Did Lil Wayne Go Too Far This Time?

February 14th, 2013

(Photos from left: Wikicommons,Prince Williams/FilmMagic)

By Gee King

Rappers routinely get away with saying some pretty offensive things. But there’s something about Lil Wayne’s reference to Civil Rights martyr Emmett Till on Future’s “Karate Chop (Remix)” that’s struck a nerve with fans, critics and political activists alike since the track leaked online last week. Did Weezy cross the line?

In a rhyme that sounds routine to those familiar with Wayne’s affinity for simplistic similes and vulgar punchlines, the Young Money rapper gleefully announces his intentions to “Pop a pill” and “Beat that p—y up like Emmett Till.” After several bloggers and social media luminaries announced their distaste for the rhyme, Wayne’s words spread like wildfire via the web, eventually reaching the estate of Emmett Till. The resulting fallout has now reached epic levels (literally, Epic Records is swiftly moving to remove the track from the Internet at the behest of the Rev. Jesse Jackson) and is opening an evolved dialog about the responsibility that rappers hold to both their ancestors and the future generations that they are influencing.

It’s been mentioned that Kanye West and Remy Ma previously referenced Till’s brutal murder and mutilation at the hands of racists in 1955, but neither did so with the insensitivity or potential for influence of Wayne. The irony of this situation is that Wayne has been making millions by saying equally outrageous things for over a decade now, including previous references to Till (“Beating up your block, yeah I get my Emmett Till on,” he spit on an unofficial remix to Swizz Beatz’ 2007 hit “It’s Me Bitches”). So what is it about this bar that broke the camel’s back? Are his critics acting solely in reverence to the honor of Till’s legacy or are they exaggerating the impact of an ultimately harmless bar with the greater purpose of addressing long-standing issues that exist in mainstream hip hop’s current existence?

For those who think this controversy is an overreaction, the result of a generational divide, it’s hard to argue that Wayne didn’t have this coming. The power of his influence is undeniable and, as Bishop Tavis Grant pointed out in a radio interview that included a spokesperson from Till’s estate, Wayne’s potential for Malcolm X-like cultural impact has instead become an extension of an unenlightened Malcolm Little. And while it’s easy for some to overlook the destructive messages and negative self-images he broadcasts throughout the universe with each new verse, it’s becoming harder and harder to defend his lack of dignity as his artistic integrity fades. Whether it’s his increasingly reckless potshots at dark-skinned women or his endorsement of experimental substances, it’s easy to see this episode as an example of Weezy reaping the toxic seeds he’s been sowing for so long.

Wayne’s punishment will reverberate throughout mainstream rap, affecting rappers like Future who will absorb collateral damage despite the fact that Wayne acted completely alone. Some may call their demise poetic justice considering the benefits they’ve gained by mimicking Wayne for all of these years. But the ultimate impact of this controversy will be seen for the rest of 2013, as hip hop newcomers and icons alike continue to grow more outwardly aware and artistically conscious. We’ve made plenty of excuses for MCs whose words were twisted by enemies of the culture with destructive intentions but Wayne’s Till punchline may be the moment that causes hip hop to turn and face the destructive messages coming from its side of the public sphere.

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