April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Before it comes to a close, it’s important to consider what moments in time and music can teach us about the issue.
April 10, 2019, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police arrested a then-59-year-old LJ Bertha of Charlotte, NC after retesting a sexual assault kit first tested in 1996. The kit was retested through the influence of a federal grant as it revived two cold cases and hope for justice. DNA evidence pointed to Bertha as a suspect in the rape of a woman on July 30, 1994 and a 16-year-old girl in November 1995. Authorities charged Bertha with two counts of first-degree rape, first-degree kidnapping and robbery.
1995 Source Awards
A few months before the November 1995 assault, farther up the east coast, was the day that “changed rap forever.”
Alone, it became a bit of a cultural battle cry for a new dominant force in rap music. However, in context, it became an assertive declaration–one that says, “I’m serious.”
For rap enthusiasts, the Aug. 3, 1995 Source Awards has come to be a cherished media relic.
The Source Magazine crowned the Best New Rap Group at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Largely in honor of their 1994 breakout debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Atlanta duo OutKast walked to the stage. They had to show the mettle to congratulate themselves given the awfully overt reluctance of the crowd to do so.
Visibly disgusted with the bevy of boos and discontent with the closed-minded milieu, Andre 3000 approached the microphone and shouted down the clamor.
“But it’s like this; the South got something to say.”
It did. And it would. And it’s about sexual assault.
Perhaps one may expect a screed about unpacking language in rap music that sexually objectifies, is harmful to and disregards women. Those are always valid discussion points but for another hour.
Elsewhere deep in the American South, there are disclosures of sexual assault–childhood sexual assault–that may have fallen upon deaf ears. Particularly, they are cold cases that reached mass media before meeting any publicly known resolution.
July 30, 1996 marks the release of Port Arthur, Texas rap duo UGK’s third recording album Ridin’ Dirty.
It later peaked at #2 on the Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Much like OutKast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Ridin’ Dirty has been anointed a genre classic.
Enter UGK’s “Hi Life.” It is in part about the fleeting high we chase to anesthetize ourselves from the painful realities of life. It gives explicit context to people’s perpetual pursuit of drugs, money, sex and the dopamine rush they incite, offering thin cover from the troubles of the world.
Outside the song’s chorus, Pimp C, one half of UGK and album co-producer, gives an introspective testimony. First alluding to the risks of sexual activity amid the HIV/AIDS crisis of the early 1990s, he later shares something dismaying.
“First Magic Johnson got it. Then Eazy-E died/And you be wondering why n****s out here smoke and cry/I wish I could tell you I wore a rubber every time/But if I told you that…you know that I’d be lyin’/Cuz I been f***ing p**** since the tender age of nine.”
The summer of 2018 also brought something just as weighty. Memphis, Tennessee rapper Young Dolph released his single “By Mistake” from his album Role Model.
“I just smash. I don’t kiss…/Hate to brag, but I’m the s***/Got some head when I was six.”
These are some startling admissions. Someone–some people–broke their silence on childhood sexual assault. But considering a music genre that is no stranger to explicit narration, this was a more mild shock to the conscience. Two rappers from two different generations performed these verses rather composed sounding. Pimp C did so in more of a soul-baring fashion. Young Dolph sounded unbothered amid his gloat.
These aren’t the only disclosures about surviving childhood sexual assault that involve rappers.
Rapper and actor Common shared his own story from his May 2019 book “Let Love Have the Last Word: A Memoir.” He disclosed an incident from when he was nine or 10 years old. He said a male relative of a family friend molested him. According to The Guardian, Common says he suppressed memories of it and felt deep shame.
Common was reportedly triggered when working on the 2018 film “The Tale” with actress Laura Derm. “The Tale,” created by film producer, director and writer Jennifer Fox, is an autobiographical film about a filmmaker who investigates her own childhood sexual assault from when she was 13 years old. Common played the role of Jennifer’s fiancé Martin in the movie.
Aside from teaching us about the prevalence of, different angles to, and long awaited justice for sexual violence that exists, these media examples show exactly why we should pay close attention to what rappers are saying and film makers are showing.
One could say that Pimp C and Young Dolph are acting as public health informants, especially Pimp C, given the full extent of “Hi Life.”
Rap music’s relationship with sexual assault has a variety of looks. Of those that surface to the public, there’s some distance amongst them.
In 2015, Brookyln rapper Tekashi 69 was sentenced to four years probation for pleading guilty to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. Tekashi 69, or Daniel Hernandez, was 18-years-old at the time. In 2004, New Orleans rapper Mystikal started serving a six-year sentence for sexual battery and extortion and was released in 2010. He was charged again in August 2017 for first-degree rape and second-degree kidnapping, served 18 months in prison and was released on $3 million bond.
Although, this is not how things have always panned out for rappers with sexual assault charges.
For example, in May 2016, after 37 days in jail and facing up to 10 years in prison, Gary, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs was acquitted of a sexual assault charge with the help of DNA evidence.
French police arrested Freddie Gibbs while on tour in Toulouse, France on June 2, 2016. An unnamed friend of Gibbs was first accused for sexually abusing two girls in Vienna, Austria on July 6, 2015. The girls were then ages 16 and 17 years old.
In late May 2016, according to Gibbs, his accusers claimed they had a dream or flashback that he was involved. French authorities extradited the rapper to Austria’s Justizanstalt-Josefstadt Prison.
In spite of his bout with and exoneration from sexual assault charges, interviews reveal the rapper as remaining supportive of all women survivors and accusers.
Support and information
Though Sexual Assault Awareness Month is out, 24/7 crisis support is available for survivors through the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network’s (RAINN) National Sexual Assault Hotline.
Making it easier for survivors to receive justice, several U.S. states have expanded the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits for childhood sexual assault. These states include California, New Jersey and New York.
Rather surprisingly, Austria has Europe’s lowest age of consent at 14 years old.
Finally, check out some of the stories from survivors of childhood sexual assault below: