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Lyrics, Lil Wayne and corporate hypocrisy

By Starla Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Mar 6, 2013 - 5:14:09 PM

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Can lessons be learned from Lil’ Wayne lyrics about Emmett Till, whose brutal murder helped ignite civil rights movement? Final Call re-examines questions about power, entertainers, music, messages and how they impact Black America.

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Yeah, and I don’t have to go to Hollywood
Cause Hollywood came through my neighborhood with cameras on
I really think they’re stealing from us like a sample song
I really wish one day we’d take it back like Hammer’s home
The hurricane came and took my Louisiana home
And all I got in return was a darn country song
This whole country wrong

The above excerpt by rapper Lil Wayne from the song “Hollywood Divorce” off the 2006 soundtrack to the movie Idlewild is of a totally different caliber than a recent disturbing verse the multi-platinum artist spit on a remix of a song recorded with fellow rapper Future.

The New Orleans native stoked a firestorm of outrage by invoking the name of civil rights martyr Emmett Till in a disrespectful, distasteful manner under the guise of entertainment and creative expression.

Though response from the public in condemning the artist and record label was quick, serious problems remain, including the double standard in the music industry when it comes to Black folks.

Why is the blatant disrespect and attitudes not just tolerated, but glorified and promoted? Is there a limit to what the public will continue to accept from record labels that continue pushing such content?

“I think it all has to do with the current attitudes and racist backlash from a second President Obama election and how the powers that be feel about people of color. That is wrong with mainstream hip-hop music today,” explained recording artist Connie “Nutmeg” Muhammad.

“It (hip hop), no longer reflects the ideas, attitudes, and opinions of the people who originated it (Blacks, Latinos) but the ideas, attitudes, and opinions of the rich one percent. Black culture is not celebrated but only consumption of what the rich produce for us and these elitist rappers are part of that problem so he (Lil Wayne) feels he need not apologize, that is my opinion,” said Mrs. Muhammad, an award nominated singer, songwriter and producer.

Emmett Till, 14, whose brutal torture and murder in 1955 in Mississippi at the hands of a group of racist White men, angry at the teen for allegedly whistling at a White woman, was the spark that ignited the civil rights movement. His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted her son’s casket remain open at his funeral so the world could see her son’s battered, brutalized and disfigured body. She spent the rest of her life making sure the world never forgot about her son.

Record company pulls offensive lyrics

Epic Records, the label Future is signed to, pulled the offensive lines from the track Feb. 14, two days after the company said the “unauthorized” remix was leaked online. Epic, owned by Sony Music Entertainment, issued a statement in which the company said it was “going through great efforts to take down the “unauthorized version” of the song.

“I think it’s a small victory in that it put the record companies on notice that the Black community is gaining strength in terms of adding to our rich history of being able to organize against the issues that matter to our community or the issues that are negatively affecting our community,” said Dr. Boyce Watkins.

Dr. Watkins, a professor and author of several books including, “Commercialized Hip-Hip: The Gospel of Self Destruction,” was among those who spoke out immediately when word of the song reached the public.

According to reports, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, chairman and CEO of Epic reached out to the Till family to apologize. At presstime there had been no public apology from Lil Wayne. The Final Call reached out to Lil Wayne’s management company but received no response.

The Black community discussion centered on major points of holding record labels and artists accountable—and the need to teach and guide young people. “Like everyone else, I was appalled to learn that rapper Lil Wayne had made a vulgar reference to Till’s death.

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On a re-mix of an upcoming CD by Future called Karate Chop, Lil Wayne essentially spewed the line: ‘Beat that (female sex organ) up like Emmett Till,’ ” wrote George Curry, editor of the NNPA Newswire. When I sat down to write this column, I planned to excoriate Little Wayne about his insult. I started to remind him that musical artists don’t have to be ignorant fools, even while showing their underwear on stage. I was going to say that Curtis Mayfield of my era and Chuck D of his generation demonstrated that African-American artists can make good music and provide uplifting race-conscious lyrics at the same time.

“Rather than spend another nanosecond on Lil Wayne, we should use this Black History Month moment to educate young people who may not have ever heard of Emmett Till,” he said.

Since hip hop’s early days, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan has reached out to artists and tried to share wisdom and an understanding of the importance of their creative talent. He encourages artists to use their talents to uplift rather than degrade the minds and images of young people and has actively sought to make peace when “beefs” have arisen between competing artists and their fans.

The Minister has called out the corrupt, money-hungry corporate entities that maintain a stranglehold on the entertainment industry, artists and export negative Black images around the world. Satanic forces behind record companies corrupt artists and manipulate their tremendous talents to dumb down not only America but the world, the Muslim leader explained.

“So art and culture and movies and music have a great place, but the revolution of our thinking must be reflected in our art and our culture. And the talent of your young people must always be used to lift the minds of those who are touched by our music, our song, our dance, our plays, our movies,” said Min. Farrakhan.

The question of accountability

Others struggle with trying to hold artists accountable and seeing their potential impact for good and for bad. “This was unique to me in that it wasn’t similar to say the Trayvon Martin situation where Black folks felt that the only enemy to our community is somebody who does not have Black skin. We realize that there are lots of people with the same skin color that we have who do not have our communities best interest at heart,” said Dr. Watkins.

Dr. Watkins also said Lil Wayne’s music reflects that he is a product of the pain, violence, poverty, poor education, drug and gun culture that is a part of the larger society.

“What I would love to do is convince him and some of these other artists to join us in the battle against these problems but instead I think many of these artists still see themselves as victims and products of the problem and not those who are empowered to have the ability to solve the problems. So the Lil Wayne lyric was really a symptom of a prolonged set of concerns that we’ve had with the direction of hip hop music over the last 15 years,” said Dr. Watkins.

Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group are currently the largest major music labels. Sony’s music division posted a $463 million operating profit on sales of $5.5 billion for its fiscal year 2012, despite seeing losses in other areas of the corporation, according to billboard.com.

Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director for Rainbow Push, said offensive lyrics are permitted because they sell records. Rainbow Push founder Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to L.A. Reid and has also reached out to Lil Wayne’s management team hoping to meet with the rapper, said Bishop Grant.

“The responsibility from the artist speaks for themselves because they are the artist and artists should maintain a certain level of dignity, class and respect. On the other hand when they’re being pushed by promoters and distributers, being pushed by producers to sound a certain way, dress a certain way or say certain things or you don’t get paid and you don’t get booked,” said Bishop Grant.

Bishop Grant agreed that there is a double standard in the music industry when it comes to what is or is not acceptable depending on who is targeted.

“There’s two sets of rules. If Lil Wayne had said this to the Jewish community, they would say he’s anti-Semitic. Say it to us and it’s a question of free speech … there is a law of responsibility, there is an ethical responsibility,” he explained.

The value of an artist’s craft and music should not be marginalized or compromised just for profit, said Bishop Grant.

Rappers and their potential for greatness

In the mid-1990s Michael Jackson was forced to pull lyrics from a song that was accused of being anti-Semitic. He apologized. Rap artist Eminem was blasted in the early 2000s for lyrics deemed anti-gay. He also apologized and in 2001, performed with Elton John, who is gay, at the Grammy Awards. Eminem as well as other well-known rap artists like Jay-Z have endorsed gay marriage.

Yet, it is still acceptable in music to refer to women as “bi*ch” or rap about “cappin’ a ni$$a”, for profit.

In speaking with some radio station executives in Chicago about song selections and what they choose to play, Dr. Watkins said the bottom line continues to be money.

“The way I would describe the predominant attitude that I’ve seen is one that said that money and talent trumps any sort of ethical abnormalities or any problematic choices on the part of the artist and that means if you’re talented enough and popular enough and you make enough money, then we will forgive you for just about anything,” he said.

However, Dr. Watkins sees the potential of Lil Wayne and others if they choose to embrace greatness. The problem, continued Dr. Watkins, is the rapper has not been taught to use his extraordinary gift for good. He compared Lil Wayne to Malcolm X before he met and was taught by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, patriarch of the Nation of Islam.

“Can you imagine what kind of man Malcolm Little would have been had he not met the Honorable Elijah Muhammad? He would have wreaked untold amounts of havoc throughout the world. He would have destroyed so many lives and that’s what I’m seeing with Lil Wayne,” said the finance professor.

“He never had that person that taught him to realize that this kind of power that you have is a gift from God and you should be using that to lift people up, not to tear people down,” said Dr. Watkins.

(Richard B. Muhammad contributed to this report.)

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