At the birth of hip-hop, black youngsters didn’t just project themselves into the songs they bobbed their heads to. They recognized themselves in the rhythm. When rap videos hit MTV’s reluctant airwaves, we saw ourselves on the screen riding in Jeeps, wearing Cross Colours, or shell toed adidas, or hoop earrings. Hip-hop wasn’t something we aspired to be, it was who we already were. That’s what made it real. We were funky kids with some dope rhymes and sick beats who already wore shell toed adidas, and Cross Colours, and hoop earings. Hip-hop was gritty, fun, effervescent, rebellious and flirty. And so were we. We were home.
In hindsight, it should come as no surprise that hip-hop grew from the heart of a black beat. Our ancestors were oratorically inclined and natural storytellers. In hip-hop, we were only continuing a long held tradition of sharing a world, either real or imaginary, shaped by words.
Modern hip-hop artists are continuing this African-American tradition in part, but not whole. When I listen to Lil Wayne’s “Tie My Hands”, I’m reminded of his predecessors who painted a gruesomely prideful picture of America’s slums while Wayne was in diapers. It was as if these artists took a flood light and shone it on America’s gutter. Garbage, broken bottles, Colt 45, concrete heat (doesn’t it always feel hotter in the ghetto?) and yes, crack. Damn. Crack. Crack destroyed us. And the play by play of how crack was infused into our communities by our government, sold by our children, and taken by our parents, blared through our speaker boxes.
A hip hop artist is part poet and part street reporter. Lil Wayne is part of that tradition, but he is also continuing a separate tradition; the American tradition. Notions of expansionism are western in nature. They extend from a gluttonous idea sparked in the Western mind, the premise of which is that humanity’s unending baser yearnings end in a black hole with blue flame, kept lit only by continual feeding.
African Americans have never desired bling for the sake of bling, or Bentleys, or castles with elevators. These were the desires of those who put us to work in the field so that they could feed at a limitless troth. We desire community built upon a sturdy foundation of high expectations and unrelenting resilience. Lil Wayne desires Winn Dixie bags full of cash and a mouth full of diamonds. It’s lavish, but it’s not us. These are American values, not African-American values.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not questioning the skills of Lil Wayne, just the origin of his motivation. He’s a lyricist and when one considers the fundamentals of hip-hop, there’s no question he’s the best to ever do it. But what I do question is whether Lil Wayne loves his brothers or whether he still even views them as humanity’s children?
There’s no question that the road out of the ghetto is paved with booby traps and set-ups. You have to fight your way out. So I’m willing to accept a bit violence in my lyrics because that’s what happens on the way out of the concrete jungle. What I can’t abide is the tacit acceptance of a standard which accepts and celebrates murder as a consequence of bling acquisition. That’s not struggle Mr. Wayne. That’s greed. Those are the limbs of oppression outstretched and overrun in the mind of the oppressed.
My favorite line from Lil Wayne’s “Tie My Hands” goes a little something like this; “they talk freedom as if freedom matters and didn’t even leave a ladder. Damn”. When Wayne says “they”, I’m not sure if he’s referring to his parents or the Civil Rights emissaries who’ve always been scornful of the hip hop genre. And even though I can’t say for sure who Lil Wayne is talking to, it’s still obvious that he’s right. Someone should’ve left a ladder.
- Lil Wayne – “Mtv Unplugged” (album) (femmesdallure.com)
- Thank God Lil Wayne is Retiring….Maybe (dirtywhorelebrity.com)
- divaFotos: Hip-Hop Takes Over the Bonnaroo Festival (divamission.wordpress.com)
- Lil Wayne Plans On ‘Touring Forever’ (mtv.com)