Lil Wayne video: race, riot, class frustration

Lil Wayne’s Drop the World (full video here, MTV censored version here) features scenes of street rage by the socially marginalized. It does not offer a very deep critique of social repression, but the latter is shown as the origins for the feelings of resentment and rage that give birth to the apocolyptic imagery of mass public destruction. This can perhaps be read as a poignant expression of frustration and social impotence from a rapper recently sent to prison for “possession of a firearm.”

If the song’s lyrics and imagery ask to be read as the collective expression of a repressed and marginalized social group (inner-city lower-class African-Americans), it might be critically seen it as a mere rhetorical ploy by a popular rapper to get “street cred” and to achieve popular appeal within that group. This perspective would in many ways diminish the redemptive value of the work as social critique, since Lil Wayne could be said to be speaking in the name of a public he perhaps has, at least today, little (materially) in common with. On the other hand, wikipedia tells me he is from New Orleans, accidentally shot himself with a .44 when he was 13, and is a high-school dropout, all of which suggest his expression of inner-city life as an African-American is probably legitimate.

A few lines:

“I have hate in my heart”

“The top gets higher, the more that I climb”

“Serve to survive”

“Trying to get into where I fit in, no room for a nigger”

“But soon for a nigger it be on motherfucker”

(full lyrics here)

If the video and song are not especially clever, there are some interesting things going on. It is telling that the most crucial parts for understanding the message of revolt and reactionary violence are censored by the mainstream (MTV) version of the video.

There is definitely an expression of the frustration at race repression in America. The video is largely composed of stock scenes of rioting and gang warfare. It is not clear if there are two rival gangs battling or if they are both on the same side in a class war. This latter conclusion is supported by the brief clip of a the cliché of a white bourgeois family that has evidently taken a wrong turn into a lower-class black neighborhood, “the ghetto.” “Just hope you’re heaven sent – then you’re hell proof” : this line is timed simultaneous with the appearance of the conventional white bourgeois family. They look around in confused disbelief, and are at a loss to understand the rage going on around them.)

The protagonist’s hand is inscribed with the words: The world. I see several possible interpretations. It could be seen as a play on the idea of social self-determination implied in the American Dream (the whole world is within your grasp) and which, exposed as a farce, is then twisted into a frustrated will to destroy that world. This hypothesis (of a will to destroy a world of privilege that oppresses the rioters and the protagonist) is supported by the backdrop of skyscrapers, which seem be part of the world the rioters are trying to destroy.

All told, I think the video and song are interesting, if only because they seem to form a continuum with current events. Compare the images:

Lil Wayne

Berkeley 2010 (last month)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPW9YU9z5gg&feature=player_embedded

Greece 2010 (last week)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ns9Lol53EQ

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This entry was posted in Reviewing...(movies, books, music videos), Social critique in culture, State Capitalism--How the system works, Strike! and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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