This Civil Rights Leader’s Reaction To Lil Wayne’s Emmett Till Lyric Might Surprise You

'A lot of young people grow up not even knowing anything about Emmett Till,' says Congressman John Lewis of the Weezy name-check on Future's 'Karate Chop' Remix.

Lil Wayne landed in hot water last February when a line name-checking tragic civil rights figure Emmett Till on Future’s “Karate Chop (Remix)” 
 raised eyebrows and drew complaints from Till’s family.

The verse featured the line: “Beat the p—y up like Emmett Till,” drawing a dark reference to the teen who was brutally murdered after he whistled at a white woman in 1955. Till was beaten beyond recognition, but his mother insisted that he have an open casket funeral, so the world could see and remember the brutality. Future’s label quickly removed the lyric and then remixed the song again in a version featuring Birdman, Rick Ross and French Montana, but no Weezy.

At the time, the rapper attempted to reach out to the Till family in an apologetic open letter 
, a gesture the family said at the time “[fell] short.” 
 The controversy also lost Wayne an endorsement deal with Mountain Dew 
.

But a year later, does the lyric still sting?

MTV News recently sat down with civil rights icon and Congressman Rep. John Lewis to get his take on the incident. “I think when a star, a singer, uses the name of someone like an Emmett Till in music … a lot of young people grow up not even knowing anything about Emmett Till,” he said. “So maybe it would help people go and [say], ‘Who was Emmett Till?’”

In fact, Lewis said that if it hadn’t been for music the civil rights movement might have been like “a bird without wings.” Imagine not having songs like: “We Shall Not Be Moved,” Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn,” Curis Mayfield and the Impressions’ “People Get Ready” and Mahalia Jackson’s “We Shall Overcome.”

“You can communicate with music. It’s a powerful instrument, it’s a powerful tool,” said Lewis. “Not just for enjoyment, but it helps to inspire, to push you on. Sometimes when we’d get out of jail in Alabama, in Mississippi we’d go straight to a club and play some records.”

Lewis said during those celebratory post lock-up listening sessions, he and his fellow marchers would spin songs including Mayfield’s “Keep on Pushin’” or Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.”

“The songs motivated us, they inspired us, so music played a major role within the movement,” he said.

Often guilty, never convicted. Serving 15 years to life at MTV News.