Russell Simmons and Kimora Lee Simmons’s daughter Aoki Lee Simmons has joined the growing debate surrounding white America’s response to deaths in hip-hop. Aoki, an aspiring model, slammed white fans and their lack of tribute for rapper Takeoff, who was shot and killed at a bowling alley in downtown Houston, Texas, on Nov. 1.
In a nearly 3-minute long video on TikTok, where the Harvard student has often addressed topics that affect Black and brown people, the 20-year-old pointed out that “every time a Black hip-hop artist or rap artist … dies, it is only those communities, the Black community, the hip-hop community, who are actively involved in their remembrance or in mourning them.”
She added, “At the same time, so many privileged, non-black people living their lives — like the soundtrack to their lives is this music. They are using it for everything … parties, lives, moments, gym, motivation … it’s the soundtrack to their life.” She continued, “They are getting so much value from these artists and their life stories, and yet when the art dies, not a word.”
Aoki acknowledged what makes the genre so “compelling is that it’s about stories.” “Part of what makes it compelling to white America is it’s so often the traumatic lived experiences of Black Americans,” she continued.
“The absolute worst parts of systematic oppression and the havoc it wreaks on communities in the hood, violence and drugs, but it’s fine to relate to and live vicariously through that when it’s all fun and games, yet these are ongoing issues that frequently kill these artists. And when that happens, it’s ‘Oh, hip-hop community, I mean, that’s, like, their community’s violence,’” she said, calling out familiar narratives carved in the comment section of past debates.
The honor student highlighted how appreciation for Black art, however, stops short, explaining that “You want to appreciate the art, profit off the art, give profit to their art, but completely devalue and continue to oppress and ignore the humanity of the artist.”
Aoki concluded her video by stating that “When these artists die young, it’s so obvious how much these ‘fans’ care about them as human beings… The issues that kill your favorite rapper are often the same issues people are marching in the streets for.”
Others have also taken to their platforms, sharing similar thoughts, including one Twitter user who wrote, “Extremely upsetting that rap became the dominant sound in America, that it started generating wealth, that its idols became the avatars for white people who will never love an actual black person in their lives, and all along the people who make the music kept dying brutally.”
Another person added, “the fact that I’ve seen no white people talk about takeoff’s death really shows a lot… this man was an innocent bystander in the situation, and if a white celebrity were in the same scenario, the silence wouldn’t exist.”
The White House, via Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, included Takeoff’s passing in a series of Twitter posts highlighting gun-related tragedies that occurred over the Halloween weekend.