Lil Wayne’s social consciousness takes strange forms that don’t necessarily line up with previous generations’ ideas about activism. From 2006’s Dedication 2 mixtape, “Georgia… Bush” was a brutal indictment of the George W. Bush administration and its handling of Hurricane Katrina, though the hook was based around a pun that dubiously feminizes Bush’s name. 2008’s The Carter III ends with “Dontgetit,” a humanist rant against the Rev. Al Sharpton (who is now working on a book to be released by Wayne’s label home, Cash Money). But the album also included a depressing anti-gay epithet on ferocious hit “A Milli.” More recently, Wayne angered Emmitt Till’s family — and fumbled an endorsement deal — by casually mentioning the civil rights icon as part of a lyric’s violent sexual imagery.
“God Bless Amerika,” from this year’s scattershot I Am Not a Human Being II, isn’t Wayne’s most lyrically adroit track, but it continues his pattern of politicking in a way that does more than preach to the choir. The rapper fell under scrutiny recently when behind-the-scenes footage from the video shoot surfaced, showing him stepping on the American flag; but as he stated previously, that footage is not in the finished clip. Instead, we see Wayne rapping as he’s surrounded by African-American children and crumbling New Orleans homes. Wayne’s T-shirt reads “Jesus Saves” atop a cross entwined with a dollar sign.
The text “They Don’t Care” appears as scrawled graffiti in prominent scenes, and Kanye West’s famous post-Katrina assertion that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” informs the entire clip. Wayne doesn’t quite go there — “humanity … is helping one another, no matter your color or race,” he insisted on “Dontgetit” — but it’s notable that while West’s recent music is generally far bolder than Wayne’s, the political content on Yeezus is rarely this direct or inclusive.
Unlike Young Jeezy earlier this week, Wayne doesn’t invoke the late Trayvon Martin in this video, just as he didn’t mention Martin from stage during a concert in Florida shortly after George Zimmerman was acquitted this weekend in Martin’s death. But there were police officers in Kevlar at that concert, and we see police in riot gear in this video. Martin’s presence looms over the video, full as it is of other young people.
Since Martin’s shooting death in Sanford, Florida, last year, he has often been compared to Emmett Till. Thankfully, Wayne doesn’t go there, either. But this video is another example — like his amnesia act during a 2012 deposition — of Wayne’s unique and necessary, if convoluted, approach to political protest. Sometimes rapping in front of a flag can be more valuable than wrapping yourself in one.