“I never cried when Pac died/
But I probably will when Hov does/
And if my tears hold value, then I would drop one for every single thing he showed us/
And I’ll be standing in a puddle.”
– Drake “Fear”
On April 21st, 2016, Prince Rogers Nelson passed away, and the world mourned in a way I hadn’t seen, well, ever. Maybe it’s due to the increased presence of social media, but it felt like the world truly grieved his death withe a deep universal sorrow we’ve never really given to anyone else. For days, I heard countless stories of people having full on emotional break downs in the wake of his passing, unable to function knowing that they’re living in a world that Prince no longer resides in. That day and the days immediately following his passing, I truly felt like an alien – because not one tear rolled down my cheek or welled up in the corner of my eyes. I felt bad that he died an untimely death, I felt bad that he was taken away from his loved ones, and I felt bad that the world, going forward, would now be deprived of his creative brilliance, but nothing pushed me to mourn the man – which is kinda weird, because what he created was of the utmost importance to my existence.
Life and art are the two biggest things in my world. My passion for artistry provides important sustenance for my soul, and my passion and protection for life is what drives me to write the world’s wrongs. I don’t just like music, books, movies, theatre and other forms of art – I NEED it. Love isn’t even a strong enough word to describe the my equal dependence and adoration for its consumption.
I LOVE Whitney Houston’s voice (the most talented balladeer in history *fight me*).
I LOVE ‘Pac’s melodic realism (“Me Against The World” is the most underrated album of the 90’s).
I LOVE Michael Jackson’s performances (the most incredible live show EVER).
I LOVE Maya Angelou’s poetry and insight (the encapsulation of true brilliance).
I LOVE James Baldwin’s writing (not just one of the best writer’s of our time, but one of the most powerful orators too).
On September 9th, 2013, I wrote an article on this site titled, “I Will NEVER Turn My Back On Hip-Hop – Because Hip-Hop Saved My Life” where I expounded on the effects that art had on the salvation of my spirit. Yet, none of the deaths of the people mentioned above ever caused me to cry in a way that imbued me with a great sense of a personal-connective loss.
I say this not to puff out my chest with an air of hyper-masculine superiority, but to simply state that while I LOVE art, I DON’T really love ARTISTS. While I literally NEED to reap the rewards of their creative genius, I’ve never felt the need to nurture a deep, meaningful person connection to the creator. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I’ve been routinely disinterested in even attempting to curate that relationship. And now that I see Nate Parker, the great mind behind what looks to be a hugely important and magnificent piece of art, is under massive scrutiny for allegedly raping a freshman student at Penn State in 1999, I realize why I’ve always delineated between art and artist:
Because humans are intrinsically flawed, even when their brilliant creations are impeccable.
The truth is, although Parker was acquitted of the rape, while his friend and Birth Of A Nation co-writer Jean Celestin was sent to prison for 6 months over it, I truly don’t know what happened in that dorm room. Ultimately, that is between Parker and the woman he allegedly victimized, and seeing as how she committed suicide a decade after the incident (a remnant of the assault according to her brother), the only living testimony on this planet is of the men who were accused. Which means, much like the Cosby cases, the truth is essentially dead and all that remains is conjecture. Who is Nate Parker is a question that can never really be fully answered. But, in life, who are any of our stars? Who are any of us?
How clean is the record of your favourite rapper? Or athlete? Do you have definitive proof that your favourite author hasn’t committed any untoward acts? Do you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that your favourite actor, producer or director is a morally upstanding person? For me, if there’s one thing I’ve always been sure about throughout the course of my life, it’s that you can depend on human beings to be repugnant, disgusting and disappointing, and celebs are no different. If you subject yourself to investing in the moral uprightness and personal integrity of famous people, you WILL be let down. So the real question becomes, are you willing to allow their art to be tinged by their personal behaviour?
That can best be phrased as the “R. Kelly question” because that seems to be the scenario in which we challenge ourselves, and each other, the most with this specific topic. We knew that R. Kelly was chopping down Aaliyah at a horrifically young age, we saw tape of R. Kelly tossing 14-year-old salad, and we read the statements of young Black girls all over Chicago who had been victimized by “The Pied Piper” which has resulted in mostly either abandonment or cognitive dissonance. Some people see R. Kelly as a vile sexual predator, some will actually defend him against the claims made by “fast-tailed girls.” Their inconsistency isn’t predicated on a deep analysis of their social ideologies, it’s dependent on upholding the base morality of a man who makes them dance their ass off.
Understand, I’m NOT making the argument for cognitive dissonance. I’m simply stating that for better or worse, whether good or bad, I will never conflate the importance of the artist with the importance of their art and that keeps me firmly removed from really giving a damn about what they do. I will still cheer for Richard Sherman, knowing that he’s firmly entrenched in the #AllLivesMatter crowd. I will still root for Cam Newton, knowing he believes “racism is dead” while playing football in a state that is attempting to enforce the worst racialized voter restriction campaign in the country. I will continue playing “To Pimp A Butterfly” regardless of whatever positive or negative things Kendrick Lamar is doing right at this moment, and I will happily watch “Insecure” despite whatever behavioural traits, great or terrible, that Issa Rae may have. This is about conscientious congruity – the idea that you don’t have to sacrifice your personal beliefs for any celebrity, because that personal connection isn’t crucial to your consumption of their work.
I’m more than open to admitting that maybe I’m losing something “special” by not fostering a deeply relationship with artists and creatives. Maybe there is something to be be gained by loving the person as much as you love their art. Maybe I’m exhibiting a form of cowardice by not throwing myself into celebs as much as other people do. But, as long as Nate Parker’s keep strolling the Earth, which they always will, I will have no problem “eating the meat and leaving the bones.”
This Is Your Conscience