- 03 Jun 20
There has been considerable controversy over recent days regarding an article about the Dublin rap band Versatile, published in Hot Press in August of last year. Much of the comment has been highly critical. Hot Press deputy Editor Stuart Clark, who wrote the original article, responds.
In August 2019, I wrote a 2,200 word opinion piece in Hot Press on Versatile. It was an attempt to answer the question: are the rap group from Ringsend in Dublin racist and misogynistic?
That article has become the focus of some controversy over the past four days.
I wanted to address this issue in an appropriate fashion, and to fully acknowledge the justifiable hurt and anger that is being shared by so many, including myself and everyone working for Hot Press, in response to the brutal murder of George Floyd and President Trump’s subsequent appalling reaction.
Yesterday, I read many powerful testimonies about the impact of racism, both overt and casual. It is something that has no place in any civilised society and I have no hesitation in condemning it in every respect. Unequivocally, black lives, and how they are lived, whether in Ireland or across the world, matter deeply. Never for a second, in my entire life, have I felt anything different.
However, on the basis of the feelings of genuine hurt it has aroused, then I clearly got it wrong in the original opinion piece – for which I apologise.
In particular, the article – and the Hot Press cover story on Versatile back in 2018 – were both published long before a photo was brought to our attention of a member of Versatile at a party dressed in blackface, alongside someone clearly posing as Eazy-E of NWA – the photo was taken before they started to become a phenomenon.
Whatever way you look at it, the photograph puts accusations of racism in Versatile's lyrics into a very different light. Clearly they do have a case to answer.
If we been aware of that photograph, would my opinion piece have been written in the same way in 2019? No.
The bottom line is that artists have a responsibility not to indulge in actions, in the guise of humour or otherwise, that reinforce historic prejudices against black people – or any other minorities for that matter, whether in Ireland or elsewhere. If I implied anything less in the article, then that was certainly not the intention.
I am not going to rehash the arguments here, but the original question with which I tried to grapple in the article remains unanswered. What does it say about contemporary music culture in general, that misogyny and frequent homophobia have been so widely accepted within hip hop and rap music? In Versatile’s case we can add racist tropes. So what does that say about the 14,000 or so fans who bought tickets to their show in 3Arena, attended their Cork Live At The Marquee sell-out, or thronged the stage when they performed at Longitude 2019? Right now, I haven’t got an answer.
Before finishing, I want to emphasise that Hot Press has campaigned against racism since the magazine was launched in 1977. We have never deviated from that deep and abiding commitment. We have always believed that a multi-cultural Ireland is, and will be, a far better, richer and more interesting one. A glowing example of that is the blossoming of a powerful, vibrant Irish hip-hop and R&B scene, which we have covered – and will continue to cover – extensively in Hot Press. We are for positive change. We are for diversity.
We have unequivocally supported the opening up of Irish society to migrants from across Europe and beyond. We have supported anti-racism initiatives at every turn. Over the past month, we have campaigned continuously, through the work of Shamim Malekmian, for the rights of residents in direct provision centres, many of whom – as far as Hot Press is concerned – are, or should be, future citizens of Ireland. Many of them also fit squarely under the Black Lives Matter banner.
All of that is a matter of historic record. We have no hesitation in reaffirming that commitment now. Over the coming weeks, we will be detailing a new series of anti-racism initiatives and highlighting some of the key voices in the Irish Black Lives Matter movement.
Thank you for reading.
Stuart Clark, Hot Press