Why Lil Wayne’s Emmett Till Lyric was Also a Women’s Issue

I love hip hop. Loving something doesn’t make it free from legitimate criticism; there is a history of certain rap/hip-hop artists maintaining a certain attitude toward women and in discussing this in my personal conversations, I’m often brought back to a chicken-egg conversation. Do artists have a responsibility to restrict their message because some of the people who receive their work may not be capable of examining and properly critiquing it? Do audience members (and whoever may be responsible for them) have a responsibility to withdraw from supporting the artists that they like when they are offensive, outrageous, and disgusting? I’d argue yes, to both.

So, yeah. Lil Wayne is featured on the remix of Future’s song “Karate Chop” — which appears to be about selling cocaine, riding in fancy cars, and generally blowing money — and yet again, he’s offended the masses. As an artist, I often wonder if certain things are untouchable; as an activist (and supposed decent human being), I know that many people abide by our social mores and the cultural understanding that we have of the difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and behavior that is simply in poor taste.

And along comes Lil Wayne. Not-in-his-defense, I have found that our objections of the really awful things that he says aren’t particularly for all the right reasons. For example, the latest hubbub is over based on Tunechi saying:

Beat that p*ssy up, like Emmett Till

As with anything, we should look at the lyric in it’s full context. So, Weezy’s full verse, if it provides any source of context for you, says:

Pop a lot of pain pills
Bout to put rims on my skateboard wheels
Beat that pussy up like Emmett Till
Two cell phones ringin’ at the same time
That’s your ho, callin’ from two different phones
Tell that bitch “leave me the fuck alone!”
See, you fuck her wrong, and I fuck her long
I got a love-hate relationship with Molly
I’d rather pop an ollie, and my d*ck is a trolly
Boy, I’ll bury you like Halle
And these hoes say I’m blind,
Cause I don’t see nothin’ wrong with a little bump and grind
Man I just received a package
Them other niggas taxin’
And my pockets so fat, I’m startin’ to feel contractions
And my cousin went to jail for them chickens
And he already home and that nigga must be snitchin’
Cut him off like karate!

Okay, so the context actually isn’t all that important or helpful. We can all pretty much agree that it will always be poor taste to make light of Emmett Till’s bludgeoning and murder. If no one knew, it will always be too soon for Emmett Till jokes, metaphors, and snappy lyrics. Naturally, the internet grew upset and up and coming rap star, Future, defended Lil Wayne saying that the line had “great intentions” and added “life [on] to the song”.
Naturally, much of the internet is disgusted. Even the Till family has reacted. A surviving cousin of Emmett Till had this to say in a telephone interview to reporters from the Associated Press,

“He was brutally beaten and tortured, and he was shot, wrapped in barbed wire and tossed in the Tallahatchie River. The images that we’re fortunate to have (of his open casket) that ‘Jet’ published, they demonstrate the ugliness of racism. So to compare a woman’s anatomy — the gateway of life — to the ugly face of death, it just destroyed me. And then I had to call the elders in my family and explain to them before they heard it from some another source.”

Lil' Wayne & Daughter
Lil’ Wayne & Daughter

This is important; and Lil Wayne has a long history of saying things that are outlandish for the sake of it. (In fact, I recently heard a song where he said the line “shoot you in the head/like Abraham Lincoln”.) However, how come every time Mr. Carter says outrageous things, no one focuses on what’s below the surface? Can we consider the sexualized violence within his words?

I agree that it’s vulgar and disgusting. Lil Wayne said that he wants to “beat the p*ssy up like Emmett Till” — so that it is dead and unrecognizable? I’m not interested in defining what sex should look like between consenting adults; however, I’ve found that in music we have found it acceptable to use language where sexual violence is normalized behavior. Lil Wayne is not the only artist who has explicit lyrics that specifically, and on more than one instance, compare acts of physical force or assault with sex. He did just happen to be the one that happened to use the most repulsive analogy he could think of. He’s become one of those characters that say so many inappropriate things, including illustrating his hatred of dark brown girls versus light brown ones, that people only get up in arms when he gets terribly out of control.

Some facets of hip-hop have an illustrated misogyny and perceived hatred of women, and I think that we have to address this on a cultural level — since most selling hip-hop artists are Black men. While it is difficult, since the executives and sellers of the art are not, it is something to be conscious of; I understand what packaging and selling a product is about. I also understand what is being said and experienced in the streets. I’m not saying that rap music causes violence like I would never say that video games cause the same. Yet, just two weeks ago, I was driving and heard a song that seemed hot…until I realized that it was describing date rape (even at the end, a woman said “don’t be putting pills in my drink”).

Lil Wayne will retire soon and start a skateboarding career or..something like that, but there will still be these horrible ideas that we’ve grown to accept as just rap music. When is enough enough for the artist?