NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The family of Emmett Till says a letter from Lil Wayne fell short of an apology for his crude reference to the civil rights martyr, and they want a meeting with the rapper and representatives from PepsiCo to discuss their commercial partnership.
A publicist for the Rev. Al Sharpton says he is attempting to arrange a meeting between the parties to work out differences over Wayne’s vulgar reference to Till in a song lyric. Wayne has a contract to promote PepsiCo product Mountain Dew.
Lil Wayne’s letter, which appears on Young Money Entertainment letterhead and was provided to The Associated Press by the family, offered empathy and outlined corrective measures regarding the offensive lyrics in the song, but stopped short of apologizing.
“I was not impressed,” said Airickca Gordon-Taylor, a cousin of Till’s.
Gordon-Taylor said it was disappointing because there was no apology, it came more than 75 days after the song hit the Internet and it actually was leaked on the Internet before the family received it. Wayne’s representatives tell the family there was an attempt to hand deliver the letter.
“I think that he’s kind of been pressured or he’s been admonished to make a statement to the family because of the ongoing negative publicity and attention and the pressure we’ve put onto his endorsement with Mountain Dew,” she said in a phone interview from Chicago. “I feel like it was an acknowledgment. He has finally, publicly acknowledged the ongoing outcry. It was not an apology. … However, I think it’s a start. I think the door is now open for us to have a sit-down, to have a dialogue.”
The New Orleans rapper made the brief offensive reference to Till in a guest appearance on Future’s song “Karate Chop” earlier this year. In just seven words, he refers to beating someone during a sexual act and uses an obscenity. He says he wants to do as much damage as was done to Till.
The black teen from Chicago was in Mississippi visiting family in 1955 when he was killed — allegedly for whistling at a white woman. He was beaten, had his eyes gouged out and was shot in the head before his assailants tied a cotton gin fan to his body with barbed wire and tossed it into the Tallahatchie River. Two white men, including the woman’s husband, were acquitted by an all-white jury.
Till’s body was recovered and returned to Chicago where his mother, Mamie Till, insisted on having an open casket at his funeral. The pictures of his battered body helped push civil rights into the cultural conversation.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson reached out to Epic Records on the family’s behalf when the song leaked on the Internet in February and its chairman, LA Reid, apologized.
At the time, Gordon-Taylor, founding director of the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation, asked Wayne to apologize. He has made no comment, though Jackson described him as cooperative.
Sharpton became involved because he is upset with Wayne’s comments, his publicist said. Gordon-Taylor wants to discuss immediate corrective action with Wayne and also help ensure that the legacy of Till is properly remembered. She says it’s about more than the Till family — making sure that lyricists are held responsible for what they say and the message it sends.
The letter, addressed “Dear Till Family,” appeared on the Internet this week.
“It has come to my attention that lyrics from my contribution to a fellow artist’s song has deeply offended your family,” Wayne writes. “As a father myself, I cannot imagine the pain that your family has had to endure. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge your hurt, as well as the letter you sent me via your attorneys.”
Wayne says moving forward he will not reference Till or the family in his music “especially in an inappropriate manner.” He tells the family he supports Epic’s decision to take down the unauthorized version of the song and to not include the reference in the official version. He also says he has removed the song from his catalog and will not perform it live.
“I have tremendous respect for those who paved the way for the liberty and opportunities that African-Americans currently enjoy,” Wayne writes. He concludes, “my ultimate intention is to uplift rather than degrade our community.” He signs the letter with his real name, Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.
Wayne’s publicist said Thursday night that there would be no immediate comment.
This is not the only time a rapper’s advertising partner has felt pressure in recent weeks. PepsiCo this week pulled a Mountain Dew commercial directed by Odd Future leader Tyler, the Creator, that was deemed offensive for its portrayal of black people and violence against women.
And Rick Ross lost his deal with Reebok last month after he rapped about raping a woman who had been incapacitated by drugs. Ross apologized for the lyrics.
Gordon-Taylor said her family was disturbed by Tyler’s Mountain Dew commercial, especially in light of recent problems with Wayne’s lyrics.
“It goes full circle and comes back to accountability and responsibility,” she said. “(Company officials) have to be held accountable or responsible for what they are promoting, for what they’re attaching themselves to.”