It’s hard to attach anything other than positive vibes to a jazz festival, especially one anchored by the likes of Maxwell, Erykah Badu, Damien Escobar, and Anthony Hamilton. However, aside from those headliners, one of the Art of Cool Festival’s most impressive names will also be its most controversial.
With eight platinum albums like Illmatic, It Was Written and I Am… under his belt, New York rapper Nas—né Nasir Jones—is a legendary arbiter of words. But in April, the singer Kelis, who was married to Nas from 2005 to 2010, alleged that a dark side hid behind all that powerful prose.
Kelis told Hollywood Unlocked that the photos and subsequent public reckoning surrounding Rihanna’s abuse by Chris Brown were what finally propelled her to file for divorce in April 2009. She “had bruises all over [her] body at that time,” she said, but she didn’t come forward herself out of embarrassment.
Nas stayed quiet about the accusations for a few months before issuing a seven-part rebuttal on Instagram in early September, where he refuted her account of their relationship and detailed behavior he characterized as verbal abuse. He accused Kelis of “exploiting some people’s real struggle and pain” for attention and fame before flatly denying that he beats women. But this isn’t the first time Nas has been accused of abuse: In 2006, Carmen Bryan, who has a daughter with Nas, wrote in her memoir It’s No Secretthat the rapper had hit her with closed fists.
Nas and Kelis’ issues unearthed during the year of #MeToo, in which victims of sexual violence have publicized their trauma in hopes that their attackers would be held accountable for their actions. Brands have been disassociating themselves from celebs even loosely connected to sexual or domestic misconduct with increasing speed—in May, for example, Visa ended its endorsement deal with actor Morgan Freeman over sexual harassment allegations. So it’s surprising that Art of Cool hasn’t pulled Nas from their lineup or even made a statement acknowledging the incident and explaining their continued support for Nas.
It is of the utmost importance to believe women (and men) when they bravely speak up about seemingly hellish encounters, and it is equally important to honor the truth. Nas will eventually have to atone for his past, whether or not festivals take the allegations against him seriously. But for right now, it seems to be business as usual for both Nas and Art of Cool.