I just spent the week in New Orleans, the powerbase for one of the most talented, powerful and destructive forces in the history of music: Lil Wayne. I’ve admittedly bopped my head to the tunes of Lil Wayne in the past, feeling the same guilt that any man might feel if he were to enjoy a crack pipe or shot of heroin, knowing how these drugs destroy families, individuals and communities. In other words, I consider myself to be a hip-hop insider, and I simply hate the idea of being labeled as a hater. But as a father and black man who has seen too much death and devastation in my family and so many others, I had to say that “enough is enough,” leading me to candidly discuss my decision to walk away from certain styles of hip-hop music.
BET, the media company that targets black consumers, but is ultimately controlled by a predominantly white organization called Viacom, is not exactly on the same page when it comes to their assessment of Lil Wayne or any other artist (i.e. R. Kelly) who can be directly linked to the holocaust occurring within black America today. Given that models of profit maximization rarely call for any assessment of the negative externalities that result from unethical corporate behavior, the executive committee for the BET Awards made the interesting decision to give the greatest number of award nominations to Lil Wayne, the man who said that he would love to (among other things) make a woman fall in love with him, convince her to steal and kill for him, and then murder her and send her dead body back to her boyfriend (“and then I’ll murder that b*tch and send her body back to yo ass”). Oh yea, he also said that he would kill little babies, have sex with every girl in the world if he could, gladly use the gun he carries on his hip and “leave a nigga’s brains on the street.”
It might be almost feasible to overlook the “kill little babies comment” were it not for the innocent three-year old boy who was shot in the head by a 21-year old black male in my hometown just a couple of weeks ago – these atrocities are all too common in countless neighborhoods across America. Also, this music is not simply harmless entertainment for millions of black youth who’ve had their history stolen during slavery and actually look to hip-hop music to tell them how to dress, talk, think, act and live. There is no high school speaker more popular than a hip-hop star.
The Ku Klux Klan has been regularly criticized for encouraging violence against African Americans and terrorizing our community. But the truth is that the Klan doesn’t have much power anymore, and their thirst for African American blood seems to have waned a bit. At the same time, Lil Wayne and artists like him have made a habit of encouraging black men to shoot one another, to abuse or murder women, to consume suicidal amounts of drugs and alcohol and to engage in irresponsible, deadly sexual behavior.
As a result, black men are the most likely to die from gun violence, mass incarceration continues to decimate black families, drug addiction and possession ruins black lives in droves, and HIV is the leading killer of black women. So, the truth is that Lil Wayne-like artists and the corporate armies producing this weaponized genocide have killed more black people than the KKK ever could. By accelerating, financing and supporting the “Lil Wayne gospel” to a community that is already dying, BET has effectively positioned itself as a new and improved version of the KKK. In fact, if we had a choice between eliminating the KKK or getting rid of BET, the black community would benefit more from the latter.
It’s one thing if BET reports on the activities of Lil Wayne or even has him as a guest on their network; we all know that celebrities increase ratings, and as a Business School Professor, I understand the need to pay the bills. But by publicly rewarding his behavior, they are encouraging every record company executive and Lil Wayne wannabe to go to the lab and manufacture more of this musical poison. As a result, there is some 10-year old boy putting down his textbook to watch the BET Awards, and effectively attending the Lil Wayne School of Black Male behavior. Years later, when this boy shoots another black man in the face, infects one of his many “hoes” with HIV, ends up in a prison cell, dies from a drug overdose or beats his girlfriend to death, we will be able to link his behavior directly to his formative years, when we cashed in this child’s future for higher shareholder returns at Viacom. Perhaps a day will come when those of us who know destructive music when we hear it will actually have the discipline to draw lines and seek accountability, rather than look the other way. It’s not as if you can argue that Lil Wayne is actually GOOD for black America, and it’s small-minded to justify a man’s reckless behavior just because he’s wealthy – few communities are more blinded by money than African Americans.
Charles Manson is considered one of the most vicious killers in history, yet he never actually murdered a soul. He has been in prison for 40 years because he convinced others to commit murder, controlling their minds through comfortable words and charisma. If Manson had been given the platform supplied by BET and the rest of corporate America and a license to share his rhetoric without restraint, he could have caused the deaths of millions more. Lil Wayne doesn’t explicitly tell young men to go out and commit murder, but he is no less persuasive than LeBron James in a Nike commercial, who never actually says, “Go out and buy Nikes.” The reason that this company pays James millions of dollars to wear Nike sneakers is because there is clear scientific evidence showing that when young men see James in these shoes, they will copy him. The same thing is true when Lil Wayne says, “I’ll run up in ya house and shoot ya grandmother up.” In other words, he is endorsing a lifestyle in the same way that many celebrities endorse products – and kids are taking notice.
So, by publicly rewarding and applauding the words of Lil Wayne, BET is giving his beloved message a level of power, penetration and approval that is fit for a king – most interesting is that Wayne’s endorsement of killing women and children is far more vicious than anything Manson ever said. By rewarding such behavior, BET is effectively saying, “This is the kind of music we WANT our community to listen to, we are explicitly encouraging you to make more of it and we don’t care much about the side effects.” So, the next time we turn to the KKK, Tea Partiers or the Republicans as the greatest enemies of black people, we might want to take a look in the mirror. By cheering for those who recite lyrics that encourage us to kill our babies, we are effectively sleeping with and exalting the enemy.