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A Year of Lil Wayne: A Story About Representing New Orleans

On "Tie My Hands," Wayne is distinctly moral, optimistic, and New Orleans as hell.

Day 72: "Tie My Hands" feat. Robin Thicke –  Tha Carter III , 2008

If you want an understanding of just how famous Lil Wayne was around the time of Tha Carter III, it might be helpful to consider his performance at the 2009 Grammys of the song "Tie My Hands." Lil Wayne had four hit singles off of Tha Carter III, but "Tie My Hands" was not one of them, as in it was not a single, although it has had the impact of a minor hit. It was likely chosen for the Grammys because it is the safest and most serious song on the album, and the Grammys are notoriously musically conservative. Still, it's hardly alone in being a Wayne deep cut that was nonetheless prominent enough to get a live TV performance—at the 2007 BET Awards he performed "Gossip," a song that was barely ever heard from again despite being one of his best songs. Anyway, that's not really here nor there, but the more important point is, Lil Wayne and Robin Thicke performed this song at the Grammys with an outro courtesy of Alain Toussaint, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and Terence Blanchard, with the effect of it being the most lit New Orleans affair imaginable.


That's good: "Tie My Hands" is, after "Georgia… Bush," Lil Wayne's best Katrina song and Robin Thicke's most notable accomplishment as far as I'm concerned (even if his lines about working at the corner store ring a little hollow). Wayne never says anything as pointedly specific as he does on "Georgia… Bush," but he speaks in broad terms that are incredibly powerful: "But they talked that freedom at us / and didn't even leave a ladder, damn." Some people might find it corny that ultimately Wayne steps away from the grimness of the message, but I think it's also incredibly valuable that the song's ultimate tone is hopeful: "And if you come from under that water then there's fresh air / just breathe, baby, God's got a blessing to spare / yes I know the process is so much stress / but it's the progress that feels the best." Our general approach in cases of discussing depressing subjects tends to be one of acting as though there can be nothing good until they are addressed, as though the only way toward progress is to constantly acknowledge how bad things are. But I think hope is an important and undersold quality, too; indeed, political progress fundamentally can't happen without the optimism that things will get better someday. Which brings us back, as it happens, to New Orleans.

For Democrats demoralized by the election of Donald Trump, particularly in light of Republican control of Congress, there is some minor hope to be found still in Lil Wayne's home state of Louisiana. There, election rules dictate that the general election day is a free-for-all primary, with the top two candidates then going on to have a runoff election on December 10. That process is now underway, as Republican candidate John Kennedy is facing off against Democrat Foster Campbell. Seeing as the state went for Trump by 20 points and the top three Republican candidates in the primary won more than half of the overall vote, Campbell's chances seem slim, but Democrats around the country are energized on his behalf, donating to his campaign and volunteering. If he were to win, Republican control of the Senate would be just 51 votes to 49, giving Democrats a reasonable chance of a firewall against some of Trump's most dangerous ideas, like repealing the Affordable Care Act and repealing Obama-era environmental protections. Campbell is less in line with his party on issues like immigration and guns, but, as the only candidate in Louisiana to even acknowledge climate change is real, he's an important figure for Democrats to latch onto. If you're feeling dismayed about the election, you might find value in donating to Campbell.

On "Tie My Hands," Lil Wayne raps about everyone abandoning New Orleans, from the basketball team and football team to the governor and the mayor. "All we got is me to represent New Orleans," he says, in perhaps the most clear-eyed moment of moral responsibility he ever committed to a song. It's a reminder of the reckoning Katrina forced that we shouldn't forget (it's also a convenient subtle brag for Wayne, who remains the GOAT). And just before it comes a quick reminder of the consequences of that abandonment that we would also do well to remember: "My whole city underwater, some people still floating / and they wonder why black people still voting / 'cause your president still choking." If you live in New Orleans, you can still vote for change on December 10. If you live elsewhere, you can still chip in. And regardless of what you do, you should listen to Lil Wayne whenever the topic of New Orleans arises.

Follow Kyle Kramer on Twitter.