With 21 homicides and another 45 still-alive shooting victims in the first 18 days of 2012, everyone is looking for answers. North Philadelphia pastor Jomo Johnson has one: hip hop megastar Lil’ Wayne, ne Dwayne Carter. Johnson, who moved here from Georgia almost three years ago, spent several months studying the rapper’s music and lifestyle and has published Deadest Rapper Alive: The Rise of Lil’ Wayne and the Fall of Urban Youth. In it, he writes, “I believe that Dwayne Carter is the most dangerous influence on urban and African-American youth that the 21st century has yet to see.” I spoke with him this morning.
When I was in Christian school in eighth grade, there was a record-burning/cassette-smashing event as part of homecoming. Kids were throwing Master of Puppets into the fire. How is your crusade different than those hysterics?
Well, I’m not against hip hop music. I’m a fan of it, and so I’m not condemning an entire genre. Secondly, there’s no generational gap between me and Lil’ Wayne. We were both born in the ’80s. In the past, there’s been a generational gap where an older generation has condemned the music of a younger one. That’s not happening here. And finally, Elvis and Metallica, when acts like that were condemned in the past, this was directed at white suburban kids with two parents who wind up going to college. They are going to be okay. Lil’ Wayne’s music and his amoralism are being embedded in urban youth, African American youth. The influence of Lil’ Wayne is a lot different on a 14- or 15-year-old African American who doesn’t have a father at home.
Let’s talk about the specifics of what you refer to as his amoralism.
What I’ve discovered is that he’s the number one personifier of this philosophy of amoralism. There’s no moral standard. No right, no wrong. I’ve gone through his catalog. In his song “I’m Me,” he states that he is God and that his album is the New Testament. He has a line in that song that says “F them, F them, F them, even if they celibate.” Is that a suggestion of rape? In urban culture, we’re seeing an increase in gang rapes. Then he came out with a song talking about a 16-year-old celebrity, suggesting sex with her, underage. In the song “Steady Mobbin’,” he speaks about prostituting a woman, killing her and sending her body back to the original owner. This music is constantly being embedded in urban youth, and they are imitating it. There’s no set of morals in this music but What I want.
But there’s a difference between talking about violence and glorifying it, right? In “Steady Mobbin’,” for instance, is he really glorifying these things?
I understand the difference. In the ’90s there was gangster rap. People decried it. I understand gangster rap. They were trying to communicate their experience. But gangster rap has now evolved into gang-rape music. He’s not seeing this stuff, because he’s living in a mansion. He’s absolutely glorifying it. It’s a dance song. He’s saying, this is something worthy to do.
How do you see these effects specifically in Philadelphia and in your neighborhood in North Philly?
Murders have increased. Why is that happening? Why such an increase? Mayor Nutter’s talking about 90 percent of murders are black males on black males, a lot of it in my neighborhood. It’s a direct result of being constantly fed this kind of music. Does it make people pick up guns? Not necessarily. But it does lead people to do things they might not otherwise do. There’s a direct correlation. It’s creating a constant environment of amoralism.
What should Mayor Nutter and other city officials do?
In 2005, the courts upheld the obscenities act in Philadelphia. It was somewhat directed toward porn, but it’s actually wide across all genres. The city could enforce this law, which would prevent this type of music from being blasted from cars, businesses and homes. They could issue a fine. If an adult tried to show pornography to a child, they would be in jail. How is this different?
In the book you say that Lil’ Wayne is Marilyn Manson “with darker skin.” But doesn’t this deflate your argument a bit? Marilyn Manson is an act, a shock act. The best thing that ever happened to his career was getting banned and having parents generally freak out.
Again, the difference is that this is directed toward urban youth, the most vulnerable. When you have a group of people statistically in the greatest state of decline and you have them being fed poison, maybe we have to step in and say stop. If the crime was 90 percent white suburban, then we’d need to examine what the motivators are behind that.
Jimmy Kimmel and Katie Couric have sat down with Lil’ Wayne. President Obama has said that he listens to him. Why do all of these people seem to be oblivious to what you’re talking about?
Lil’ Wayne has a song out called “How to Love.” It’s a ballad, and you’d hear it and think that there’s nothing wrong with this guy. But that’s actually part of the appeal of many rappers. They don’t have morals. They come out with a song that attracts love emotions and then on the very next song they talk about murdering and raping a woman. As for Obama, I’m surprised, shocked and saddened.