Lil’ Wayne And Boundaries

by Fashion and Entertainment Editor Joseph Lamour
*Warning: Strong Language*

wayneillus

So, have you heard about Lil’ Wayne yet? Let me give you the long and short of it: in a collaboration with Future, he used a metaphor to compare sex to Emmett Till’s murder. Lyrics below the cut, if you don’t know the line yet. This, of course, managed to offend the universe. The song in question, “Karate Chop,” features lyrics that stirred Emmett Till’s cousin to hire Jesse Jackson and demand an apology. Didn’t we all learn from Outkast’s “Rosa Parks”?

Now, I feel a little bit like Tyra Banks with what I’m about to say: I can relate to Lil’ Wayne because I’m also a musician. I don’t rap, but in addition to writing about fashion, entertainment–and having a hand in an array of art disciplines–I also compose and sing. In addition to recounting the facts up to this point, I decided to take this time to openly ponder what makes this lyric offend us all so viscerally, while others garner no news reaction at all.

Back to me being just like Tyra Banks: I write alot about issues where the lyrics could cause some discomfort, since I write mostly social change, whether indirectly or directly: for instance, I have a song I’m working on about being gay and the concept that a Christian heaven is by default not for me. Not really much in common with Lil’ Wayne’s music, but, as you would imagine, contains some pretty serious slap-you-in-the-face lyrics, much like his tend to be.

When someone sits down to write a song, he or she searches for those phrases that will draw the audience in, make them smile, cry, or sometimes jolt them out of complacency. Usually, you want the impact of your words in the listener to be a positive one. But that doesn’t always happen. And now, for the NSFW lyrics in question (I included the whole verse, but of course, the third line is what this debacle has to do with):

Pop a lot of pain pills
Bout to put rims on my skateboard wheels
Beat that pussy up like Emmett Till
Yeah….

I don’t think telling a conquest that you’ll take her lady business, gouge out its eye, shoot it through the head, weight it, and toss it into a river with barbed wire tied around its neck sounds sexy.

I wouldn’t normally put a GIF here, especially one of levity. I honestly needed to take a moment to look at something wonderful in the world the first time I read it, and maybe one of you does, too?

I do over-think things. But I do so in order to understand why “beat that pussy up like Emmett Till” (I can’t even type it without getting uncomfortable) stirs so much no in just about every heart in America. In typing out the literal translation, I wonder how many people in the studio there were who paid no mind to it when it came out of his mouth. Future, of course, was there, and here’s what he has to say about it:

The line in question appeared on Future‘s “Karate Chop (Remix)” and though Wayne has yet to speak on the controversy, Future assures that the Young Money superstar meant no ill will. “It was a hot song, we did it from a good place with great intentions, just to add some life on to the song,” Future told MTV News on Friday night, while he was out in Houston, Texas shooting a music video with Trae tha Truth. “The record it was done from a good place, good art, he ain’t have no bad intentions when he was thinking about it like that.”

That didn’t help, and it cleared nothing up. What would, though? Even using the just murderer’s name, Roy Bryant, would still invoke the victim. Sullying Till in this way is pretty much like telling a rape victim that they shouldn’t have dressed the way they did: a tasteless re-victimization.

It’s not just that the line was in bad taste because bad taste actually helps some music achieve some memorable lyrics. Especially ones dealing with sex. Look to the opening line of Lana Del Rey’s “Cola” (totally NSFW), and a lot of us are familiar with NIN’s “Closer” (absolutely NSFW)–these are at once tasteless and sexual and largely inoffensive (sexual morality notwithstanding). Lana is talking about her own private parts, and with “Closer”:

You let me violate you, you let me desecrate you
You let me penetrate you, you let me complicate you

You can have my isolation, you can have the hate that it brings
You can have my absence of faith, you can have my everything

Trent makes sure to include permissive words in every line. Whether who he offers it to accept it is another story, but “you let me” and “you can have” contrast with the way Lil’ Wayne invokes the situation of Emmett Till, a moment in history completely absolved of permission.

Some of you reading this may think those songs are pretty problematic as well. Maybe they are; a lot of what I do on this site is thinking out loud, but I personally don’t think they are for the reasons I mentioned. Also, in regards to Del Rey, Reznor, and Lil’ Wayne’s lyrics, I’m trying to understand this need we artists to say something through an image or a lyric that grabs your audience by the shoulders and gives them a shake.

Epic has since profusely apologized and said that they would make efforts to remove the offending lyric. And they did a good job of it, too, because I have been pretty much unable to find a version of the song where that line is clearly audible–that is, until I went to Hot New Hip Hop and found it. This decision by Epic to swiftly delete the lyric from the song may invoke discussions on free speech. I did think about free speech while writing this but, while I did, I also was thinking of Till’s family and his memory.

If this were a broader discussion on the appropriation of our community’s tragedies in music, I would bring the n-word’s tenure in rap into this. After all, so many rappers (and comedians, grumble) toss that word around like lyrical confetti. And “Karate Chop” (again, that version has the line in it) features the n-word no less than fifteen times. But there are plenty of discussions, especially on this site, that deal with that issue. My main goal besides telling you what happened, of course, was to ruminate on the whole situation: the equation of violence to sex, bad taste versus unacceptable bad taste, and the thought process of the artist. Or as I have found out, the lack thereof.

  • BrookLyn1825

    I think LIl Wayne’s lyrics demonstrate the need for Black History woven into History classes in high school. However I find it curious that this lyric caused so much outrage yet Alicia Keys sings “we can fight like Ike and Tina” and that was considered profound love song.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000709864513 Michelle Kirkwood

    Honestly, I think a lot of these rappers don’t even bother to really think about what the hell they’re even rapping about in the first place—they just say whatever pops into their head that goes along with the beat,flat out. It used to be that you could listen to certain rappers and tell by the quality of the lyrics that the rapper had clearly put a lot of thought into trying to get across whatever they were trying to convey in a particular song. There are still a lot of talented rappers out there who have a lot of things to say without causing controversy–unfortunately they’re not the ones getting major radio airplay and lucrative contracts with unlimited access to the mainstream.

  • Hahahahachu

    hmmm… i wish i have time to compose my response better. I’m not a lil Wayne scholar, but here it goes… when analysing Lil Wayne, one must try to understand the philosophical vantage point he assumes within the tangled systems of hierarchy (racial, sexual, etc) and Capitalism. Being black doesn’t mean you automatically HAVE to sympathize or empathize with past (or current) horrors of racism. Most mainstream rappers are silent about it and the ones that reference horrific incidents of racism often times do it cavalierly to garner cheap shock( see rickross’ letmesee’s reference to a girl wearing a gucci hoodie looking like trayvon martin). As corporate rap and hip-hop reigns supreme, artists such as lil Wayne are hugely rewarded to the tunes of milli-a milli-a millions for being messengers of the rich-or-get-trying ethos. In line with the assigned guideline, Debasing Women proves very profitable and so does Debasing Historical Memories. This should not shock us. His decision to forgo empathy for Emmet Till and Rodney King proves that he’s merely lining up with the economic victors in those cases, who are NOT Till and King themselves, but the white lynchers and white cops. Under the capitalist auspices, these are perhaps the Men that lil Wayne aspires to become.

  • http://twitter.com/09778394 Ssie

    Not to mention Lil Wayne’s “Mrs. Officer” where he jokes about Rodney King:

    “I make her wear nothing but handcuffs & heels
    And I beat it like a cop
    Rodney King baby yeah I beat it like a cop
    Ha Haaa… beat it like a cop
    Rodney King baby said beat it like a cop.”

  • Keisha

    Also, I think it makes it more problematic because many people might not be thoroughly familiar with who Emmett Till is or what happened. That part of history is not necessarily taught in school at any level (whether high school or college level unless you take a Black Studies class or a class that deals specifically with race). So while it is unfortunate that an influential rap star like Lil’ Wayne can evoke that horrible imagery (really not sexy at all), many of his fans will have no clue how this man died. Not many people will take the time to look up who Emmett Till is while hearing how Lil’ Wayne plans to beat the p*ssy up. They will probably rap along without so much as blinking an eye.

    It is also interesting to note that Emmett Till’s name was evoked during Kanye West’s song Through the Fire. But then again he was talking about how his was unrecognizable from his car crash. Maybe someone will put the two together and want to research what happened to Till, most probably not.

  • disqus_LOaBBBNpfP

    societal condemnation does not limit free speech – free speech is about freedom from government action against said speech.