Candace Buckner: Rap lyric was classic swing and miss

Commentary: Candace Buckner

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

The "Best rapper ever" needs to be checked.

We need to ignore this guy. Forget him faster than the Funky Bunch, and dis him just as much as we do the chorus of Vanilla Ice's "Ninja Rap."

We should stop bumping his tunes in our Beats headphones and over our NBA arena speakers. If we in the listening public truly care about progress and positivity, then we should respect Lil Wayne's freedom of speech by expressing our own. …

And press pause on ignorance.

This week, the popular rapper faced a critical maelstrom for delivering a distasteful lyric in a song released over the Internet. In the verse, Lil Wayne rhymes "pills" with "wheels" then somehow figures a violent, sexual reference lazily slapped onto the name of Emmett Till was a good move.

The record company reportedly apologized to the Till family and began efforts to remove circulation of the track.

"I thought the lyric was tasteless," said Mark Anthony Neal, a Duke professor on African and African American studies. "(However) I thought from a creative standpoint, it was a hell of a metaphor."

"I wouldn't have used that metaphor myself. I think there are ways that younger generations of artists are a little insensitive to historical (stories) like Emmett Till."

Neal, an advocate of free speech, expressed to me on Thursday how troubled he is that Epic Records will edit the lyric. The censor, he believes, should belong to us.

"The public is the best auditor in what kind of artists to value and what kind of artists not to value," Neal said. "It's in the right of the public to push back."

So, this is what I'm pushing — let's stop giving artists like Lil Wayne so much credence in our culture.

In 1955, Emmett Till — if you need a refresher on your Black History Month facts — was a young Chicago native savagely murdered in Mississippi. It was at a time in our country when a 14-year-old black boy could be kidnapped, beaten all night long, shot in the head, then dumped into the Tallahatchie River all because he reportedly whistled at a white woman.

Though his death sparked a nationwide outcry and forever stands as a seminal moment in our country's Civil Rights Movement, the story is inescapably tragic.

And yet today, it's simply a punch line in a rap song.

You might be wondering "Lil Wayne who?" or pish-poshing his merits as a cognoscente of American culture. But I tell you, there is truth in marketing: Lil Wayne wouldn't be tall enough to start as the junior varsity point guard at Union High School. He's a short, little dude but his reach far exceeds his physical height.

Lil Wayne plays on pop radio just as much as Taylor Swift. And besides selling millions of albums, he has crossed over to appear on ESPN numerous times, voiced Gatorade television spots, and performed at corporate Super Bowl parties. If pop culture and sports go together like a beautiful marriage, then Lil Wayne must be its rambunctious child.

On the same day when a Till family member spoke out against the lyric, the Trail Blazers played in Lil Wayne's hometown of New Orleans. Hours before the game, one young Blazer boasted about meeting and talking with Lil Wayne for the first time.

"Told my homies when I got on I was gonna meet wayne," the player tweeted to his followers. Then, he closed with the ultimate sign of respect: "Best rapper ever I salute."

I don't know how the player feels about the Till punch line controversy or if he's even heard the song. But I do know that by Lil Wayne showing such an egregious level of ignorance, he's teaching a perverse history lesson to his multitude of young admirers, both black and white, who also believe he's the "best rapper ever."

Recently, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my sports editor — straight outta Portland, yo! — grew up as the biggest Public Enemy fan in the Pacific Northwest. I can imagine a young Greg Jayne raging in his parent's house, pretending to be an S1W and thumping "It Takes a Nation of Million to Hold Us Back." Though he might not have understood when Chuck D spit:

Just peace at least

'Cause I want it

I want it so bad

That I'm starvin'

I'm like Garvey

So you can see B

It's like that, I'm like Nat

So leave me the hell alone.

… he learned something about the frustrations from a street prophet through the name-dropping of historical black figures such as nationalist Marcus Garvey and rebellion leader Nat Turner.

Whether we were from the 'burbs or the hood, hip-hop taught us about struggles and political criticisms and yes, even celebrations. I still love the music because once upon a time, hip-hop artists served as town criers. Now far too often, rappers act like court jesters. Clowns without a clue. However like most fools, their act grows stale.

They don't deserve our chuckles at their clever rhymes or head bobs to their heavy bass lines. Let's be their worst public enemy and don't believe their hype.

Candace Buckner covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. She can be reached at 360-735-4528 or email at candace.buckner@columbian.com. Her Twitter handle is @blazerbanter.