On Lil’ Wayne, Jail Time, Private Time, and Public Time

  “This language 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 (2007). I’m not a Lil’ Wayne fan. I used to […]


“This language

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


I’m not a Lil’ Wayne fan. I used to hate

his music. I don’t anymore—I stopped listening. But it still takes nothing away

from how sorry I think I’m starting to feel for him. And it has very little to

do with the jail time trailing this oral

surgery scheme. I can’t verify if the month-long postponement recently

afforded him is legitimate on legal grounds, and as the victim of a recent (botched)

oral surgery I’m 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 did—and 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 can’t 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 eccentric—and not in a good way. And

here lies the problem. It seems some have convinced Lil’ Wayne—or he did so

without help—that 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 don’t—and

I’m not expecting to—see 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 them—it’s become increasingly necessary in a world where

major record labels are all too happy in promoting dangerously identical

products. So, Lil’ Wayne’s problem is

more than that.

Some would contend immediately it’s 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 wouldn’t advance past the first round. So, drugs are just an

amplifier—of an already established trauma. His early fame and success is a

more accurate guess. Or, as Jerry Seinfeld recently put it in an interview, “It’s

not fame—it’s 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 couldn’t handle the pressures of the music industry

(most adults can’t), and even though once nearly invisible, this tumor has

grown in size incrementally since his debut as a Hip-Hop artist. Very few child

stars—and Lil’ Wayne is one—grow 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 permission—plus I’m no psychologist.

What I can say, however, with certainty

is that one of Hip-Hop’s most beloved—for multiple reasons—artists faces a

dilemma that calls for, at the very least, some sympathy. This is not to

suggest I’ll 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 it’s

unfortunate to have so many other stars—like Shyne, like T.I., like Tupac, like

Mystical, like John Forté, like DMX—railed off to jail cells at the apex of

their careers. I don’t know the details of Wayne’s charges (nor do I want to),

and it’s possible he simply took the fall for someone else; it’s 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 questions—if 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 plantations—for 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.

I’m no moralist, so I don’t claim to

know what’s best for anyone. But kids—in the millions—are 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

Tyrone Jones?


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.