A cousin of the late Emmett Till wonders if Lil Wayne understands just how damaging it was when he rapped a vulgar reference to the black U.S. teen whose death in 1955 became a significant moment in the civil rights movement.
Airickca Gordon-Taylor says Till's family would like an apology from Lil Wayne for the brief but disturbing lyric on Future's "Karate Chop" remix. But more than that, she'd like the platinum-selling New Orleans rapper to understand how his comparison of a sex act to the 14-year-old Chicago native's torture death in Mississippi is hurtful to the black community.
"It was a heinous murder," Gordon-Taylor said in a phone interview Thursday from Chicago. "He was brutally beaten and tortured, and he was shot, wrapped in barbed wire and tossed in the Tallahatchie River. The images that we're fortunate to have (of his open casket) that `Jet' published, they demonstrate the ugliness of racism. So to compare a woman's anatomy - the gateway of life - to the ugly face of death, it just destroyed me. And then I had to call the elders in my family and explain to them before they heard it from some another source."
The Future remix with Weezy guesting was leaked on the internet over the weekend. Epic Records said Wednesday it regretted the unauthorized remix version and that it was employing "great efforts" to pull it down. The brief reference - just seven words - will be stricken from the song when it's officially released later.
The rapper made a crude reference to rough sex and used an obscenity. He indicated he wanted to do as much damage as had been done to Till.
Gordon-Taylor says Epic Chairman and CEO LA Reid personally reached out to her on a conference call Wednesday evening that included the Rev. Jesse Jackson to explain and apologize. Jackson said in a phone interview Thursday that Reid said on the call that Future and Lil Wayne were cooperative.
"Once he got the point he realized this was beyond the zone and he immediately pulled it," Jackson said. "And he talked with both artists, who agreed."
Weezy has made no comment, nor has he addressed the issue on his Twitter account. Gordon-Taylor says there's been no attempt to apologize so far.
Till was in Mississippi visiting family when he was killed for allegedly flirting with a white woman. He was beaten, had his eyes gouged out and was shot in the head before his assailants tied a cotton gin fan to his body with barbed wire and tossed his body into the Tallahatchie River. Two white men, including the woman's husband, were acquitted of the killing by an all-white jury.
Till's body was recovered and returned to Chicago where his mother, Mamie Till, insisted on having an open casket at his funeral. The pictures of his battered body helped push civil rights into the cultural conversation in the U.S. Bob Dylan even wrote a song about it: "The Death of Emmett Till."
Gordon-Taylor, founding director of the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation, said Lil Wayne's lyric was devastating to her family. Simeon Wright, Till's cousin who shared a bed with his relative the night he was taken by the killers, heard the lyric for the first time Wednesday night.
"And he said the Ku Klux Klan would be very proud of Lil Wayne," Gordon-Taylor said. "And as tough a man as he is, I could see the hurt and the anger in his eyes. It just demonstrates to our family just how lost are our youth."
Both Gordon-Taylor and Jackson believe the 30-year-old rapper could help with that problem if he chose. Jackson has met Wayne, whose real name is Dwayne Carter, before and said, "I respect his art."
Jackson says the issue of a negative portrayal of the black community comes up from time to time, citing The Rolling Stones' "Some Girls," for instance: "We just felt they could make their point without grossly insulting people."
Music also has the power to uplift, he noted. Harry Belafonte opened eyes to conditions in Africa and the Caribbean, for instance. Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" helped Americans see the war in Vietnam in a new light. And Stevie Wonder's "Happy Birthday" helped clear the way for a national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"We want artists who have considerable power to use their power to uplift and redirect," Jackson said. "It's not a matter of free speech, it's also speech that matters. ... These artists have culturally transforming power. Either they hurt or they help."