes to ignore the next.