I’ve always been a fan of unlikely pairings: honey on pizza, winter and iced coffee, Timothee Chalamet and the peach in that one scene in Call Me By Your Name. There’s something exciting about things that are unexpected, refreshing, and a little dangerous. Coincidentally, dangerous is also the word I’d use to describe Chris Brown. If you’re reading this, you probably already know about Brown’s history of domestic violence and his pretty much unshakeable comfort with being kind of a piece of shit.
You probably also know about Drake and his reputation as a notoriously “nice guy.” You might have even heard about the famed tension between the two artists, which apparently started around the time that Drake and Rihanna, Brown’s ex and one target of his abuse, began to get closer. With all this in mind, it’s pretty easy to understand why fans were a little surprised at their collaboration on “No Guidance.”
Let me start by saying that I did listen to the song against my better judgement. It’s a standard, mass manufactured tune which unironically sounds like it should’ve been released in 2012. I’d like to say that it has redeeming qualities, but I’m not a fan of lying and can’t say that I’ve ever been a fan of Chris Brown. If this song were a person, it’d wear too much Axe Body Spray and call women “females.” Now that that’s out of the way, let’s ask the cardinal question: how did a guy like Drake end up on a song with a guy like Chris Brown? Was it actually “God’s Plan?”
First things first, abusers are protected. They are unabashedly, unapologetically, unbelievably protected. This is true of the music industry, the film industry, of churches, mosques, school boards, and political entities. Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, XXXTentaction, the Archdiocese of Boston, Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump, R. Kelly, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Larry Nassar – behind every abusive man, there are ten ambassadors of abuse who condone their behaviour with silence, complacency, and inaction.
Unfortunately, the collaboration didn’t surprise me, it only further proved what I already know: “nice guys” are part of the problem. It’s one thing to not be overtly misogynistic, but misogyny and rape culture are, for the most part, covert. They are subtle, sneaky, and systemic. Rape culture isn’t just the act of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic abuse—it is the implicit understanding that those actions are ok. It is the implicit support of people who enact such violence by allowing them to profit and succeed at the expense of those they’ve harmed. And this isn’t just limited to women; patriarchal violence crosscuts gender, class, and sexual orientation, just to name a few.
How do we stand up against these systems when they’re bigger than we are, or when they don’t manifest themselves in ways we can immediately recognize?
In Drake’s case, he plays a pretty substantial role in this equation. Take, for example, a video which showed him fondling a 17 year old girl on stage, after being told that she’s 17, while the crowd looks on and responds with a morbid enthusiasm. Another example is his association with Baka Not Nice, who was charged with both human trafficking and assaulting a woman in 2014 and 2015 respectively (Savoury pleaded guilty to the assault charge, and additional charges of human trafficking and prostitution were later dropped). Rape culture is the name of the game, and why shouldn’t it be? It’s profitable enough when you’re powerful enough.
Herein lies the dilemma: how do we condemn this when it’s coming from people we’ve idolized as being “good”? How do we stand up against these systems when they’re bigger than we are, or when they don’t manifest themselves in ways we can immediately recognize? How do we reconcile Drake’s actions and associations, when he calls out a fan for groping at his show but collaborates with Chris Brown in the same breath?
Much to my dismay, I don’t have an answer to any of these questions, but we can start small. Spotify offers users the option to cut certain songs and artists out of the equation by blocking them from your listening experience. Instead of talking about how much we love Drake, we can talk about how he contributes to an epidemic of sexual and gender-based violence. Want to buy an OVO sweater or tickets to a Chris Brown concert? Just set your money on fire and make better use of your hard earned cash. We can support survivors of such abuse by declaring it loudly and proudly. When we dismiss these conversations as the work of boring, killjoy feminists who hate fun, we’re not only silencing a crucial discussion, we’re reproducing attitudes that shame survivors and applaud their abusers.