I woke up Wednesday morning to see Lil’ Wayne trending on Twitter. I was worried that he had another seizure. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. During an interview with Linsey Davis on Nightline, he refused to acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement.
On a September episode of Fox Sports 1’s Skip and Shannon: Undisputed, he was asked about race relations in America. Wayne replied that he believed racism was over. He then cited that the vast majority at many of his shows is white, adding “I don’t want to be bashed, because I don’t want to sound like I’m on the wrong, if there is a side, but I thought that was clearly a message that there was no such thing as racism.”
Lil’ Wayne was born and raised in New Orleans, a city still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. On songs like “Georgia Bush” and “Tie My Hands”, he addressed the racial undertones of the relief effort after Katrina. On The Free Weezy Album, he expressed concern about the systemic racism many Americans feel has become synonymous with law enforcement.
When asked about Black Lives Matter, Wayne was dismissive in his response. There are some who believe his willful ignorance is cause for concern. I believe that we shouldn’t look to rappers for their opinion on any moral or social issues. The reason why can be found in a hypocrisy that has been part of rap music from almost the very beginning.
Hip-hop began as the voice of the disenfranchised. Today it is the language of the mainstream. It has influenced countless aspects of our society, from movies and sports to advertisements and political campaigns. Today, most of the music centers around drug and gang culture, misogyny and violence. Straight Outta Compton, the NWA biopic, was released in August 2015 to an outpour of praise for the group. NWA was lauded for their message and place in rap history. Largely ignored was the fact that there are more songs like “One Less Bitch” and “Dopeman” in their catalog than there are like “Fuck the Police.”
As hip-hop’s influence grew, more rappers would balance music that demeaned women and glorified violence with a few songs here and there about the power we all have to make a difference. 2Pac gave us “Keep Ya Head Up” and “Changes”, but he also gave us “All About U” and “Troublesome ’96”.
I’m worried that readers will think I’m judging them, or that I don’t enjoy rap music. I’m the biggest Young Thug fan I know, even though it’s clear that he says nothing of substance. His music defies critical analysis, affecting my nervous system in ways I barely understand. I became a fan of Future during the darkest turn of his career. Songs like “Groupies”, “Blood on the Money” and “Colossal” were made more intriguing by the loss of his family after breaking up with Ciara. I couldn’t look away as he howled into the abyss.
Earlier this year T.I. incited violence after the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In October 2015 he said could not vote for a woman as his Commander in Chief. It is becoming increasingly difficult to separate rappers and their personas from who they are and what they believe. Maybe it’s time for us as listeners to demand that rappers convey a better message, and a deeper meaning in their music. With this year’s election cycle winding down, there may not be a more opportune time. Easier said than done: “Floyd Mayweather” by Young Thug is my favorite song of 2016, and I can’t think of a close second.
On Wednesday evening I saw that Wayne apologized for his comments and explained his frustration. “When the reporter began asking me questions about my daughter being labeled a bitch and a hoe, I got agitated.” Reading that, I was reminded of an exchange I heard years ago. A classmate of mine called a group of women bitches as they walked by. His friend asked why he called them that. He replied, “because I don’t know their names.”