Nas, Lil’ Wayne, and Adolf Hitler: A Rap and Education Memo

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

The latest news that may signal a sea change for hip-hop is that Nas, one of the most prolific and legendary artists in rap, may have asked for help with a few concepts in his album N*gger, or, as a few people have described it, had ghostwriters. The term “ghostwriting” has been reserved for guys like Dr. Dre and Diddy (Puff Daddy), those who would prefer to just let an unknown rapper write rhymes for them while they make executive decisions out there, or Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim, who mostly served as counterparts for male rappers (Jay-Z, Biggie respectively). The term “ghostwriting” has served as a taboo these days because the hip-hop community still holds ideas of authentic composition of lyrics as virtues true MCs must uphold, and to many, Nas broke that.

I’ve heard about the ghostwriting bit for a while with Cormega and AZ helping in his earlier days with Illmatic and It Was Written. Also, Jay Smooth recently broke down some of these ideas for us in a video he did featured at ANIMAL, but let me expound some in light of the featured image on this blog.

Dr. Boyce Watkins reposted the image on his personal Facebook page (and, unless otherwise stated, a repost / retweetisan endorsement), and my first reaction was to unfriend him. You have the nerve to post a meme about Adolf Hitler and Lil’ Wayne? To what end? Does it make you feel better that you’re able to denigrate Lil’ Wayne and make yourself a champion of Black folk for making a caricature of the connection between Nazi Germany and current popular rap?

Alas, when I took to the webs with this, some people yelled “Hallelujah.” My jaw almost dropped.

So let me make a few points which I’m sure will resonate with the majority of you who actually agreed with me:

1. If you agreed with that meme, you’re the reason why Lil’ Wayne exists. In the words of Jay-Z,

“We ain’t thugs for the sake of just being thugs
Nobody do that where we grew at, nigga, DUH!
The poverty line, we not above
So out come the mask and glove cause we ain’t feelin’ the love
We ain’t doing crime for the sake of doing crime
We movin’ dimes cause we ain’t doin’ fine
One out of three of us is locked up doing time
You know what that type of shit can do to a nigga mind?”

– “Say Hello”

Alas, America left behind a whole generation of youth affected by their environments. You endorsed the environment implicitly. Or do you feel guilty because you’re so far up your metaphorical ivory tower, you didn’t think the proletariat would find their own voices?

2. I can’t endorse Lil’ Wayne’s misogyny or hypercapitalism anymore than I can endorse any other rappers’, but, hearing him speak on issues and seeing some of his charity work, it seems to me he’s got a literacy that we can’t test. We can say the same for any number of rappers. I have yet to meet a college-level professor outside of Dr. Christopher Emdin who can put together a 16-bar verse with dexterity and finish the way Young Jeezy or T.I. do, but, rather than play to those strengths, our “testing” assumes that only one type of literacy matters.

3. A few people brought up study after study showing the deleterious effects of explicit music videos and rap lyrics on young Black boys and their self-image. Yet, whenever I retort with “Did they study any other kids who listen to this music?” I never get a response. Maybe the reason why Black boys identify with the music is that these rappers who grew up without role models have, in fact, become this generation’s role models too. As a matter of fact, we rarely discuss the deleterious effects of rock, electronic, and country on White children. Seems like people just like to blame hip-hop because it makes them more popular. It’s fun.

4. In terms of power, Lil’ Wayne doesn’t even come close to Adolf Hitler, either. We can turn off Lil’ Wayne’s propaganda with a flick of a switch, but Hitler in his prime couldn’t be turned off. Ever. The millions of people he slaughtered and the ideas he established about humanity (and lack thereof) proliferate to this day. Lil’ Wayne’s effect will pass, and he’s only murdered someone on record.

5 (and finally). Problems like illiteracy, self-image, and misogyny (the last one needs my emphasis) existed before hip-hop. The elements of hip-hop (graffiti, DJ, rap, and breakdancing) exalted youth by letting them express their thoughts and perceptions in ways that don’t conform to the general zeitgeist. Those kids imagined a peaceful world in vivid color through a language and body language no one understood before. The exploitation of its voice into what we understand now as criminal still has elements of disillusionment and hope at once.

No one embodies that more than Nas. From Illmatic toLife Is Good, few rappers’ work has stood the test of appealing to all these sentiments like his has. That’s why I don’t mind if he had a bit of “ghostwriting.” He, along with so many others, have ghostwritten our lives’ soundtracks through their own discrographies. While it’s important for our pupils to understand the dominant language (i.e. how to live in a white world), it’s equally important to keep one’s original culture and let it evolve as its own entity.

If you call rap “propaganda,” a stretch by any measure, then here’s hoping Jesse Owens ghostwrote this post.

Jose, who sips the Dom P til I’m charged, then writin in my book of rhymes, all the words pass the margin …