Controversial white artists deserve the same scrutiny as YNW Melly


Graphic by Ben Wilcox

Anna Parra-Jordan

It’s easy to ignore the unsettling lyrics of the catchy hip-hop murder ballad “Murder On My Mind,” and its counterpart, “Mind On My Murder.” But they have become harder to overlook now that their writer, YNW Melly, has been arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

For the past year, my social media feeds have been filled with stories of Black artists being arrested for crimes ranging from misdemeanors to murder. Unfortunately, the media normalizes this type of behavior and creates the narrative that young Black rappers are inherently criminal while failing to hold other demographic groups to the same standard.

While it’s wrong for any person to break the law, Black rappers are singled out and portrayed as hard criminals while rappers of other demographic groups are not. Last year there were a number of white rappers who were arrested with equally large followings, but the reporting was much more scarce. Some examples include G-Eazy who was arrested for assault and possession of cocaine.

When I searched, “YNW Melly arrested” on Google, every result had to do with his alleged involvement in the death of his two friends. A similar search of Black rapper NBA Youngboy, who was arrested last February on charges of assault and kidnapping, yielded the same results. The results were far different for a white rapper charged with a serious crime.

White rapper Riff Raff was arrested back in May of last year for allegedly drugging and raping a 19-year-old girl after a performance in Melbourne in 2013. When I searched, “Riff Raff arrested” only one result was related to his 2018 arrest on rape charges. Every other result was related to a much less serious arrest for possession of marijuana back in 2013. How is it possible that a well-known white rapper was arrested on rape charges, but it barely made it to big celebrity blogs?

Yes, Riff Raff has a much smaller following than YNW Melly, and yes, Riff Raff’s charges were less severe than Melly’s alleged crimes, but this is nevertheless indicative of a larger problem: the over-criminalization of Black artists.

After Melly’s arrest, many drew connections between his murder-themed songs and his murder charges. However, since far fewer people were aware of his arrest, no connections were drawn up between Riff Raff’s sex-themed songs and his rape charge. I find that surprising considering the controversy surrounding separating art from its artists, and recent allegations involving several prominent artists.

Upon seeing these search results, I wasn’t surprised. I’m used to the Black man being criminalized regularly. But I don’t want to be.

Black celebrities are forced into being representatives for their communities while white celebrities are granted the freedom of expression separate from their community. This is especially harmful for young Black boys for whom the media offers so few people to look up to.

You can’t separate art from their artists, because we create art based on our own experiences. The charges YNW Melly faces can’t be separated from the violence expressed in his lyrics. But when the media fails to give equal scrutiny to white rappers as they do to Black rappers, they give white rappers a license to be separate from their work and their communities, while Black rappers aren’t afforded that luxury.