is so captivating/ When we lose a rap ni**a, the news is devastating/ Whether
to the prison or grave/ You know this rap sh** was built from the strength of
those that hunger and crave/
DJ Muggs vs GZA,
General Principles, Grandmasters
Im not a Lil Wayne fan. I used to hate
his music. I dont anymoreI stopped listening. But it still takes nothing away
from how sorry I think Im starting to feel for him. And it has very little to
do with the jail time trailing this oral
surgery scheme. I cant verify if the month-long postponement recently
afforded him is legitimate on legal grounds, and as the victim of a recent (botched)
oral surgery Im a bit more sympathetic than the average anti-Weezy Hip-Hop
fan. I do know, however, that if most of the people I know tried to push off
their incarceration date as he just didand especially under the guise of teeth
pain (which could have been resolved much sooner)the judge, bailiff, state
lawyers, and security guards present would probably break into laughter
unrivaled in court history.
Nonetheless, I cant help but lament how
much of a downward spiral his life journey has taken in only the past few
years. Once the teeny-bopper bragging about his bling bling, today most of
his music is indecipherable, if not plain eccentricand not in a good way. And
here lies the problem. It seems some have convinced Lil Wayneor he did so
without helpthat he is something other than what the public can ever comprehend;
that he has some esoteric personality worth pursuing (even if leading toward
self-ruin); that Aristotle was speaking of him in professing, No great genius
has ever existed without some touch of madness.
I think The GZA is a lyrical genius (and
the greatest complex storyteller Hip-Hop has produced to-date), but I dontand
Im not expecting tosee him embracing eccentricity as some fashionable
lifestyle. And you hardly get those vibes from equally great acts like Rakim, Nas,
KRS-One and Lauryn Hill (well, maybe a little). All Hip-Hop artists have a
little bit of crazy in themits become increasingly necessary in a world where
major record labels are all too happy in promoting dangerously identical
products. So, Lil Waynes problem is
more than that.
Some would contend immediately its the
syrup (codeine/promethazine). But Bun B has been drinking it for just as long
as Wayne to my knowledge, and, last I checked, the Texas Underground King faced
no hurdles articulating his feelings presciently during interviews. But what
about the other drugs, you ask? If drug tests were mandatory in Hip-Hop, 95% of
commercial rappers wouldnt advance past the first round. So, drugs are just an
amplifierof an already established trauma. His early fame and success is a
more accurate guess. Or, as Jerry Seinfeld recently put it in an interview, Its
not fameits you.
Life for the young New Orleanian took a
sharp twist at a very young age. The implications cannot be overlooked. Perhaps
his less-than-mature brain couldnt handle the pressures of the music industry
(most adults cant), and even though once nearly invisible, this tumor has
grown in size incrementally since his debut as a Hip-Hop artist. Very few child
starsand Lil Wayne is onegrow up normal, or with any semblance of sanity.
The wild ways of the entertainment industry simply bear down hard, and
unexpectedly, on such kids. Is Lil Wayne merely a victim of early fame?
There are also personal background
issues that come to mind, but I respect his privacy enough not to publicly diagnose
them without permissionplus Im no psychologist.
What I can say, however, with certainty
is that one of Hip-Hops most belovedfor multiple reasonsartists faces a
dilemma that calls for, at the very least, some sympathy. This is not to
suggest Ill be in some monkey suite (Free Lil Wayne T-shirt) anytime soon. And
if I know anything of the prison system and its dealings with celebrities, this
one-year bid might be more rewarding than a palm springs vacation; but its
unfortunate to have so many other starslike Shyne, like T.I., like Tupac, like
Mystical, like John Forté, like DMXrailed off to jail cells at the apex of
their careers. I dont know the details of Waynes charges (nor do I want to),
and its possible he simply took the fall for someone else; its even possible
the whole operation was a set-up (wake up, Hip-Hop!).
But on March 2, barring another medical emergency, TV cameras would have a field day running repeated loops of this
young Black man being herded into a location where many who look like him have
been placed in permanently.
So, this could be a redemptive moment
for Lil Wayne. He can emerge a victor and pledge a new course following the
8-months to 1-year bid. He can use this opportunity for some much-needed
self-reflection and soul-searching upon his life, his achievements, his
happiness, his sorrows. He can ask himself some very blunt questionsif those
around him care more about their connection to celebrity than the wellbeing of
the guy who keeps their pockets deep; if he has true friends or merely
acquaintances; if his music today sounds like he dreamed before anyone even
knew he rapped. He can make good use of this moment to help bring overlong due
attention to the disproportionate dumping of Black and Latino men and women into
modern-day plantationsfor crimes many of their White counterparts earn mere
It would have been a wasted and
unfortunate publicity stunt if all we hear from him post-incarceration is how
much of a man he now is, how gangsta the prison culture is, or, worse yet,
that the guy who went in is the same guy coming out.
Im no moralist, so I dont claim to
know whats best for anyone. But kidsin the millionsare looking up to Lil
Wayne as he takes this next turn in the journey of life. Young middle school
and high school kids are patiently waiting to hear him confirm their unhealthy
expectations. They want badly to see their hero stare down this wall and act
tougher than Iron Mike even when his whole world is collapsing around. They
long for the day when he walks out of prison even more maniacal and unstable
than he already is.
My fear is he knows all this, and is
prepared to cater accordingly. Unfortunately, not all eccentricity is genius.
And, more sobering, even the eccentric geniuses are not death-proof. Remember Russell
Olorunda is a cultural critic whose work regularly appears on AllHipHop.com, CounterPunch.org,
TheDailyVoice.com and other online
journals. He can be reached at: Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com.