Detroit rapper Big Sean released a new song this week called “No More Interviews” that plays out like a press conference, addressing gossip about ongoing label and relationship drama, probably, one imagines, so Sean doesn’t have to keep giving the same answers to inquiring radio hosts and writers. The music journalist’s secret struggle is snapping artists out of the boredom of the interview circuit, where they’re likely to spend hours coming up with different ways to respond to the same four or five queries about whatever their business might be at the time. Sean’s track speaks to a new attitude that artists with a certain clout have taken toward interviews: fuck ‘em. Beyoncé and Rihanna have appeared on the covers of magazines they didn’t speak a word to. The only Frank Ocean Q&A of the last three years occurred when he was asked why he wore Vans to the White House State Dinner.
On Nightline last night, Lil Wayne broke ranks with peers who carefully evade direct questioning. For a while, Nightline’s Lindsey Davis engaged Wayne in what looked to be a rote Explain a Rapper to Your Prime-time Viewership questionnaire. Those usually make for great TV: The very image of Wayne — grills, dyed dreads, face tats galore — is bound to fry the average stiff. That someone with his jarring looks and propensity for filth can sit comfortably among 2016’s one-percent ruffles the rest. We found out that the Cash Money king is perhaps too enamored of his jewels when Davis asked why the hell he sat on Fox Sports’ Undisputed last month and told Skip Bayless he thinks racism is over.
Wayne ought to have used Davis’s curt “What’s your thought on Black Lives Matter?” question as an opportunity to show that he’s attuned to the plight of the country’s aggressively policed black youth, something he failed to get across in that Skip interview. Instead, he answered like a spoiled toddler, snapping, “I don’t feel connected to a damn thing that ain’t got nothing to do with me” and cutting the chat short because having to answer questions like this was making him feel like a politician. It’s damning because rap is actually an awful lot like politics. You earn your riches speaking to the adversity you fought against growing up. You maintain a sensitivity to your base’s struggles even when your new income means you no longer share them. You make sure they feel like active participants in your success. You never break kayfabe.
Lil Wayne’s dismissal of Black Lives Matter is shockingly tone deaf. It’s poor role-modeling. It isolates artist from audience. It’s a flat betrayal of the fan’s relationship to a rapper’s wealth. We don’t listen to songs about bros getting rich because we’re happy they have a lot of money. We do it to escape our own shit, to buy in, for a couple minutes at a time, to the possibility that all those gems and jewels could be ours too. We stunt vicariously through our faves. They’re wind in our sails. You can’t just up and say you got so rich off all our broke-boy dreams that you don’t even get us anymore. At least fake grace. Even Drake made “Started From the Bottom.”
The interview presented a Lil Wayne severely lacking in empathy and awareness, but it is also a mistake to understand him as a relatable character. He is doubtlessly the most successful child rapper of all time; he eased into rap as a preteen and graduated from appearances on his Cash Money peers’ records at age 15 to multiplatinum supernova status by 24. He probably grew up on tour buses. (Journalist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah once asked Wayne about being raised in showbiz, and the rapper exclaimed, “Don’t people realize I didn’t have a childhood?”) How the hell do you question a guy whose creative instinct routinely makes everyone millions? Who checks a Lil Wayne?
Honestly, I can’t even be upset with Wayne right now because I keep trying to picture the kind of machine you’d have to have built around yourself for any of this to happen. Do you never expect to be challenged? Do you only keep ESPN on your TVs? Do you never read the news? Do you think your fans are going to keep clamoring for your shelved studio album to be released if you can’t even pretend to grasp their world? I’m stuck in the logistics! It doesn’t make any sense.