So Weezy is wading into the rock waters. Pretty wild, huh? The best selling rapper of 2008 is switching genres. At least for the moment.
A day or so ago, i asked people on Twitter and Facebook what they thought. There were a range of responses from "Why not? Rock on!" to "He looks real cool with his guitar" to "Bullshit" and "I'm sorry, but that's not rock ." Reflexively, I was in the camp that just dismissed this as simply something he's dabbling in. Now, until I hear the entire album, I can't make a determination as to how "serious" he is about this musical direction. That said, I think it's important for us to get past our knee-jerk reactions and really look at what's happening here.
Let me get this out of the way: As someone who listens to a lot of Black folks who rock well and hard, Wayne's singing is nothing to write home about. And, yes, his guitar playing is amateurish.
But that's okay.
No, I'm not talking about setting the bar lower.
Isn't Wayne doing exactly the thing that most of us in the Black alt scene have been demanding of popular Black artists? Namely, we've often wondered aloud why they don't stretch, why they don't push themselves artistically. Well, here you have someone doing just that. As the audience, we've also got to manage our own expectations when someone does this. We shouldn't expect that, if they're really pushing themselves, that the effort will be as perfect and polished as what we'd grown accustomed to them doing.
This is a Woody Allen moment for Wayne. Woody Allen got to make a lot of films. But he had to make some bad ones (Bananas, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, anyone?) in order to get to those gems such as Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters. That's part of the process. We may end up looking back at his career and see how this foray rounded him out.
And let's not have double standards here: I was talking to Mr. Muhammad this morning and said, "Wow, dude cannot sing." To which he replied, "He never said he could." True. And, frankly, we put up with white rockers (Dylan!) who don't have great voices. But let a black person step to the mic and we're expecting instant mellifluousness. Let's mind the double standard here. And let's not forget the countless rockers who made forays into other genres and were applauded for it. Remember when The Talking Heads' David Byrne decided to do the Afro-Brazilian and Latin music-influenced Rei Momo? Brilliant! the critics swooned.
We shouldn't be too judgmental with Wayne. The example the many black rockers have set–particularly the part about exploring the music that you're feeling, whatever that may be–is being taken to heart by one of rap's leading lights. And that's a good thing. We can't want to break boundaries and defy conventions on one hand, but then look down the nose at a rapper who tries to do just that. Can't have it both ways. Artistic freedom for one means artistic freedom for all.
This is an opportunity for our Black rock community to take the attention that's being paid to Wayne and further the discussion about Black folks exploring, both as performers and as audiences, the full spectrum of music that's out there.
I'm ever the optimist, so I'm hoping that this foray into rock sends Wayne in some new directions creatively. Is this the best the Black rock and Afro-punk communities have to offer? Of course not. But if Lil Wayne playing a guitar pushes a discussion of Black rock and all it represents closer towards the mainstream, closer to "normal," I'm all for it.