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caption: Amanda Branch is portrayed on Wednesday, December 23, 2020, in Seattle.
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Amanda Branch is portrayed on Wednesday, December 23, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

2 women accuse Seattle hip-hop artist Raz Simone of abuse, coercion

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manda Branch, age 24, told herself everything would be all right. She was lying on the carpeted floor of her downtown Seattle apartment, and her boyfriend was forcibly cutting off her hair.

Struggling, she said she stopped when she realized she couldn’t get up. Recalling what happened recently, Branch said she turned her head toward the window of her fourth floor apartment and watched as the Monorail passed by.

Solomon Simone, a Seattle hip-hop artist who goes by Raz, was cutting Branch’s hair that summer day in 2015, she said. Branch and Simone had been together for years, and often stayed at Branch’s corner street unit, over an espresso shop and nail salon. Branch said she wasn’t allowed to leave without telling him. If she did, there were consequences. Simone denies that he had such a grip on her, and said that she had asked him to cut her hair.

Branch had been drinking with friends that day when Simone called her. The phone conversation got heated, she said, and she drunkenly called Simone a “bitch.” When Branch returned home, she said he pinned her down with his knees and used kitchen scissors to cut off her dark, waist-length hair.

“It's okay,” Branch thought. “You can get through this.” It was what she told herself when Simone hurt her, she said.

Raz Simone, 30, is a rapper of note on the Seattle scene who got national attention this summer as a symbol of the city’s movement for racial justice. When protesters occupied six blocks on Capitol Hill in June, Simone was seen patrolling this police-free zone with guns.

He was depicted as a leader of the Seattle protests by The New York Times, interviewed by CNN, and praised by Forbes Magazine as a man out for racial justice. Right-wing commentators on Twitter called him a “warlord.” Seattle city leaders got in touch.

But in the movement, women were alarmed. They were already frustrated with his attention-grabbing behavior, and now they were hearing whispers and reading social media posts about abuse. Several denounced him.

Jaiden Grayson, an activist, spoke through a microphone.

“We are aware of your behaviors seen and unseen,” Grayson said, later paraphrasing what she said to a crowd. “Despite the fact that you are clearly evading any form of accountability by the state — and that's okay, because we're working on dismantling the system — but the streets know what you're up to.”

Two women stepped forward to tell their stories, using their full names.

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Amanda Branch and Angelica Campbell told KUOW that Simone abused them. Branch said he coerced her into stripping out of state, and turning over her money; Campbell said he pushed her into prostitution.

Simone denied these claims in a three-hour interview with KUOW. He called this a conspiracy to oppress and cancel a Black man.

“[I] do not do that,” he said adamantly. “I'm very against that.”

Campbell’s account is supported by a protection order petition; Branch’s is supported by her mother’s account, hospital records, and a statement from a roommate who said she witnessed the abuse.

caption: Raz Simone, right front, and other activists speak with Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, left, near a plywood-covered and closed Seattle police precinct behind them Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Seattle, following protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis.
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Raz Simone, right front, and other activists speak with Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, left, near a plywood-covered and closed Seattle police precinct behind them Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Seattle, following protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis.
Credit: (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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az Simone calls attention to himself: He drives a white Tesla with gull-wing doors and wears gold chains and heavy rings that a former girlfriend said left imprints in her face. He doesn’t drink or do drugs, by his account and others.

He owns at least two properties in the Seattle area, including one through an LLC, according to county records, and rents out two well-appointed condos through Airbnb, one of which is owned by a woman in his orbit.

On Instagram in May, he advertised that people could pool their money and invest in property with him. Other times, he promoted the two white Teslas he rents out on Turo, a car-sharing platform.

His music is his calling card: He opened for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on their 2016 tour, and his music videos have been each viewed on YouTube hundreds of thousands of times.

Simone’s music lyrics — which he said reflects his life, the people he’s known, and things he’s seen — depict scenes of violence against women.

Branch, now 29, said she was emotionally and physically abused by Simone for four years, and coerced into giving Simone the money she earned from stripping. She traveled around the country to strip at clubs; she said Simone wouldn’t let her return if she was making good money — as she typically would in New York City.

“Waking up and seeing him on the news for something that I feel so strongly about, when this person abused me, that was my push,” Branch said this summer of her decision to speak out. She was sitting at the Hillside Bar on Capitol Hill. “It was very painful for me to see my abuser in a place of power. It is absolutely disgusting to me.”

One floor above the bar, in a brick building on East Olive Way, was an apartment where Branch lived. It was there that Simone had thrown Branch into a nightstand, hard enough to break the window above, she said. Branch tried to move on from their relationship, but seeing Raz Simone in the limelight brought it flooding back.

He led marches. In June, he stood atop his Tesla and delivered a speech to the crowd as someone slowly drove the car through Seattle streets. Simone held the microphone and sang Bill Withers’ 1972 soulful classic “Lean on Me.”

He also courted controversy. He pulled guns from the trunk of the Tesla, and offered them to fellow protesters for protection, according to news reports. One time it was captured in a video that was shared online, and then spread by right-wing commentators who dubbed Simone “the warlord” of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (or CHAZ, later changed to CHOP) — the six city blocks that include the East Precinct, temporarily abandoned by Seattle Police in June.

City leaders called on him as a liaison between protesters on the ground and the mayor and chief of police.

“Simone wants to stand up for what’s right,” reads an effusive profile from Forbes Magazine. “He’s appalled by the brutal and militaristic tactics used by the police, as they abuse tear gas, flash bombs, gestapo tactics, rubber bullets and other measures with such impunity.”

It was hard for Amanda Branch to stomach, she said.

Raz Simone had punched and hit her, she said, with the back of his hand, leaving imprints from his rings in the shape of tiny square diamonds. He had grabbed her hair so often, her scalp ached, she said.

Simone denied hitting Branch, and said that she wanted him to hit her.

“She used to be like, ‘hit me, hit me,’ and I wasn't about that,” Simone said.

He said the women who came forward have “mental health issues.” Simone forwarded text messages that Branch sent in 2016 and 2017, to show that Branch reached out after they broke up.

Looking back, Branch said she was an easy target. When she met Simone, her father had died the month before, and she was dancing in clubs. She was grieving, and when Simone asked for money she had inherited from her father, because that would prove her trust in him, she said she didn't know how to say no.

“I’m so embarrassed,” she said recently.

Branch said one beating got so bad she wound up at Harborview Medical Center. She’d been in Las Vegas, celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday, and she said Simone wanted her to stay in Vegas to make money stripping. She decided to come home to Seattle anyway — she felt it would be rude not to use the ticket that her friend’s family had bought for her.

Branch said that when she got back, Simone was furious and beat her up, resulting in two broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Hospital records show that Harborview doctors requested a trauma panel and prepped her for surgery, which she said she ultimately didn’t need.

In a separate incident, a roommate says she was present. The roommate said in an emailed statement that she witnessed Simone abusing Branch four months later, in May 2014. That statement was also sent to the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, which awarded Simone a grant but had not yet paid it out. The roommate wrote that Simone became violent after Branch refused to give him her cell phone. A male friend had texted her.

“He began bashing her head against the wall with a tight grip on her hair while screaming, ‘Who is this guy texting you?!’” Branch’s roommate wrote. She asked not to be named.

Simone threw Branch into a nightstand, breaking it and shattering the window above it, the roommate wrote. Simone shoved Branch’s head out of the broken window, and continued to scream, she said. The roommate tried to intervene, she wrote, but said Simone threw her against a dresser.

Simone kicked Branch in the stomach, back and face, so hard that Branch was momentarily knocked out, the roommate wrote.

“Crying hysterically at what I had just witnessed, I screamed at him and begged him to please stop, which thankfully, he did and left,” the roommate wrote in the statement.

Simone said none of this happened.

For Branch, most perplexing was why she stayed. She reasoned it was likely “trauma bonding” — a strong emotional attachment that develops from the reinforcement of reward and punishment within the cycle of abuse.

Toni Santos, Amanda Branch’s mother, said Branch would often seek refuge in her home, sometimes showing up unannounced, exhausted and crying. Santos said that once, her daughter called and said she needed to hide because Simone had beaten her up.

Santos said during that time her daughter was in constant communication with Simone, even at times when Branch said she would leave her home to escape the abuse.

“There was this control,” Santos said. “She would leave, come and go, never be on time or anything. It was all, everything was centered around this guy.”

Santos said her child was brainwashed, a victim of abuse.

“It’s just very, very painful to know that my child has gone through that and is still going through it,” she said.

Simone defends himself, saying that Branch continued texting him after their relationship ended. Branch doesn’t deny this; she said she texted him for closure.

“People try to spin it like, that's Stockholm, and like, no, it's not Stockholm,” Simone said. “I'm not abusing her.”

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ive years later, in 2019, the City of Seattle awarded Simone an $83,250 grant to supplement the building of a recording studio at Black Umbrella headquarters, home to his independent label. The money didn’t materialize, however.

“After the grant award process, we did become aware of public allegations,” wrote Erika Lindsay, communications manager for the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture. Lindsay later clarified in an email that she was referring to allegations of abuse. “(The lack of payment) wasn't a direct result of the allegations, however it spurred us to accelerate work on our office's policy on accountability.”

Simone’s music, chock full of anecdotes and musings, put him on the map.

“Ugly People,” talks of when he asked a King County judge to grant him emancipation at the age of 17.

In a court statement asking that the judge deny his request, Simone’s mother called him an “outstanding person” who attended private school during his elementary years. At the time his mother made her statement, in 2007, Simone was in Running Start and worked part time at the Boys and Girls Club. She said Simone wanted to be emancipated because she refused to let his girlfriend move into their home.

It’s different from the image he projects.

“Raz Simone owned a club by the age of 19,” reads Simone’s artist bio. “He's from the hood in Seattle, which most people don't even know exists.”

In 2016, Simone spoke with Vibe, the hip-hop news magazine, about his song “Don’t Settle” and his views on multiple wives.

"The Force told me I was going to have multiple wives, and now I do," Simone told Vibe. “The Force” is a term Simone has used before. "This song touches on this new season of my life a bit."

Simone told KUOW that he meant polyamory, not polygamy.

In 2016, a year after Amanda Branch says Simone forcibly cut her hair, he released “My Ex Callin’.” The track featured a photo of Branch with shorn hair. The lyrics recount that night in 2015.

“You lied to us all, called me bitch on the call, so I shaved your head bald … I grabbed you by your neck, choked you until you passed out.”

Simone told KUOW that he had shaved Branch’s head, but that she had asked him to. He also said that Branch verbally abused him.

Branch said this was partly true: She had asked him to buzz her hair after he’d forcibly held her down and chopped it off so unevenly.

caption: Amanda Branch holds her cell phone showing an image that she took of herself included in artwork for the track “My Ex Callin," released in 2016 by Raz Simone, on Wednesday, December 23, 2020, in Seattle. Branch said she took the selfie for personal empowerment after losing her hair.
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Amanda Branch holds her cell phone showing an image that she took of herself included in artwork for the track “My Ex Callin," released in 2016 by Raz Simone, on Wednesday, December 23, 2020, in Seattle. Branch said she took the selfie for personal empowerment after losing her hair.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Is Raz Simone a pimp?

He told KUOW that he was a pimp as a 15 year old, but no longer.

Angelica Campbell, 26, however, said he pushed her into sex work last year.

Campbell, who marched with Simone on Capitol Hill, filed a protection order against Simone in November. In response, the King County Superior Court issued an order requiring Simone to surrender weapons. They’ve been unable to serve him as of Wednesday, Jan. 6.

They met at a concert in Chicago in October 2019. Simone offered her a safe place to live, and stability — something she didn’t have in Chicago, where she was homeless. But the move to Seattle brought no safety, she said.

“The first two weeks he would starve me, so I would depend on him for food,” Campbell wrote in a King County Superior Court petition in November, asking the court to enter a domestic violence protection order against Simone.

caption: Angelica Campbell says she was abused by Raz Simone, a rapper and activist in Seattle.
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Angelica Campbell says she was abused by Raz Simone, a rapper and activist in Seattle.
Credit: Courtesy of Angelica Campbell

Simone told Campbell that stripping was the fastest way to make money, according to the petition, and offered to help launch her onto the Seattle strip scene. Campbell wrote that she had stripped for money before, but based on what she experienced, in Seattle, in order to earn money, she had to perform sexual acts. Simone assured her that she’d “get used to it,” Campbell wrote.

Simone collected all Campbell’s paychecks, she wrote in court documents and reiterated to KUOW. In a text message screenshot provided to KUOW, Campbell told Simone she wanted to buy an air mattress, to stop her skin from breaking out due to sleeping on the carpet.

“Well you’re bringing me everything you make, then we’ll go over things,” he wrote back.

Campbell said Simone would get violent and call her “bitch” and other names. When Campbell and Simone would have sex, he would bite her back hard “as a sort of branding,” Campbell wrote the court in her protection order petition.

She wrote, too, that Simone would ask her, “Who controls you? Who owns you? Who’s your master?”

“I’d be afraid to say no and would be afraid to tell him [I] didn’t want to have sex,” she told the court.

In early July, Simone accused her of cheating on him, Campbell said. She wrote in court documents that he choked her during sex with such force that she would almost pass out. Amanda Branch also said that Simone choked her.

Then one day, out of the blue, Simone demanded thousands of dollars from Campbell for the time she lived at one of his properties, she said. He asked Campbell when she would start making money, she said, and accused her of not contributing to “the family.”

“It's like a debt on me to pay him back for helping me with my housing, ticket here, and all of this,” she told KUOW.

Simone said he never accused Campbell of cheating on him, and that he was never violent with her. He said he was trying to help her when he helped move her to Seattle from Chicago.

In October, Campbell said she was on Aurora Avenue, one of the hubs of street prostitution in Seattle. She said she communicated with Simone about which streets to walk, and which hotel to use for sex work. In screenshots of text messages provided by Campbell, Simone appears to have directed Campbell to a particular hotel. She said initially she agreed to do it, but then changed her mind.

Simone said he never pushed Campbell into sex work, and that it was her idea. He said she is harassing him. In multiple text messages that Raz Simone provided to KUOW, Campbell brings up escorting as one way to make more money to pay him.

Campbell told KUOW that Simone demanded money from her, that she felt beholden to Simone, and was trying to pay the debt.

Simone eventually kicked Campbell out in October, because she had no money to give him, Campbell said. She didn’t want to prostitute herself, and her job at a local Shake Shack didn’t last. Simone said he threw her out because she didn’t take good care of the property where Simone let her stay.

After being thrown out of the house, Campbell filed for a restraining order.

Simone told KUOW he used to be a pimp, years ago, as a teenager, but that he no longer was. That during that time, women and couples would approach him and ask that he pimp these women out because he was someone “who would have a plan.” He described pimping as a partnership, a team.

“Yes I WAS a ‘Pimp’ not like that tho,” Simone wrote on Twitter in June. “Didn’t force anything. No forced punishment. That’s not how that story goes and that’s why I even put it in a song.”

He shared with KUOW his view of sex work: “If a woman is working with you, you guys are like a team. And you're accomplishing things. If she goes to jail, you're bailing out, but if you go to jail, she's bailing you out.”

He said that outsiders looking in will exaggerate the circumstances surrounding pimping, and push a narrative on women, calling them the victim.

He remained on good terms with the women that he “dealt with at those times,” and said he spent $7,000 to bail one woman out earlier this year.

Simone asked this reporter to contact friends, who could vouch for him. KUOW reached out to all five; three of these people agreed to provide comment.

One person criticized the character of one of two accusers and said this reporter “should trust him” when he says Simone never abused or trafficked women. The other two, a man who attended Ingraham High School with Simone and a woman who has known Simone since 2010, said they’ve seen nothing but kindness from him.

“In my opinion, from everything I've seen and heard, those claims are completely baseless,” Sara Belche, Simone’s friend and former operations manager for Black Umbrella, said. “He's always been really good to me.”

Belche said she didn’t understand why Amanda Branch and Angelica Campbell would accuse Simone of violence. She said she spent a lot of time with him and saw no evidence of abuse. She also said that she had met Campbell, and that “she seemed to be a really sweet person” and during interactions appeared to be “extremely grateful” to Simone.

caption: Angelica Campbell, center, meets with Seattle city leaders and other activists, during the summer of 2020.
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Angelica Campbell, center, meets with Seattle city leaders and other activists, during the summer of 2020.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Converge Media

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s Raz Simone started getting noticed last summer, women who had been in the movement for years pushed for accountability.

Activist Jaiden Grayson, after learning of allegations against Simone, said she was put in contact with survivors who worried about backlash after coming forward against a self-styled leader.

“A lot of these women are white passing, or white identifying women, and so they did not feel they had the ability to speak out against this man,” Grayson said. “And what a tricky space to be in. Their pain is real. What's happened to them is real ... and yet they can't speak to it, because this is a Black man, and they are white women.”

As a Black woman, Grayson said she listened to their concerns, and with their consent, advocated on their behalf.

Others spoke out too.

“Raz [is] no leader of mine and that can’t be overstated,” wrote Gennette Cordova on Twitter. “It’s important for me, personally, to be unequivocal and on the record with this.”

Cordova is a communication strategist and a social justice writer who has contributed to the Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, and Revolt. During the summer, she worked on an effort to mobilize newly re-enfranchised voters in Kentucky. She said Simone’s behaviors weakened the effectiveness of street protests — especially when he showed up in the Tesla, and divided the crowd.

In response to her tweet, Simone asked why Cordova didn’t point out leaders she did follow, and raise those people up, instead of “putting down Black men who are hopefully just genuinely trying.”

“As an activist and a woman, I have a responsibility to make it clear that no matter who the media chooses to highlight, obviously for derailing purposes, I’m not connected to no misogynistic ass bullshit,” Cordova replied.

Cordova explained that historically, women within social movements felt pressure to overlook, and often stay silent about internal misogyny and sexism. Members within the original Black Panther Party worked to disrupt gender roles. However, female members were criticized for speaking out against chauvinism in the 1970s, and the decades that followed.

But that didn’t keep Cordova, and others, silent.

People shared some of Amanda Branch’s story on Twitter, and a copy of a temporary protection order against Simone, submitted by a different woman out of Los Angeles in 2017 (KUOW independently verified that this petition exists; the case, and the temporary order, were dismissed after no one showed up to the court hearing). Defending himself, Simone posted a video of a message on his cellphone from this woman.

“She said all this crazy shit about me,” Simone said in the video, as he scrolled through the photos the Los Angeles woman sent him on camera. “Said that I’m a sex trafficker. That I sex trafficked her and her friends. That I stuffed her in a trunk and kidnapped and raped her, and forced her into slavery, which is not true at all.”

Simone estimated that it was in 2017 that he took a different stance on the MeToo movement, he told KUOW.

“I was completely on the ‘believe all women’ movement, and now I'm not — fuck that,” Simone said, adding that people should listen to all victims, not just women. “Listen to people that are being sexually abused or abused.”

Jaiden Grayson, the activist, said she was listening.

At a protest in mid-June, before a crowd, she used an allegory from the animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” to explain why she was calling Simone out by name.

In the series, the main character must choose to either kill the villain, or let them continue terrorizing others. An ancestor comes to the protagonist with another option: remove the villain’s power.

“This is now the job of you all -- when you see someone exuding power that creates terror, you need to remove their power,” Grayson said.

After being called out, Grayson said Simone “folded himself into the shadows” in an “attempt to hide away.” That for a time, the man featured in interviews with national outlets, who led marches in the streets, whose name would drum up discourse on the CHAZ, was nowhere to be found.

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