Bernice King, the daughter of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., shared a post on Twitter addressing Jonathan Majors after he referred to her mother, Coretta Scott King. This adds to a recurring issue of civil rights leaders’ names being inappropriately mentioned.
On Jan. 9, Bernice King posted a picture of her mother Coretta Scott King along with a caption emphasizing that her mother was not a prop, but a peace advocate and a force before she met her father. This was a subliminal response to actor Jonathan Majors, who had made a similar reference during his domestic assault trial.
Reflecting on this, it brings to mind instances when other hip-hop artists made the same mistake. Here are the top five instances where rappers referenced Civil Rights icons inappropriately in their lyrics:
Kanye West/Emmett Till – ‘Through The Wire’
Kanye West has referenced Emmett Till multiple times throughout his career. In his 2004 hit “Through The Wire,” he rapped about Till’s mutilated face in his open casket, discussing how it made his girlfriend scared as they were both traveling.
Lil Wayne/Emmett Till – ‘Karate Chop (Remix)’
Lil Wayne faced criticism in 2013 for referencing Till in the “Karate Chop (Remix)” with Atlanta rapper Future. In the song, Lil Wayne rapped about physically assaulting a woman, comparing it to the brutal murder of Emmett Till. Till’s family did not accept his apology for this offensive lyric.
OutKast/Rosa Parks – ‘Rosa Parks’
The hit song “Rosa Parks” by OutKast included a line referencing Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white man in 1955. Although this was meant as a form of provocation, it sparked controversy as it was seen as an inappropriate use of her legacy.
A lawsuit was filed by attorney Gregory J Reed in March 1999 against Outkast and LaFace Records on Parks’s behalf, claiming that the group had illegally used her name without her permission. The lawsuit was settled on April 15, 2005. In the settlement agreement, Outkast and their producer and record labels paid Parks an undisclosed cash settlement and agreed to work with the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development in creating educational programs about the life of Rosa Parks.
Jay-Z was in an argument with the now-late iconic actor, singer, and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte. In a 2012 interview, Belafonte called out the rap legend, his wife Beyoncé, and other Black artists because “they have turned their back on social responsibility.” Jay-Z would respond to Belafonte’s comments on his 2013 song “Nickels and Dimes.” In the song, the New York native rapped: “I’m just trying to find common ground / Before Mr. Belafonte come and chop a n*gga down / Mr. Day-O, major fail.”
The late Tupac Shakur caused controversy when he targeted C. Dolores Tucker, a former Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and civil rights activist, in his 1996 song “How Do U Want It.” In the song, Tupac rapped: “C. Delores Tucker, you’s a motherf*cker/Instead of tryin’ to help a n*gga, you destroy a brother/Worse than the others, Bill Clinton, Mr. Bob Dole/You’re too old to understand the way the game’s told.” Dolores Tucker engaged in a campaign against rap music in the 1990s. She condemned rap music for its “violent and misogynistic content.”
Along with mentioning Emmet Till in “Through The Wire,” Kanye West also compared himself to Till in a rant with media members in October 2022. He also called out Endeavor CEO Ari Emmauel and others for trying to “cancel him,” after his anti-semitic comments. This pattern of rappers facing criticism from family members of late stars is not an isolated incident. In 2021, Ebie Wright, daughter of late N.W.A. rapper Eazy-E, publicly called out Ice Cube in a documentary for avoiding discussions about her father.