"I will not apologize!" chants Talib Kweli on the hook of a 2008 Roots song. It's a pretty accurate reflection of emcees for the past two decades: regardless of controversial subject matter, rappers rarely if ever apologize for their lyrics.
Drake and J. Cole, two of the genre's most popular acts, may be setting a new precedent.
Both artists expressed remorse for a line in "Jodeci Freestyle," a song released off Drake's website earlier this summer that includes a jab at autism. "I'm artistic, you n*ggas is autistic, retarded," Cole says on the track's second verse. The wordplay immediately drew criticism from around the internet, and a petition against the song from the Anti-Bullying Alliance drew nearly 5,000 signatures before closing. Now, Drake says that he will remove the line from the song altogether.
"I was instantly embarrassed that I would be ignorant enough say something so hurtful. What makes the crime worse is that I should have known better," the Born Sinner rapper said in a statement. Drake took responsibility for the line as well.
While this is certainly not the most insensitive metaphor in hip-hop (you don't have to search too hard, either), this is significant for being one of the first times an artist has pulled a line from a song after its release. A similar situation occurred in 2000, when lines referencing the Columbine massacre from Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP were censored even on explicit copies of the album. That decision, however, wasn't Em's. "Jodeci Freestyle" shows an artist revoking his own words on his own accord.
The lyric pull is a product of the social media era, where complaints and criticisms are able to be voiced faster and more cohesively. It's also telling of how prominent the genre has become, and how social advocacy is swaying hip-hop artists more and more.
Still, some think that apologizing for a line said in jest is unnecessary. Hip-hop magazine Vibe made a tongue-in-cheek list of other things rappers should apologize for. In the end though, Drizzy and Cole's apology is one of the few sincere apologies in hip-hop, and while revoking one line could open the flood gates for other artists, owning up for an offensive lyric is commendable.