Date: July 21
Remember the cover of Ludacris’ Chicken-n-Beer? You know the one with Luda munching on a lady’s leg like it was a drum stick? That's me. More often than I would wish. Except instead of a lady's leg, it’s my own foot. Over the years, I have said many things that have offended people. Usually inadvertantly. Not that I think I'm special in this way. We all say stupid things sometimes. What should we do when this happens? We should apologize. I am pro-apology. (In fact, I'm sort of a national expert on the subject.) I am even pro-the-half-apology, the kind that says, "I'm sorry that what I said offended you" without actually taking back the words. If you offend someone, even if you didn't mean any harm, even if you don't think what you said was all that terrible, you should still say sorry. Even if for the sake of trying to making someone else feel a little better, if only for the sake of making everyone's life, including your own, a little easier, you should say sorry.
But not if you're a rapper! Not if what you said that offended somebody was just lyrics in a song. Rappers are not politicians proposing policy. Songs are not conversations at a cocktail party. Rappers are artists expressing themselves in rhyme, often in a stream-of-consciousness style. Songs are art. There's a big difference. Art is art and it should be treated as such. Are some song lyrics stupid and offensive? No doubt. Lots of them, in fact. Should we live in a climate where rappers have to apologize for them? No.
This week, when J. Cole issued an official apology to the Autism Speaks organization for equating the words "autistic" and "retarded" on Drake’s “Jodeci Freestyle," he insisted that he wasn't doing so for the sake of “saving an endorsement or cleaning up bad press." But it sure seemed that way. (Especially since Cole has yet to apologize for using the word “faggot” earlier this year on his own song, “Villuminati." The Anti-Bullying Alliance has not started a petition against that one yet.)
This is a worrisome trend. This is the third such high-profile instance this year. (Rick Ross apologized to women, Lil Wayne to the family of Emmet Till.) Controversy over rap lyrics is nothing new. But in the era of social media, the campaigns calling for apologies are louder and more organized than ever. And, with more corporate sponsorship of music than ever, they're better able to hit rappers where it hurts: in their pocketbooks. So artists are crumpling under the pressure. And that sucks.
Cole's words were offensive. (As were—Jesus, lord knows!—those of Ross and Wayne.) And just stupid, displaying a gross misunderstanding of autism. But rather than apologzing, next time, how about just don't spit a wack rhyme like that? Or at least try not to. And if you do (if you are like me, when you do), if you say something in a song that you honestly come to regret, how about this as a way to set things right? Record a new song with different lyrics. Talk about what you learned and why your feelings on the subject have changed. But as for the social media campaigns and the petitions and the pressure from your corporate sponsors? Do like Luda did when Bill O'Reilly cost him his Pepsi deal, tell them it's just a rap lyric and if you don’t like it, you can blow it out your ass.
(Also, sorry about the self-promotion in the link above. And for dragging you into my ongoing infinite-regression spiral. It's a problem.) —Dave Bry