Last week, notorious rapper Lil’ Wayne learned he would be going to jail early next year, joining the ranks of musicians who can’t seem to stay out of trouble despite their immense success.
Wayne expects to be sentenced for somewhere between eight months and a year in February, stemming from his July 2007 arrest when his tour bus was pulled over in New York City after police smelled marijuana and searched the vehicle, finding a loaded .40-caliber pistol.
Wayne’s guilty plea to attempted possession of a weapon is not too far off from fellow rapper T.I.’s case, who has been serving a year-long jail sentence since March for attempting to illegally purchase machines guns and silencers.
As a big fan of both of these rappers, who have some of the bestselling albums in the last few years, it’s hard to grapple with what it means to support the music of an imprisoned artist.
On one hand, despite their illegal nature, the crimes these two rappers committed add credibility and realism to the lyrics of their raps. Now, I know for sure that Wayne and T.I. aren’t just all talk when they rap about the hood, guns and drugs, among other things. This really is their life, despite the millions upon millions of dollars they make.
Much of the personas established in my mind about the two rappers, based on their music, has proven true through these separate incidents. Such incidents create a feeling that these musicians aren’t doing whatever possible to be famous, but rather they’re talking about real life.
On the other hand, both Wayne and T.I. have already established their so-called “street cred” with the music industry and fans, but whether they like it or not, these modern day “gangsters” are also role models. They have responsibilities to younger fans in particular to act appropriately, and when they don’t they undoubtedly disappoint.
T.I. began his public image recovery through the MTV show “T.I.’s Road to Redemption,” where he spent his last days before jail urging young people not to fall into a life of crime. Viewers of the show and fans of the rapper probably appreciated what appeared to be a very genuine effort at asking for forgiveness for wrongdoing.
Will Wayne do the same? Unlikely, because the man is known to be a workaholic, recording so much material that he’d have little time for an MTV show. Maybe he’d consider releasing a freestyle rap warning kids not to use guns, but I doubt that, too. Most likely Wayne will stockpile enough material to hold his fans over while he’s incarcerated.
More than anything, it disappoints when popular rappers go to prison because it definitely adds an uncertain crossroads to their career and success. Although T.I. has managed to stay successful while locked up so far — even winning awards — legal troubles often hurt the careers of musician, such as DMX.
Hopefully after both T.I. and Lil’ Wayne are released from prison, they fire back into the rap game with vengeance and pent-up intensity from their experience. As two of the fiercest MCs in the game, they both certainly have the potential to be even more successful (although Wayne may have to learn to write his lyrics down because he usually just freestyles from memory).
I will remain a fan despite their indiscretions because their music is appealing and their talent speaks for itself. Hopefully they’ve learned lessons from their prison experience because the rap community needs them recording and performing rather than sitting behind bars.
Entertainment columnist Matt Montoya’s column runs every other Wednesday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.