Though Worcester, Massachusetts rapper Joyner Lucas first made waves with his 2015 single “Ross Capicchioni” and his promising fourth mixtape and 2017 major label debut 508-507-2209, he really broke in to the national conversation with the single “I’m Not Racist.” The song and its music video earned him a Grammy nomination (alongside another for his appearance on Eminem’s Kamikaze)and CNN, of all places, claimed was “the brutal race conversation nobody wants to have.” On it, the rapper shifts perspectives between a white man and a black man, each airing racially tinged grievances at the other. With a hook that goes, simply, “I’m not racist” and a telegraphed hug between the two at its conclusion, it didn’t tackle racism as effectively as some claimed (sample headline: “Joyner Lucas’ “I’m Not Racist” Isn’t Controversial, It’s Offensive”) but it did kinda start a conversation.
But now, in 2019, the only conversation Joyner Lucas seems be igniting is, “what the hell is this guy’s deal?” In January, following the release of Lifetime’s extensive six part Surviving R. Kelly docuseries, which chronicled decades of allegations of abuse and sexual crimes committed by the R&B icon, Lucas took to Twitter, “I know this has to be one of the hardest patches in your life right now @rkelly. I’m literally watching the entire world condemn you and turn they back on you. I’m not saying you don’t deserve it. All I’m saying is please don’t hurt yourself or take yourself out. I’d still be sad.” Though he deleted the tweet, saying he had yet to watch the documentary and that his own self-published comments were somehow taken out of context, he did, eventually, offer condolences and support to R. Kelly’s victims.
That was barely two weeks ago. And today, following allegations against his frequent collaborator Chris Brown, who was accused of rape and was detained by French authorities along with two other men, Lucas decided to lend another take on social media. “@chrisbrownofficial ain’t rape nobody. Any and every way someone gets the opportunity to create a story and try to ruin my niggaz legacy they take it. It won’t happen tho,” Joyner said on Instagram. He continued, “Anybody who actually thinks breezy needs to take some pussy got issues. Trust me when I say it doesn’t matter what city, state, country, or continent this nigga goes to, he can literally pick like a flower from a garden of bad bitches who wanna fuck and it’s that simple.” Brown has since been released and denied the claims in an Instagram post.
While “I’m Not Racist” was an arguably inartful but well-intentioned “gotta hear both sides” anthem, Lucas’ recent comments feel much more nefarious and even more oblivious. How can an ostensibly woke artist’s first impulse lie with defending R. Kelly and Chris Brown? How can an impulse to be contrarian put on such obvious blinders for an artist who would claim to know better? This is especially the case since this is a lesson he should have learned when he apologized for it just earlier this month.
To stand with victims, even after pretty relentless public criticism to do so, and then use the same toxic and victim-blaming logic when it came to one of Lucas’ collaborators is alarming. In absolving Brown of any potential guilt by claiming that since he’s a famous and attractive singer he can, “ literally pick like a flower from a garden of bad bitches who wanna fuck,” he’s using the same arguments that R. Kelly’s defenders employed for decades.
Lucas, who last year left Atlantic Records to release music independently, is set to drop an album called ADHD soon. He mentioned in its announcement about coping with the diagnosis as a child, writing, “Creating music was and always has been my only therapy. It’s the only way I ever knew how to express myself.” It’s this sort of self-empowering, inclusive message that matched with his technical prowess as a songwriter has garnered him legions of fans. He’s theoretically at his best when he’s interrogating the complexities or society and his own emotions, but his back and forth on issues of sexual violence highlight one of the big problems a lot of people had with “I’m Not Racist.” It’s hard to present a coherent message when you try to play both sides. What does Joyner Lucas really stand for?