I am good friends with “Charlamagne Tha God,” morning host for 100.3 “The Beat’ in Philadelphia. When asked about Lil Wayne’s gun charges, Charlamagne didn’t spare the proverbial rod. Smacking Lil Weezy across the forhead, “Tha God” went at the rapper hard, saying that by getting a year in prison, Wayne “got exactly what he deserved.”
Charlamagne is stricter than I am when it comes to discussing ways to manage potential poisons in our society. He is a righteous brother and stands up for what he believes in. He also represents a breath of fresh air in hip-hop, where it seems that everything has to always be “100 percent hood, 100 percent of the time.” The hood is not nearly as violent, promiscuous and chaotic as commercialized hip-hop has made it out to be. I don’t always see eye to eye with Charlamagne, but we have respect for one another’s viewpoints.
When it comes to Lil Wayne being sent to prison, part of me feels bad for him. Wayne has become a living, breathing, over-tattooed personification of the most detrimental elements in our society. He has somehow been convinced that he should live his life in the most destructive manner possible, without regard to how his choices might affect his children, his future and his community. To be quite honest, I see death in Lil Wayne, the same way I saw death in Tupac before he was shot in 1996. If Weezy lives past the age of 35, I will be absolutely shocked. I sincerely hope my instincts are wrong.
Although I don’t agree with the messages in Lil Wayne’s songs, my disposition toward Weezy has grown from flat out anger to one of cautious, mildly frustrated, creative respect. I know that there is a reason that millions of people love his music, and he is certainly talented. At the same time, our culture cannot fully embrace the likes of Lil Wayne without seriously considering the long-term consequences our society will face as a result of black youth emulating Lil Wayne’s behavior. Sometimes, a prolonged moment of silence can help a man reconnect with his conscience, which makes me pray that Lil Wayne emerges from prison a more thoughtful and socially productive man.
Outside of the message in Wayne’s lyrics, the real-life price he is paying by going to prison sends an even greater message to those who follow him. Lil Wayne’s recent gun charge communicates a simple fundamental truth: if you break the law, you are going to be incarcerated. My favorite rapper, TI, is also feeling real-life effects of the fact that he too has been tempted to allow the hyper-masculine fantasy arena of gangster rap to spill over into the real world where people actually go to prison for carrying firearms. At the same time, it must be recognized (as TI eloquently describes in his album “Paper Trail”) that in the game of hip-hop, trouble can sometimes follow you. So, most of us should be careful about judging the manner by which an artist responds to the threats around him. The solutions are not always as simple as they might seem.
When Ice Cube and NWA (the “gangster rap grandparents” of Lil Wayne and TI) came on the scene, I thought that this art form was exciting and brilliant. I still think it is. But there absolutely, positively, must come a day where rappers do not have to risk being shot or going to prison in order to prove that they are men. Lil Wayne’s gun charge and TI’s conviction for attempting to buy machine guns didn’t seem necessary, and I’ve noticed that hip-hop is the only genre where every song is about either sex, violence, making money or bragging about how great you are. There is nothing creative about an industry where every song covers the same topic.
I agreed with Charlamagne’s critique of Lil Wayne and I’ll share that with him when we’re on the air together Thursday. When I see Lil Wayne, I see the productive genius of Tupac and undisciplined behavior of Eazy-E, mixed with the wild times of any rock singer featured on a Vh-1 “Behind the Music” Special. There is deeper part of me that cries for Lil Wayne, for I feel that he too is trapped by the image that he himself has created. Even Weezy will get tired of this life at some point.