Day 119: "Playing with Fire" – Tha Carter III, 2008
Among Lil Wayne's many claims to fame in the pantheon of rap, he was, a few years ago, given the distinction from Complex of having written the "most ignorant" lyric about Martin Luther King Jr. The lyric in question is:
You know what they say: When you great,
It's not murder it's assassinate
So assassinate me, bitch
'Cause I'm doing the same shit Martin Luther King did
Checking in the same hotel, in the same suite, bitch
Same balcony like, "Assassinate me, bitch!"
It's rapped with a conviction and sincerity that can only come from spending the previous several years repeatedly insisting that you are the greatest living exemplar of your field while also expressing a running certainty of impending death while also existing in a druggy isolation bubble where the realities underpinning your lyrics are abstract at best. It is not so much ignorant (after all, it's a very specific reference) as it is an example of Wayne taking the song's title to heart and playing with fire. It is a natural high point in the song and indicative of this entire era: There are few moments that match the tortured, confident intensity of Wayne shrieking "assassinate me, bitch" in his gravelly voice. He really was convinced of his greatness (and within the frame of rap he wasn't wrong) and of his mortality. It is, though, borderline tasteless (yet far from the crassest thing Wayne has rapped, even within the subgenre of "inappropriate things to say about Civil Rights figures"—that distinction would go to his controversial promise on "Karate Chop" to beat the pussy up like Emmett Till).
Still, as mentioned, it's a good measure of Wayne's mind at this point in time, which makes it a curio as far as analyzing his career. One of the things that made Wayne so electrifying around the time of Tha Carter III was that, unlike the relatively zen, pussy-eating skater of later years, his greatness was inextricable from his expression of a tortured psyche. There was the sense that he might literally be killing himself for his art, his mind beyond addled with drugs that fueled his brilliance even as they tore him apart. "Playing with Fire" is above all a song about that: Wayne also raps "I feel caged in my mind / like my flow doing time / I go crazy inside but when it comes out it's... fine," his voice smoothing out and pausing on the "fine" for emphasis of how chill it all is. Soon after, he describes walking into the kitchen with a cleaver in response to witnessing the domestic abuse of his mother. This song is one of Wayne's most tormented moments across his discography.
Now, is discussing this MLK lyric the most appropriate way to honor the legacy of one of history's greatest figures, one of the great voices not just of Civil Rights but of the humanist goal of universal equality and dignity, on this holiday in his name? Probably not, but it seemed too prominent a line to ignore. And fortunately for Wayne, history will not spend too much time dwelling on the line: Although "Playing with Fire" was on the original version of Tha Carter III, it was removed due to a sample clearance dispute with the Rolling Stones and replaced by "Pussy Monster," a song that surely could offend no one. But Wayne knew when he was pushing buttons. As he raps after a description of sex here, "That's too explicit, well why you listening?"
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