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XXXTentacion and Tay-K Quietly Pulled From Spotify Playlists After Anti-Hate Policy Changes

In a Billboard story today, Spotify announced new policies for dealing with what it calls “hateful conduct” and “hate content.” Under the new rules, anyone who engages in what the streaming service deems to be “egregious” behavior, or “promotes…violence against a group or individual” will no longer be featured in any Spotify-owned and -operated playlist, including algorithmic lists like Discover Weekly and editorial ones like Rap Caviar. (Their music will still be available for listening in general.) Disgraced R&B icon R. Kelly was the only artist that Spotify mentioned by name, but Billboard noted that “others may also be affected.”

Based on a comparison of several key playlists, it seems as though rappers XXXTentacion and Tay-K have also been marked for exclusion. XXXTentacion is accused of beating and strangling his then-pregnant girlfriend in 2016 and subsequent witness tampering; Tay-K recorded his breakout single “The Race” while on the lam over a capital murder charge. On Wednesday, before the new policy announcement, XXXTentacion’s songs “SAD!,” “$$$,” and “I don’t even speak spanish lol,” and Tay-K’s “After You,” appeared variously the on rap-centric Spotify playlists Get Turnt, Most Necessary, and the marquee Rap Caviar. By Thursday, they had all been removed. (Interestingly, “Hard,” a song that features Tay-K but does not list him as the primary performer, is still on Most Necessary as of Friday morning.)

However, not every artist with alleged violence in their past has received similar treatment. Famous Dex, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, and Chris Brown have all been accused of assaulting their girlfriends at some point, and all three still have songs on at least one of the aforementioned playlists. G-Eazy, who was recently convicted of assaulting a nightclub security guard in Sweden, appears on “Get Turnt.”

Their inclusion highlights difficulties Spotify may face when determining whose actions warrant exclusion going forward. Like any platform attempting to regulate the content it hosts and promotes, the company now assumes a role of moral arbiter, making complex decisions about acceptability that often do not have a clear answer. Does Chris Brown get a pass because he was convicted and served his probation for assaulting Rihanna? (Or because he’s the most famous person here?) Is G-Eazy acceptable because he punched a bouncer and not his girlfriend? (Or because he’s a white guy whose public image doesn’t offend the sensibilities of the people making the decisions?) Should Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis be removed from the Spotify-owned Rockabilly Mania playlist for their own well-documented dalliances with underaged girls? (They haven’t been.) Most people might agree about R. Kelly, but there’s no reliable black-and-white definition for “hateful conduct.”

We’ve reached out to Spotify for clarification on how the hateful conduct and hate content decisions are made, and will update this post if we hear back.

Update (11:05 a.m.): “You are so right that this is a complicated process with a ton of grey areas, so we’re can’t get into an artist by artist discussion,” said Spotify communications head Graham James when reached by email. “In general we work with our partners and try to make the best decisions on a case by case basis.”

Spotify also acknowledged pulling XXXTentacion’s music under the hateful conduct policy in a statement to the New York Times. 

Update (2:00 p.m.): Representatives for XXXTentacion responded to Billboard and New York Times reporters with a statement containing the names of over a dozen other artists who have been accused of violent or sexual crimes, questioning whether Spotify would remove those artists from playlists as well.