“I’m feeling like Elvis, Jailhouse Rock
I’m not Tupac, I’m the new Pac
Behind bars but the bars don’t stop
Recording over the phone I hope the call don’t drop
Drizzy got the ball I know the ball won’t drop
And I pray none of my kids ever want to be cops”
– Lil Wayne, Light Up (remix)
In 2010, Dwayne “Lil Wayne” Carter recorded that verse over the phone from jail for a promotional version of Drake’s already existing song with Jay-Z entitled, “Light Up.” He was serving a one-year sentence for gun possession at Rikers Island in New York City.
When released, Wayne and his Young Money roster went on to dominate the charts for the majority of the decade. As a lyricist, he probably had the biggest influence on all artists that came after him. If you’re of generations prior you might not put him in your top ten, but you wouldn’t deny his skills and impact.
For the most part, his lane is solely being a rockstar. He doesn’t try to be a rapper of all trades and his lifestyle is unapologetically sex, drugs and hip-hop, in excess. He doesn’t go out his way to share his personal opinions on social issues or politics. His HYFR style of answering questions is best exhibited in an infamous lawsuit deposition and a VH1 interview during the “lean” era where he made it perfectly clear whatever is in his “cup” is nobody else’s business.
Still, every few years he makes headlines outside the gossip blogs for saying something outlandishly contrarian to what we might expect from his persona. Unlike other genres of music, hip-hop uniquely incorporates personalized narratives within their songs. Most singers don’t write what they sing but every rapper is expected to write their own lyrics. Hence, their discography is usually a chronicle of their journey.
In 2016, Lil Wayne made a comment on a Fox Sports show denying the existence of racism in America. In a subsequent interview on ABC’s Nightline, he doubled-down, supporting the claim based on his life experiences and self-evident success, stating:
“I am a young, rich, Black motherfucker. If that don’t let you know that America understands Black motherfuckers matters these days, I don’t know what it is.”
He abruptly ended the interview because he didn’t want to answer more questions about the Black Lives Matter movement. He stated, “I don’t feel connected to a damn thing, that ain’t got nothin’ to do with me.”
There was an immediate uproar on social media that quickly subsided after an apology “to anyone who was offended.” He also clarified that he was more “agitated” by the line of questioning regarding his daughter. The heat blew over and Wayne was just dismissed like any “cheese head” who didn’t want Colin Kaepernick’s protest to disrupt his enjoyment of the game – let me repeat that part – his enjoyment of the game.
Earlier that same year, the trendy Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky made a similar inflammatory remark about the BLM movement during Ferguson. He stated, “I don’t wanna talk about no fucking Ferguson and shit because I don’t live over there. I live in fucking Soho and Beverly Hills. I can’t relate.”
Three years later…
A$AP was jailed in Sweden over a questionable assault incident and it soon became an international scandal of “injustice.” The global attention A$AP got attracted the exploitative instincts of President Trump who tweeted his support, stating “Sweden has let our African-American community down in the United States.”
The rapper was soon released through political intervention and managed to Euro-step his road to freedom without being used as a pawn for Trump in the upcoming election. Five months later, in December 2019, in a totally unrelated incident that one could later argue as adjacent by political motive; the FBI raided Lil Wayne’s private plane and seized a gold-plated handgun. The federal charges of weapon possession would carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and this was his first offense.
Then comes 2020…
When the world was on pandemic house arrest, America was collectively forced to deal with its pre-existing condition of racism. While living free with the case pending, Lil Wayne received a slightly unfair backlash for his comments on the George Floyd protests. The main quote that was circulated was “If we want to place the blame on anybody, it should be ourselves.” It was a very insensitive statement during a highly emotional time. However, to Wayne’s credit, this time his BLM analysis was more thought out but still “leaned” ignorant. In essence, he tried to isolate the Floyd incident with disregard for Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and all the injustices that led to the volcanic eruption. Wayne critiqued the reflex of placing blanket blame on police when accountability should be individually directed to a few bad apples. I guess those are the specific Blue Lives he prays his kids never become.
Rap prides itself on a street code but often contradicts itself as “just entertainment” when convenient. Since the genre’s roots stem from marginalized Blackness and revolutionary distrust of law enforcement, terms like sellout, snitching and by any means necessary often overlap in cause and mutate in justification. The neutralizers of acceptability tend to be money, freedom and making dope music. The question is, do any street codes apply to Wayne’s situation?
We shouldn’t speculate because legal negotiations with the Federal government are usually more complicated than State plea deal scenarios; however, what we know is a simple timeline:
- Dec. 23, 2019, Lil Wayne, who is an ex-felon, was arrested, charged and released by the Feds.
- Oct. 29, 2020 – Lil Wayne, who usually shuns political engagement, tweets a photo of him and President Trump highlighting his campaign platform in the final days of the election.
- Dec. 11, 2020 – Lil Wayne pleaded guilty to his federal charges.
- Jan. 19, 2021 – Lil Wayne got pardoned by President Trump on his last day in office.
- Jan. 21, 2021 – Lil Wayne releases a single entitled, “Ain’t Got Time.”
What we don’t know is merely the evidence of things not seen. An offer was made that Wayne would be foolish to refuse. Before granting a get out of jail free card there was an invitation to visit the White House. This quid pro quo wasn’t for Wayne to perform at Barron’s birthday or for Trump’s charity, oops, the Trump Foundation was forced to shut down for its misuse of funds. Point is, Trump doesn’t have to promise a pardon when he knows, you know, he has the power. In the words of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who wrote Trump in an April 2019 letter from a Michigan jail, with “ONE STROKE OF YOUR PEN” emancipation can be fulfilled with immunity.
So now that the ink is dry, is Weezy F. debt-free to Donald J?
In a land hell-bent to live and die by the Constitutional right to bear arms, I can’t knock Wayne for gun-toting. Luckily, it’s also easier to shrug off because Trump lost the election. And even though Wayne flaunts his gang affiliation, to our general knowledge, he didn’t have to snitch on any of his Blood brothers. So what was the exchange? What was the sacrifice? We know the answer. The bargaining chip was all the Black people (who don’t live In SoHo) oppressed by the racism Wayne claims doesn’t exist.
Hip-hop has always had a complicated relationship with money and morals. Since Tupac Shakur’s grandiose transition from prison to Death Row, rappers achieving skyrocketing success fresh out of jail have become a predictable marketing formula. But Shakur, child of the Black Panther Party, was rather unique in his righteous T.H.U.G recklessness. So as A$AP and Wayne go on to enjoy their self-indulgent lifestyles while recognizing Tupac’s indelible holy footprints as a God in the game, you know at some point they asked themselves, “what would Pac do?” Or maybe they just don’t give a f-ck what Pac would think of their actions knowing only God could judge them. Nonetheless, I think it’s safe to assume Pac is looking down at them saying, “I ain’t mad atcha.”
Trevor is a creative mercenary and ethical lobbyist born and raised on Beale Street. Follow him on Twitter @trevbetter.