A Tale Of Two Weezys: On Black Lives Matter and Black Celebrity

On November 3rd 2016 » By Michael Penn II

by Michael Penn II

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He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn't bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.” - W.E.B. Du Bois.
Hip-hop will forever remain the embodiment of double-consciousness in a genre: an art form originated from Black and brown bodies in impoverished conditions, crafting instruments and sonics from whatever resources remained in a landscape that’s been deprived from the very beginning. As melanin courses through its veins, American follows suit: though its global context continues on a trajectory beyond measure, hip-hop remains uniquely American through its inherent commentary of the systems and society that birthed it. It’s of resistance and reflection, born from a simple desire to rock the party and speak the real, to be quickly co-opted for a dollar before the genre became a teenager. Hip-hop is deep in its own midlife, retaining these same qualities. The very artists we turn to in moments of anticapitalist, anti-supremacist critique likely embody the very qualities that uphold these systems. To be a Black-identified MC in the hip-hop we know now - on a global scale, yet highly-overshadowed by an American white gaze - is to drown in the reality of becoming a mouthpiece for one’s people through dealing with the very white infatuation that can rob and execute one’s body at any moment, while proposing a chance to line your pockets for a lifetime if you play it to the chest.


The duality never dies, and Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. - known to us as Lil Wayne - is one of the most Negro, most American examples of this very contradiction. The same man who’s given us records like “Georgia Bush” - a chilling indictment of the systemic failure surrounding Katrina, and an ode to those Wayne lost in the flood - has given us verses like “Karate Chop,” where he “Beat the pussy just like Emmett Till” to little more than a few apologies between shows. (A quick search of footage from the Drake vs. Lil Wayne Tourwill show full arenas of folks shouting the line.) Despite his odd positioning on racism and low visibility around the Black Lives Matter movement of our time, he’s undoubtedly still Black in America; ergo, he’s impacted by a white-supremacist hypercapitalist society no matter the riches he’s acquired. Despite how infuriating his comments are, Wayne’s nowhere near as gullible as he speaks; given his track record, his Hollygrove, the moments on record where he drops the mask and ponders his mortality through the lens of his experiences. So what makes Wayne praise BLM in his hometown, express confusion on UNDISPUTED the next month, then completely dismiss the idea on Nightline only to dismiss his own dismissal by claiming he was annoyed by the interviewer’s (fair) question about misogyny impacting his daughter?

In the same Nightlineinterview, Wayne deflects criticisms of his music’s American reflection by noting how it’s made him “a very successful man,” before promising more. There’s an easy case for Wayne’s symbolic “cancellation,” as coined on social media when people decide to stop supporting a celebrity in the wake of a controversy. With a simple backtrack, there’s much more to discuss: Dwayne, a child, was swept into stardom for reflecting a street reality, became a millionaire overnight while surely being shielded from the impact of his representation. He’s spent decades grappling with drug addiction, a pop critical mass gaining him fans across races and backgrounds, and his experience of a white cop named Uncle Bob saving his life when he shot himself in the chest; he says the Black cops left him to die in search of evidence.

Wayne’s dodginess is easily explained by Du Bois’s principle, and may explain his frequent changes-of-heart. As a Black mouthpiece, he’s spent the majority of his life championed as an American figure for depicting the grim reality of his Blackness. His BLM praises at Lil Weezyana Fest - in a historically-Black New Orleans, to what appears to be a majority-Black audience - represent one side of his consciousness, where he became a mouthpiece for those who never made it out. The other side of that American figureship places him as the man who became an international superstar, giving him access to the privileges of celebrity while further removing him from how a white-supremacist hypercapitalist America affects Black citizens who haven’t achieved such a status. His disinterest in participating in the popular discourse - by giving no opinion and wishing to exclude himself from the narrative on UNDISPUTED- gives credence to the idea of his career success rendering the American more important than the Negro, that he’s too far removed from the notion of his Black male life being endangered in the wake of celebrity’s semi-protection. That makes the  Nightlineinterview more disappointing in the sense that an agitated Wayne can’t see how the work of social movements for civil rights impacts him when he’s been blessed (his words) to be rich and Black in an America that may still want him dead. (He speaks of the white cameraman filming a “nigga” with a sense of bewilderment.)

Can we read this moment as a betrayal of his Negro, of the Black folks who’ve championed and defended Wayne through years of antics and controversy? Multiracial fanbase aside, when a white gaze translates to hundreds of thousands of white bodies in the seats, and the eye of powerful white folks who control the narratives around media that promotes his content, it’s been interesting to see how his comments have thrust him back into the discourse as a coon, a sellout, a man who doesn’t think Black lives matter at all. You see it in the way Shannon Sharpe clarifies Wayne’s comments in real-time on UNDISPUTED, as if he foresaw how such doublespeak runs the consequence of pigeonholing Wayne as the aforementioned. Whether publicity or ignorance, it remains clear that Wayne is uninterested in speaking for something he can’t represent effectively, which may yield much better results than fumbling his words on the matter as he has. He wishes to live, without fucking up the money: the same place we’ve seen Young Thug when asked about Ferguson, Drake when addressing Alton Sterling, both Black men in positions of celebrity where their Blackness is commercialized via the white gaze while affording them levels of wealth attributed to whiteness.


 

The idea of supporting Black lives, BLM, anything Black in today’s America runs through its own double consciousness as well. Celebrities and brands alike have grappled with this idea since BLM’s inception a few years ago, where the genuineness of one’s intentions are quickly overshadowed by the potential gain and loss of such a statement as the support of customers, fans, networks all hang in the balance. Knowing this, Wayne’s doubling-down on not being a BLM mouthpiece reads much less betrayal and much more genuine due to his admittance of how quickly many news events and movements in this vein pass by him due to his lifestyle. Which begs the question: when Black figures from impoverished backgrounds, deprived of certain opportunities to be educated on these issues, reach pop culture iconography in America, should certain figures speak over others? Does it come with the territory of being a celebrity or is that a privilege in itself to expect? If they don’t elect to speak, are they to blame for their ignorance or is white-supremacist hypercapitalism to blame for wagering one’s Blackness in one’s success? What can we expect from our popular Black artists, and what can we forgive when some may not fully understand the gravity of the game in which they play?

Whichever way it goes, we’re clearly seeing two Lil Waynes speaking for a reason we’ve seen before. Whether or not we afford him the opportunity to redeem whatever trust he’s lost from this remains to be seen just like whether or not he gives a damn about our opinions anyway.

He’s still Black, he’s still American, and he’s still human with plenty of room to grow.

Michael Penn II

Michael Penn II

Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a Vinyl Me, Please staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.

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