Today, Spotify announced it’s removing music from R. Kelly and XXXtentacion from official and promoted playlists — a long overdue, and certainly good decision. Both artists have been accused of physically, mentally, and sexually abusing women. With so many great artists to choose from in every genre, it seems like a no-brainer for any music service to distance itself from people actively harming others. As the first streaming service to take a public stance, Spotify is setting a precedent for an industry that has a history of clinging to abusive yet problematic performers.
However, whereas R. Kelly’s reprehensible behavior and fame predates the rise of streaming music services, XXXtentacion — and other artists like him — owe much of their current success precisely to the popular promoted playlists the Florida rapper has now been barred from. (The Outline has reached out to Spotify to learn which other artists are being banned from promoted playlists. This post will be updated with the company’s response.) XXXtentacion’s presence on the platform came after he was charged in 2016 with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness-tampering.
According to a deposition obtained by Pitchfork last year, XXXtentacion’s former girlfriend claims he repeatedly threatened her with weapons, threatened to kill her, and beat her on multiple occasions.
Spotify tells me that the new R. Kelly playlist/promotion ban also includes XXXTentacion, who was on Rap Caviar yesterday but not today (case-by-case basis, they say) https://t.co/u05aQ2XZldpic.twitter.com/yuUpoeprPX— Joe Coscarelli (@joecoscarelli) May 10, 2018
Currently, XXXtentacion’s official Spotify playlist “This is XXXtentacion” is still available on the platform and still has over 114,000 followers. And as Courtney E. Smith wrote for Refinery 29 in March, the rapper had three highly-ranked songs on Spotify’s popular and influential playlist Rap Caviar several months after news of his alleged abuse was disseminated by Pitchfork. Considering Spotify’s dominance of the streaming music sector, its promotion of XXXtentacion likely helped his album ? debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. And as the New York Times report notes he was on the Rap Caviar playlist as late as yesterday.
Additionally, rapper 6ix9ine, who pleaded guilty to use of a child in a sexual performance in 2015, rose to fame partially because of his single “GUMMO”’s prominent placement on Rap Caviar in 2017. Spotify also currently still has an official playlist available for Kodak Black, who last year was indicted on charges of sexual assault. These playlists, some curated by Spotify staff and others algorithmically created based on a user’s preferences, play a huge part in racking up valuable streams and raising the profiles of new and established artists alike. With over 9 million followers, “Rap Caviar” is among the platform’s most influential playlists.
Responding to Joe Coscarelli of The New York Times, Spotify said it will be reviewing and banning artists on a “case by case basis.” Meanwhile, XXXtentacion's representation responded to Coscarelli with a statement asking if Spotify would remove a number of other artists for their reported transgressions, such as Miles Davis, Nelly, Miguel, David Bowie, and many more.
Obviously, with the implementation of its new policy, Spotify is working to cut promotional ties with proven abusers. But in an era where streaming rules, and where Spotify playlists especially control the avenues to success for emerging artists, the platform is doing more than catching up with the times — it’s finally beginning to acknowledge its own power.