Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., better known by his stage name “Lil’ Wayne,” is under fire for song lyrics that compare a violent sexual encounter to the brutal beating and murder of civil rights icon Emmett Till.
Despite public statements from Till’s family and the urging of Rev. Jesse Jackson, Carter refuses to apologize. Critics say the song and the lack of public outrage show an increased desensitization towards vulgar and disrespectful lyrics in rap.
In an unauthorized version of “Karate Chop” leaked last weekend, Carter raps about a masochistic sexual encounter, implying he wants to imitate the abuse Till suffered. The exact words he used are too vulgar to print.
In 1955, 14-year-old Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi when locals accused him of flirting with a white woman. They kidnapped him, tortured him for hours, and then shot him in the head. His assailants threw his body in the Mississippi River tied to a cotton gin. His open-casket funeral raised awareness about racist brutality and helped fuel the Civil Rights Movement.
“That entire segment is very misogynistic and promotes domestic abuse toward women by our own race,” said Till’s cousin Airickca Gordon-Taylor. “Lil Wayne should … apologize to my family. It's hurtful."
Gordon-Taylor, who runs the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation, partnered with Jackson to confront Carter’s label, Epic Records.
"We want artists who have considerable power to use their power to uplift and redirect," Jackson said. "It's not a matter of free speech, it's also speech that matters. … These artists have culturally transforming power. Either they hurt or they help."
On Wednesday, Epic CEO L.A. Reid issued a statement apologizing for the lyric and promising to release a “clean” version of the song without Till’s name. The label claims it is making “great efforts” to retract the leaked version’s presence online, but so far, the explicit version remains easy to find on the web.
Besides a few statements of disappointment, Carter hasn’t come under any significant reprimand. Anthony Bradley, a Research Fellow at Acton Institute wrote that the only reprimand he’d feel is an economic one.
“Lil’ Wayne’s music will only go away when American consumers refuse to support filth,” he wrote. “The fact that Lil’ Wayne’s music has fans at all, reveals how debase American culture is today.”