by Dom Jones
I recently watched the below interview with Kelis: singer/songwriter/performer extraordinaire and former spouse of rapper, Nas. In it, she opens up about their volatile relationship, Nas physically abusing her, and their custody battle. It’s something that I think everyone who consumes pop and hip-hop culture should watch:
Full disclosure: I am a fan of both Kelis and Nas as artists. When Kelis dropped her single “Get Along With You,” I thought it was quirky, weird, and a breath of fresh air in a landscape of girl R&B singers who were all trying to be either super sexy or the girl next door. Just three years prior to this, Nas dropped the classic tune “If I Ruled The World,” featuring the prolific singer/rapper/musician Lauryn Hill. They both were important figures in pushing black culture out at the seams and up in consciousness and awareness among different demographics. When they wed, I personally viewed it as unusual, but lovely. Their musical personas didn’t seem to match (which is all we really know about them), but I also thought it was cool that two musicians who had meaningful messages had found love with each other.
Kelis paints the picture of extreme highs and extreme lows, and a part of the interview that most stood out to me is when she references Rihanna’s high profile domestic abuse case with Chris Brown. She talks about feeling embarrassed about her own violent situation, and wondering if she should say something, but not wanting people in her personal business. She also makes the distinction between dating and marriage. Kelis alludes to there being nervous energy in the household she and Nas shared, as he wondered if this incident would prompt her to speak about her own abuse. Throughout the detailing of this abuse, Kelis says that they “hit each other.” She says she wants to take responsibility for her “role.” She sounds abused. Although she is happily remarried and has moved on with her life, while she is recounting her abuse, she seems unable to fully lay the weight on her abuser that he deserves. I am struck by this. My view of Nas changes. My thoughts about his music shift. I will never think of him the same.
Yet, Nas recently dropped a new album entitled Nasir, as a part of Kanye West’s label imprint, and on all of my social media, I see men and women alike going crazy for it. Not many people address Kelis in relation to Nas or this new information. The two are mostly talked about very separately, which confounds me. People call Kelis a gold digger, when she is still a successful artist and now chef, food truck owner, and has her own line of sauces, which astounds me. She is telling us, bravely, about her pain and suffering, and many are choosing to dismiss her and continue to uplift Nas and his music.
It’s not unfamiliar. After the initial backlash, Chris Brown has largely gone unpunished for his actions against Rihanna, though he has continued to have violent encounters with women and men. We saw her bruises. We saw her scars. There was pseudo anger. Most people moved on and bump Chris Brown’s music to this day (I don’t). His behavior has shown that he likely needs to be out of the public spotlight to deal with his inner demons, but we have yet to see that happen and we have yet to see his career truly suffer for any length of time. The question is: should it? Why don’t we believe women? Why aren’t there sweeping repercussions for abusers of women when they have notoriety, celebrity, and their art is beloved? None of these things should absolve them of their crimes, and in fact, until they are truly repentant, their star should continue to fade.
But we still listen. We still stream. We still download. And we wonder why women stay silent.