I grew up listening to hip-hop. My husband and I still listen to it. We listen to it at home and in the car with our seven-year old son, Norrin. Living in The Bronx, hip-hop and rap music is part of our culture. The Bronx is the borough where hip-hop and rap was born (sorry Brooklyn…you know it’s true). And as a writer, I am often fascinated by the lyrics, the intricacies of the rhyme and word play.
But when I read about Drake’s new song (featuring J. Cole) “Jodeci (Freestyle)” I was so disappointed. The lyrics are lame, hurtful and unworthy of respect. And definitely not the kind of music I want my son to hear.
“I’m undoubtedly the hottest and that’s just me bein’ modest / Go check the numbers dummy, that’s just me gettin’ started / I’m artistic, you ni**as is autistic, retarded / Started, hold your applause…”
Drake and J.Cole are not the first rappers to use autism or special needs as an insult. Last summer, rapper 5o Cent tweeted “I just saw your picture fool you look autistic.” And then went on to joke about not wanting “special ed kids” on his timeline. When actress Holly Robinson Peete wrote an open letter chastising him, his Twitter feed was flooded with parents posting pictures of their special needs children. And I tweeted this photo to 50 Cent with a message from Norrin.
Norrin has autism and my sister has an intellectual disability. Whenever anyone uses autism or the r-word it is an insult to them. It is an insult to the millions of individuals with special needs who work so hard to achieve the things that come so easily to others.
When anyone uses autism or the r-word as an insult it perpetuates the stereotype that individuals with disabilities are worthless and stupid. You discredit every single thing that so many parents have fought for, shut every door that has been opened. You squash a dream. Break a heart.
Vibe just named Drake the most influential rapper in social media. He has 46,212,641 people following him via social media. But instead of using social media for social good, Drake’s lyrics sends the message to each and every one of his fans that it’s cool to diss individuals with special needs.
Drake and J.Cole are both young men of color. Autism among minorities – specifically African Americans and Latinos – is often diagnosed later (after four years of age). There is still so much stigma within our community about autism and intellectual disabilities. Children are being bullied at school and in the playground due to lack of understanding and ridicule. Drake and J. Cole’s lyrics do nothing to strengthen our community or our children, they only weaken it. They have disrespected many families and their loved ones.
I understand we live in a country where we all have the freedom of speech, however we need to use our words responsibly – especially those with the social media influence like Drake.
There are people with autism who are smart, talented and doing their best to progress in life. When artists like [Drake and] J. Cole decide that it is okay to use the words “autistic” and “retarded” to insult, they are perpetuating an environment of intolerance among their fans. They are telling their fans that it is okay to view my son as someone to be ridiculed because of his autism diagnosis.
What do you think of the lyrics? Does Drake and J.Cole owe the community an apology?
Read more of Lisa’s writing at AutismWonderland.