Big Hit Entertainment and BTS' Suga under fire for Jim Jones sample on 'D-2', here's why it's an issue

The cult leader was responsible for the mass murder and suicide of over 900 people, largely black and brown families, and many have called into question the sample as well as the timing of this release which overlaps with worldwide BLM protests.

                            Big Hit Entertainment and BTS' Suga under fire for Jim Jones sample on 'D-2', here's why it's an issue
Suga of BTS (Getty Images)

BTS rapper Suga is facing backlash and criticism after listeners discovered a sample from American cult leader Jim Jones on the track 'What Do You Think' off his latest mixtape 'D-2'.

The sample is taken from a 1977 sermon given by Jones, only a year before he orchestrated the murder-suicide of all the members of his commune. The Jonestown Massacre resulted in the deaths of over 900 people and is considered the greatest single loss of American civilian life through a deliberate act, until the September 11 attacks.

Big Hit Entertainment has released an official statement that reads, "The vocal sample of the speech in the introduction of the song 'What Do You Think?' on the mixtape was selected without any special intent by the producer who worked on the track, who was unaware of the identity of the speaker and used the sample for the overall atmosphere of the song."

SUGA of "BTS" onstage at iHeartRadio LIVE with BTS presented by HOT TOPIC at iHeartRadio Theater on January 27, 2020 in Burbank, California (Getty Images)

It continues, "After the speech sample was selected, the company followed our internal process and carried out procedures for reviewing the appropriateness of the content. However, in both the selection and review processes, we committed an error in not recognizing the inappropriateness of the content and including the sample in the song."

The statement also adds, "Big Hit Entertainment has processes for reviewing its diverse content targeted toward a global audience for potential social, cultural, and historical issues. However, we are experiencing the reality that there are limits to understanding and correctly responding to every situation. In this case, we were not able to recognize the issue in advance and displayed a lack of understanding about the relevant historical and social issues. We apologize to those who felt uncomfortable or hurt because of this."

The company has removed the sample in question and re-released the track without it, adding that Suga feels "embarrassed" and "deeply responsible" for the incident and that the company and its producers would strive to do better in the future.

And while this seems innocuous enough, it really does little to address the underlying issue: artistes or companies creating content without doing their due diligence with regards to assessing whether it would be socially, culturally, or politically appropriate to do so. K-pop aristes and companies have been notorious for making this error, going way back to situations like YG Entertainment and 2ne1's CL releasing a track titled 'Mental Breakdown' that featured a sample of a verse from the Quran. The sample was soon removed and the song re-released.

South Korean K-Pop singer CL performs during the Closing Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 25, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea (Getty Images)

Some fans claimed the sample was used to highlight the message of the song, but others have pointed to Big Hit's statement that implies none of them were fully aware of who Jones even was. Additionally, while the song details Suga's unapologetic attitude towards haters, the Jones sample states, "though you are dead, yet you shall live, and he hath that liveth and believeth shall never die" and "faithful workers coming in night after night, giving me their heart, giving me the spirit of socialism," indicating it had very little to do with the song beyond being aesthetically similar. Big Hit, it would appear, really did very little to understand what Jones represented or who he even was.

Jones, originally a preacher and faith leader, turned into one of the deadliest cult leaders in American history. He launched the Peoples Temple in Indiana during the 1950s, eventually moving his congregation to California in the '60s and San Francisco in the '70s, before bringing many members of his commune to a South American jungle in Guyana, a British colony at the time. Over his time, he acquired significant amounts of power including being appointed the director of the local Human Rights Commission by Indianapolis Mayor Charles Boswell, as well as gaining support from black communities due to him advocating for integration and black rights.

He would repeat the tactic with other minority groups, including ones at Guyana. To that end, a large portion of his commune were underprivileged black and brown families who were gently coerced into joining Jones' commune due to the promise of a better life delivered, largely, through sermons and speeches. What they got, however, was a life of being imprisoned within a commune where they were routinely assaulted, including being coerced into having sex with Jones while being prohibited from engaging in sexual acts with anyone other than their spouse.

Elderly survivors of the Jonestown mass suicide return to San Francisco, saying nothing out of fear (Getty Images)

When reports surfaced in the late '70s of human rights violations taking place within the Peoples Temple in Jonestown, U.S. Representative Leo Ryan elected to lead a delegation to investigate the commune. Ryan would never make it back, as he was murdered along with others while trying to board his return flight along with cult members who wished to leave the commune.

Following the shootout, Jones called a meeting at the Jonestown Pavillion and proposed 'revolutionary suicide' and is presumed to have either ordered or coerced a mass suicide and murder of the entire commune, which included 304 children, by way of cyanide-poisoned Flavor Aid. The act is what sparked the popular phrase 'drinking the Kool-Aid' in reference to someone who believes in a dangerous idea and is so dedicated to a cause that they would be willing to drink poisoned Flavor aid and die for it.

The fact that a sample of Jones' speech was used simply because it "matched the overall atmosphere of the song" simply drives home the fact that decades later, Jones' words continue to draw in unsuspecting listeners. But it's even more problematic for an artiste with a worldwide audience of young, impressionable listeners to use a sample of Jones' sermon without recognizing the horrific implications behind it.

Suga of BTS performs onstage during 102.7 KIIS FM's Jingle Ball 2019 Presented by Capital One at the Forum on December 6, 2019 in Los Angeles, California (Getty Images)

Additionally, the song's release during a time when Black Lives Matter protests are mounting worldwide has been called into question with one fan stating that calling it out was "...not unrelated or distracting from the BLM movement since it's bound to a mass suicide of mostly black women that trusted a psychopath cause they couldn't find their place in society." One user highlights another issue, tweeting, "'Black people were offended because they used the sample for aesthetic. they found it insensitive."

The one positive in this situation is a demonstration of a company or agency protecting its artistes, which, given K-pop's history, is quite the rarity. But it certainly does not take away from the insensitivity of the sample and release's timing, regardless of who ultimately bears the responsibility for it.

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