[artist id="510062"]Lil Wayne[/artist] was vocal about how humbled and honored he was to be taking over folk icon Bob Dylan's part on Monday night's remake of "We Are the World." But at the end of his soft-spoken comments to reporters during the recording session, the New Orleans-bred rapper added one more thought that instantly sent a buzz through the room.
"I think it's amazing what's been done for Haiti," Wayne said, gazing out at the assembled reporters and cameramen in a tent just outside the Jim Henson Recording Studios in Hollywood as he stepped off a stool and lowered the microphone. Then, raising the mic to his iced-out grill once more, he added, "But I also think it's amazing what hasn't been done for New Orleans."
And with that, he walked out without taking any further questions.
The pointed aside from the rapper, who now lives in Miami, was a rare ripple of controversy on an otherwise on-message night, during which the other artists who passed in front of journalists praised the efforts to raise money for the victims of the Haitian earthquake and spoke of the importance of giving back.
It brought murmured comments such as "Kanye West" from some of the writers, who appeared to be comparing Wayne's verbal outburst to the "George Bush doesn't care about black people" tirade unleashed by West during the all-star 2005 benefit for victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
In light of the tens of millions raised privately by texted and mailed donations, the "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon, and the more than $100 million and on-the-ground support provided by the Obama administration since the January 12 earthquake, Wayne's comments suggested that the Nola rapper feels that the same outpouring of support has not helped rebuild his hometown, which was devastated by Katrina in 2005.
As much as he hates to go up against Weezy, Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., told MTV News on Thursday (February 4) that Wayne's comments don't accurately reflect what's going on in New Orleans. "The New Orleans region since Katrina has been the recipient of tens of billions of dollars of assistance, not to mention scores of individuals who have committed their time and effort to rebuilding the city and region," said Hecht, whose group is the leading nonprofit economic development organization in Southeast Louisiana.
Hecht said that as a direct result of billions of dollars in cash and man hours that have been pumped into the area since 2005, Business Week magazine recently called New Orleans "one of the best places in the country to ride out the recession," with an unemployment rate that is consistently 3 percent lower than the rest of the country. "Perhaps there's some frustration on his part because it didn't arrive quickly enough or took too long to come online," Hecht said of Wayne's possible motivation for speaking out on Monday, noting that more than 55 percent of the billions in federal funds allocated for Katrina fixes has gone unspent so far. "But it's not atypical after a disaster of this size, like something on the scale of 9/11 in New York, where it tends to take three to four years for rebuilding to start because of bureaucracy, insurance claims and literally waiting for the dust to settle," he said.
A spokesperson for Wayne did not respond to requests for further comment from the rapper for this story at press time.
Hecht also said that certainly some of the more affluent areas of the city have been rebuilt faster because their residents have the means, but he said the notoriously impoverished Lower Ninth Ward, which was devastated by the storm surge following the hurricane, has gotten "remarkable and intense" attention. "Atlantic magazine said the architecture of the Lower Ninth was setting the standard for 21st-century architecture," he said.
According to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, the total recovery investment since the storm is $120.5 billion. "There has been unevenness and things are going too slow, but with all respect to Wayne and his experiences in New Orleans, the city that is emerging today is coming back as a place with massive reinvestment and reinvention," Hecht said.
Karl Senner, 24, is a lifelong NOLA resident who lived through Katrina, jumping in an airboat with his dad the day after the hurricane and helping rescue stranded residents for days after. He told MTV News that the rush of help for Haiti might actually have everything to do with the slow response to Katrina. "I think the immediate support for Haiti can be credited a lot to the text-messaging giving, which is an avenue that wasn't really around five years ago," he said. "Also, I think responses to things like this has become an issue more so since Katrina. It was a learning experience for all of us."
In some ways, he speculated, the lack of massive immediate response to Katrina was a harsh lesson learned and one that has not been forgotten in the years since. "In some ways, a big plus side of Katrina for New Orleans is that it's given the city a fresh start, a clean slate."