by Dr. Boyce Watkins
When a rapper says he’s gonna “pop a pill” then “beat that p*ssy like Emmett Till,” that’s when we know that he might have gone a little bit too far. But that’s just what happened this week, and the Till family isn’t happy.
Lil Wayne and Future, two very talented hip-hop artists, have decided to push the envelope of disrespect by releasing a song called “Karate Chop.” In the song, Lil Wayne takes the liberty of turning the mutilated face of Emmett Till into a weary sex organ, ridiculing the agony experienced by this young man many years ago. The matter is made even sadder by the fact that Till’s legacy was trampled by Lil Wayne, Future and Universal Records right in the middle of Black History Month.
This week, I spoke with Airickca Gordon Taylor, spokesperson for the Till family and as you can imagine, the family is outraged.
“I just couldn’t understand how he could compare the gateway to life to the brutality and punishment of death,” said Gordon Taylor.
For those of us who aren’t familiar with the story of Emmett Till (apparently, Lil Wayne already is), Till was a 15-year old boy who was beaten beyond recognition and murdered for whistling at a white woman. Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, made the courageous decision to insist that her son be buried with an open casket so that the country could see how ugly the brutality of racial violence can become. Mamie’s sacrifice sparked international outrage and served as part of the fuel which created the foundation for the civil rights movement.
Over 50 years later, we now have black rappers who think it’s OK to compare this 15-year old boy’s face to a v@gina. I doubt that Dr. King would consider this to be progress.
Rev. Jesse Jackson and his associate, Bishop Tavis Grant of the Rainbow/Push Coalition have spoken up on the matter, and I’ve promised to give them my support. So far, neither Lil Wayne nor Future has responded to the family’s call for them to stop the release of the song, which is an astonishing show of arrogance from both of their camps. I wonder if any of the people signing off on the song even realized that it’s now black history month? I doubt they celebrate this sort of thing in the offices of Universal Records, since it’s easier to exploit an artist who is both ignorant and uneducated: The scariest thing in the world can be a conscientious, courageous and intelligent black man, hence the decision to mass promote black male anti-intellectualism.
Hip-hop music is one of the most powerful and persuasive art forms in the history of the world, and it is now being used to enslave the minds of young black people so that they might become food for the prison industrial complex. Lil Wayne’s reference to Till is just the latest effort to dumb down black America with messages that are nothing short of disgustingly toxic. Don’t believe me? Go analyze any one of a million songs you’ll hear on the radio today: Not one song promotes a positive lifestyle, and within 60 seconds, you’ll surely hear a reference to at least one of the following – drug use, alcoholism, violence, or s*xual irresponsibility. Also, have you ever noticed that commercialized (corporate-funded) hip-hop is the ONLY genre of music where nearly all of the messages are the same? Maybe this isn’t a coincidence.
Many potential black male father figures have been extracted from our community and sent to the concentration camps of the prison industrial complex, given dozens of years in prison for sometimes minor offenses. All the while, their sons grow up without fathers, and are taught by music on the radio how to get high and drunk every day, to kill other black men, and to disrespect the black women who raised them (case-in-point: Lil Wayne’s song, “Always strapped,” reminds black men to keep their guns with them when they go to the club, and in another song “We be Steady Mobbin,” Wayne says that he will steal your girlfriend, turn her into a hooker and then kill her and send her dead body back to you). Lil Wayne’s music is a reflection of his own sad reality, as a man who is as brilliant as the great Malcolm X has been convinced to use his powers to destroy rather than uplift. I would ask Wayne to say something positive to his people, but the fact is that in his mind, we are NOT his people.
The cultural norms that continue to undermine who we are as a community are deliberately designed to keep us in a psychological prison from which many of us choose not to escape. And for those of us who rise above the madness, we often find ourselves and our loved ones brutalized or killed by those who’ve been turned into zombies. A good example is the late Hadiya Pendleton, the young honor student who was murdered just a block away from the home of President Barack Obama. Hadiya didn’t die because her mother was irresponsible: She died because someone else’s child was failed by either society or his own parents and ended up becoming a teenage murderer.
Bishop Grant, Rev Jesse Jackson and the Till family aren’t just taking the fight to the artists themselves, they are taking it to the streets and the boardrooms. Universal Records, the company that finances and sponsors the language being used in much of this music, should be held accountable. I guarantee that if I were releasing music which said that “I’m going to beat that woman’s v*gina as if she were a Jew in Hitler’s concentration camp,” I wouldn’t be able to get millions of dollars in financing to spread my message around the world. Destructive hip-hop music is the kind of disrespect that is designed uniquely for black people only.
Some would say that the consumers are to blame for this madness on the airwaves. They say that if people stop demanding this kind of music, it will simply go away. The problem is two-fold: 1) Many of the people who purchase hip-hop music are white people who care nothing about how the music might affect the psyches of black youth, and 2) If you force a product down the throat of consumers long enough, they will eventually crave it in the same way that an alcoholic comes to desire poison in his body.
White people buy hip-hop, but are not as readily influenced by its messages. They don’t see the artists as reflections of themselves, but instead as connections to the “authentic” black urban “gangsta” experience. Black children, on the other hand, don’t have nearly as many media role models to choose from, and are often led to believe that music is their way out of the ghetto. Bad parenting is not the only reason that many of our kids are led astray, since many good parents see their words drowned out by a world that teaches black children to destroy themselves.
I’m not angry at Lil Wayne for making his music, much of which is actually very good. Lil Wayne is brilliant, creative and powerful, like Malcolm Little was before he met the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Also like Malcolm, Wayne was poisoned by a racist society, and his music is merely a symptom of the mental illness that America has built within him over the last 30 years. Since he never met his own version of Elijah Muhammad, Wayne has become convinced to use his power to kill his community rather than lift it up, and that is why he continues to work for our enemies.
But no matter how we view the actions of Lil Wayne himself, the bottom line is that we must love our kids more than we love this music. We can support the value of artistic freedom while simultaneously demanding that our hip-hop artists and their corporate overseers show some degree of responsibility. We can’t just presume that anything goes, especially when the music so blatantly spits on the legacy of someone like Emmett Till.
In other words, some things are sacred and we should crush the soul of anyone who dares to disrespect the Civil Rights Movement in such a blatant and ignorant way. We owe this much to little Emmett and his mother, who gave so much to us.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and author of the lecture series, “Greatness is not an option: Why we must teach our children to fly.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.