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A Year of Lil Wayne: Wayne Lives Matter?

Lil Wayne said he doesn't feel connected to Black Lives Matter. But his music tells a different story than the outrage.

Day 44: "My Heart Races On" feat. Jake Troth – Free Weezy Album (FWA), 2015

Last month, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature, one of the world's most prestigious prizes and perhaps the highest honor in writing. An American writer hadn't won the award since Toni Morrison in 1993. It was, to say the least, a big deal. Yet the ensuing weeks saw controversy arise as Dylan failed to acknowledge the award, thus thoroughly peeving the Swedish Academy and, I don't know, whoever sided with the Swedish Academy on this one. But it's hard to say that the response was surprising: Dylan is famously difficult, both hard to pin down and skeptical of the way he is publicly lauded.


As the author of such iconic songs as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A Changin'," Dylan became the face of 60s counterculture, but he always met the title with skepticism. "There's no great message," he once told a TIME reporter, in a clip you can find on YouTube. "I mean, if you want to tell other people that, go ahead and tell 'em, but I'm not gonna have to answer to it." Forty years later, speaking to NPR, he offered a similar assessment about being the voice of a generation: "I think that was just a term that can create problems for somebody, especially if someone just wants to keep it simple and write songs and play them. Having these colossal accolades and titles—they get in the way."

Most famous, perhaps, was a press conference he held before a run of shows in San Francisco in 1965. In it, he's asked a wide variety of questions about his artistic goals (Q: "Do you think there will ever a be a time you will paint or sculpt?" A: "Oh yes.") and how to interpret his music. He responds to most of it flippantly, offering one-word answers to anyone shortsighted enough to ask a yes-or-no question. Where he does elaborate, his answers are scarcely more helpful. At one point, he is asked whether he plans to participate in a Vietnam War protest that night, to which he responds that he's busy (with the first of the shows, obviously) and describes an almost nonsensical group protest idea he had once, clearly just filling in some of the idea with objects he sees around the room. A reporter then follows up: Does he consider himself a politician? "Well, I guess so," he says, before beginning a riff. "I have my own party, though… there's no presidents or vice presidents or secretaries or anything like that, so it makes it kind of hard to get in." The reporters continue to ask about it while Dylan continues to take a piss, and the conversation eventually moves on.


​I thought about Dylan this morning when I watched today's viral clip of Lil Wayne saying he doesn't feel connected to Black Lives Matter on ABC's Nightline. I've been thinking about Dylan's connection to Lil Wayne a lot lately because Dylan has been in the news and Lil Wayne has always been, to me, our generation's Dylan, ubiquitous but inscrutable. Both are incredibly prolific artists who grew up with and defined their eras (60s counterculture and the arrival of the internet, respectively), whose public personas have always been full of contradictory statements and short on useful information. They are both pranksters who prefer to let their music speak for them, geniuses who leave us coming up short for answers that can explain their artistic perspective, and occasional assholes who have no qualms about antagonizing people while playing the role of public figure.

Wayne has certainly accomplished that last part. In the Nightline video he says he doesn't understand Black Lives Matter and gives a rather bizarre rationalization about being a successful black man: "I am a young, black, rich motherfucker," he says. "If that don't let you know that America understands black [expletive] matter these days, I don't know what it is. That man white; he filming me. I'm a nigga. I don't know what you mean, man. Don't come at me with that dumb bullshit ma'am. My life matter. Especially to my bitches." He winks as he says the last part. It would be an incredibly funny rock star move if it weren't about such a serious subject.


He goes on to add that he doesn't feel any connection to the BLM movement, questions why anyone would feel connected to something that doesn't have to do with them, and then ends the interview by walking out, adding, "I ain't no fucking politician." It is not Wayne's finest moment, and he was quickly censured by not just the sanctimonious anchor ("A man who makes his living using offensive language offended by a question? Okay, that's one way to end an interview.") but also by legions of people on social media. He's been a trending topic on Twitter all day.

People are understandably disappointed in Wayne; he's an incredibly famous black man disowning the most prominent contemporary black political movement, in turn earning the praise of despicable figures on the right like Ann Coulter. This comes, moreover, at a time when political awareness, particularly on the topics of race and police brutality, is increasingly expected of celebrities and in music itself. Lil Wayne could hardly have picked a worse way in which to not be a "fucking politician."

There's a simple explanation for Wayne's tonedeaf answer, which is that he does a lot of drugs. After all, as people quickly noted, there is video footage of Wayne leading a crowd in a "black lives matter" chant at a concert just three months ago. Clearly he knows what it is. So is he the most cynical person in the world or the most stoned or just the dumbest? Or something else entirely?


This is where those videos of Dylan fucking with the press in the 60s begin to seem familiar. Wayne, too, is hard to get a straight answer from in an interview, and he has always chafed at the idea that anyone would take anything he says seriously. In 2009, on a similarly large platform on CBS, Katie Couric asked him if he considered himself a good role model, prompting him to respond, "I'm not an example for people on how to live their lives. And never in my life would I ever set out to be an example for people on how to live their lives." And notably, Wayne's indignation at the end of the Nightline segment was about not being a politician. But in that Katie Couric interview, he says something else that's telling: "I believe that music is another form of news. Music is another form of journalism to me."

If you look at Wayne's lyrics, it's hard to say that he's against the ideas that Black Lives Matter stands for. As I've even already noted on this blog, he has several lines about racist police on 2002's "10,000 Bars," and on 2006's "Georgia… Bush" he goes even deeper, rapping "Boy them cops is killers in my home / nigga shot dead in the middle of the street." Wayne was thinking about these same issues a decade ago, and he still is. On "My Heart Races On," from last year's Free Weezy Album, he raps, "Oh Lord, what are we running from? / the police, 'cause they already killed enough of us / stay out them streets 'cause they don't fuck with us / they hunting us / we in a race against racists, that's a color run."

I don't get the impression that Wayne is against what Black Lives Matter stands for, if you look to his art. It seems more likely that Wayne is against discussing politics in interviews and tried to be neutral in a poorly thought out way. After all, you can imagine the racist blowback from the right a celebrity might get for emphatically declaring his support of BLM. That doesn't change the fact that what he said was stupid, and it might not be the bravest move, but the politics of celebrities like Wayne or Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton saying they don't identify with Black Lives Matter are more complicated than Twitter would make them out to be (and something beyond the scope of what I can discuss here). It's shitty by our current standards, but it's not totally without rationale.

So as far as ideological consistency goes, I think Wayne's comes down to a simple (and, you could argue, as he seems to be, intelligent) belief that it's not a musician's place to offer serious commentary on politics. Better to say it in the music and stay inscrutable in public. Is Wayne a politician? Well, I guess. But he, too, is a party of one.

Follow Kyle Kramer on Twitter​.