The document, which was given exclusively to Vibe, the Till family asks Weezy to think before he speaks and to take ownership of the power of his celebrity status:
“Yesterday marked a week since the ‘unofficial’ release of ‘Karate Chop~remix’ inclusive of your lyrics. The words we speak are powerful enough for preservation of life but also have the capacity to destroy it. When you spit lyrics like ‘Beat that p—-y up like Emmett Till,’ [sic] not only are you destroying the preservation and legacy of Emmett Till’s memory and name, but the impact of his murder in black history along with degradation of women.
“The tongue possesses power! I could offer you a history lesson and talk about the trailblazers that paved the way for our people and lyricists to engage in freedom of speech such as Marcus Garvey, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mamie Till Mobley; but this isn’t an argument about freedom of speech. It is critical that we stay true to urgency of the hour… our youth! Your “celebrity” thrusts you into the spotlight affording you the opportunity to embrace your role as a black man, father, friend, and artist that has the ability to reach international audiences. Are you bothered in the least by the staggering statistics of the extinction of our children?”
While Epic Records removed the Till verse from its release, is it time for Lil Wayne to respond personally?"
— Kyle Harvey, “Emmett Till’s Family Pens Open Letter To Lil Wayne,” The Grio 2/21/13
Hip-hop music is frequently described as violent and anti-law enforcement, with the implication that its artists glorify criminality. A new content analysis subtitled “Hip-Hop Artists’ Perceptions of Criminal Justice“, by criminologists Kevin Steinmetz and Howard Henderson, challenge this conclusion.
After an analysis of a random sample of hip-hop songs released on platinum-selling albums between 2000 and 2010, Steinmetz and Henderson concluded that the main law enforcement-related themes in hip-hop are not pleasure and pride in aggressive and criminal acts, but the unfairness of the criminal justice system and the powerlessness felt by those targeted by it.
Lyrics about law enforcement, for example, frequently portrayed cops as predators exercising an illegitimate power. Imprisonment, likewise, was blamed for weakening familial and community relationships and described a modern method of oppression.
Their analysis refutes the idea that hip-hop performers are embracing negative stereotypes of African American men in order to sell albums. Instead, it suggests that the genre retains the politicized messages that it was born with."
— Sociological Images’ Lisa Wade takes a good look at what rap really says about the law enforcement/criminal system—suffice to say, it isn’t what’s been hyped. Check out the breakdown on the R today!
Given its well-documented and inexcusable problems with sexism, hip-hop might not seem a wise place to look to start making that change. But that fact actually makes the medium more ripe for reformers. Moreover, as one of the dominant, storytelling-driven art forms consumed and made by young people, rap provides a way for survivors and allies to testify, argue, and change hearts and minds. And as a song released this past week by the promising young rapper Angel Haze proves, rap’s potential as a weapon against rape culture isn’t merely academic.
In recent years, hip-hop controversies have produced some of the most powerful conversations and activism around sexual violence. Last year, Ashley Judd made waves by calling out hip-hop’s “rape culture,” to the dismay of The Roots drummer ?uestlove and others who are tired of one genre of music being blamed for all of society’s ills. More recently, rapper Too $hort caught criticism thanks to shameful comments in a video blog post at XXL Magazine, which included instructions for adolescent boys about how to sexually assault girls under the guise of playfulness. After a tepid apology and mounting pressure from a coalition of black and Latina women called “We are the 44 percent” (44 percent of sexual assault survivors are under 18 years old), Too $hort sat down for a candid interview published by Ebony. He emphasized his previous ignorance, but also seemed genuinely remorseful and shaken, admitting he made a serious and harmful mistake, apologizing, and calling the controversy a “wake-up call.”
Into this battleground enters Angel Haze, the acclaimed Michigan-born 21-year-old, who recently released a brilliant and devastating track about her own story as a rape and abuse survivor, called “Cleaning Out My Closet.” This is not the first rap song that addresses sexual violence against women. Ludacris’s “Runaway Girl” and Eve’s “Love is Blind,” are two of the more commercially successful examples, though there are countless lesser-known songs, like Immortal Technique’s “Dance With the Devil,” that critique rape culture unflinchingly. But Haze’s song is amplified by the current political context, and differentiated by both tone and content.
The objectification of women and depictions of sexual violence are commonplace in hip-hop, as they are across the landscape of entertainment culture. The vast majority of artists with substantial commercial backing show little public concern for the cancer that is rape culture. But Angel Haze is proof that hip-hop can be both a warzone and a weapon in this fight, especially for young women of color. Despite the sexism they face, engaging rap music is one of the ways these young people come to know themselves and build political consciousness.
Without warriors like Haze, the baseness and sickness of sexual violence remains muffled, and the conversation proceeds on the deranged terms set by Mourdock, Akin, and others who benefit from the status quo. Survivors’ stories move us away from clarification and apology, towards righteous anger and action, and hip-hop can help."
— Michael P. Jeffries, “How Rap Can Help End Rape Culture,” The Atlantic 10/30/12
Just this past weekend, in a workshop with 8-9 year old boys in Brooklyn, NY, one young boy bragged about his girlfriend being “cute with a big butt.” The other boys laughed. I stopped him in his tracks and challenged him about his comment right in front of the other boys and men in the room. The moment he made his comment, he probably did not think that a man would challenge him for making such a trite, objectifying statement. The question is, where did he learn that having a cute girlfriend with a big butt was something to brag about publicly, and that by doing so it would gain him social acceptance and approval from the other boys and men in the room? It starts with poor “fatherly” advice from men like Too Short, who felt that his recent comments in a video posted on XXL.com would go unchallenged - especially by men.
While the comments Too Short made may strike some boys and men as funny and conventional male thinking, they are not. But unfortunately, too many sexist men in positions of influence and power reinforce to young boys what acceptable masculinity looks like. Too many men are teaching boys - at home, at school, on the playground, through porn culture, sports culture, military culture, fraternity culture, police culture, and mainstream media outlets like XXL - that physical and sexual aggression toward girls and women is okay.
This has to stop. And it stops when men who care about girls and women speak up and voice our disapproval and take action when we hear misogyny out of the mouths of other men who do not represent us or our view on manhood. If you are a man who strongly disagrees with Too Short’s comments and find them disturbing, then please sign this online petition and share it with your male friends.
— “Are You Man Enough To Challenge Too Short?”, from filmmaker and anti-gender violence advocate Byron Hurt’s Facebook page.