February 5, 2021
As one of his final acts as president, Donald Trump used his clemency powers to issue pardons for A-list celebrities Lil Wayne and Kodak Black. The two rap artists were priorly facing gun-related charges. Wayne won’t face trial for carrying a loaded firearm on a private plane in 2019. Meanwhile, Black enjoys his newfound freedom after serving half of a 46-month sentence for attempting to purchase firearms with invalid paperwork.
It is a safe bet that the founding fathers didn’t see this one coming when drawing up the presidential pardon section of the Constitution. And while pardons being granted to celebrities is far from a new phenomenon, Trump’s mercy for these hip-hop mainstays left many scratching their heads. Although this news will almost certainly be looked back on as one of the wackiest headlines of the Trump administration, the behind-the-scenes factors at play paint a much more sensible picture.
Despite his term-ending clemency spree for 143 individuals, Trump was stingy with his pardons throughout his presidency. He joined both Bushes as the only presidents to grant clemency to less than 300 people. For reference, Obama issued 1,927 pardons and commutations, most of which went to people facing long sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. Conversely, Trump’s pardons tended to gravitate towards the wealthy and famous. Considering this, the motivation behind pardons for Wayne and Black begins to clear up, seeing as the two rappers fit the bill.
What separates Wayne and Black from all the other wealthy and famous rappers is their connection to South Florida lawyer Bradford Cohen. A past associate to Trump and his campaign team’s legal efforts, Cohen spearheaded clemency efforts for both Wayne and Black. Cohen and Trump first crossed paths in 2004 when Cohen appeared as a contestant on “The Apprentice.”
It was Cohen behind Wayne and Trump’s infamous photo op, arranging their meeting just days before the 2020 election. Twitter poured with sour responses to the surprise partnership. However, that surprise subdued after news surfaced weeks later that Wayne was facing 10 years in prison for illegal firearm possession. Many speculated that Wayne’s endorsement of Trump was an apparent attempt to win face with the former president in hopes for a get-out-of-jail-free card, though Cohen denied this suspicion.
As for Black, another South Florida native, his path to a pardon involved a star-studded list of supporters lobbying for his freedom. Among those were Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and rap legend Gucci Mane. Additionally, Black’s philanthropic efforts aimed towards his hometown of Pompano Beach were cited as a contributor towards his being granted clemency. Whether Black will remain unincarcerated is still under investigation. Pardons only cover federal crimes and he is still awaiting trial for a sexual assault case from 2016, which will be prosecuted by the state of South Carolina.
In the meantime, Black and Wayne continue their careers in rap music. The two artists capitalized on the buzz surrounding their clemency by releasing music in the following days. Wayne, with “Ain’t Got Time” featuring R&B upstart Fousheé, and Black, with “Last Day In.” Being the only commentary offered by Wayne and Black on the subject, the songs provide clues as to their next steps as well as their future involvement with Trump.
Whether Wayne and Trump’s relationship began or ended with the pardon-for-picture transaction remains unclear. Typically an apolitical artist, Wayne’s endorsement of Trump was an abrupt pivot for his brand. However, Wayne apparently seeks a return to his status quo, as he reduces the controversy surrounding him to a few characteristically clever lines on “Ain’t Got Time.”
“The feds, they hot on us, one hundred on the thermometer / They raided my private plane, I went and got one that’s more privater,” the New Orleans artist said. Rest assured, Wayne is more concerned with protecting his freedom than building a relationship with Trump.
On the other hand, Black took a more embracive approach to his political saga on “Last Day In.” Not only did he shout out Cohen with the line, “Boy, I love you like a daddy,” but the Pompano Beach artist also got his lawyer’s name tattooed on his hand. And while he did name-drop Trump as well, it reads as more of a non-committal acknowledgement than a pledge of support (“Trump just freed me, but my favorite president is on the money”). However, Trump’s relocation to Black’s home state after leaving the White House leaves some potential for further development in this unlikely partnership.
Lucas Polack is a junior studying professional and public writing. He is an avid music listener and devout fan of “The Simpsons.” Lucas works as a co-director of editing at VIM Magazine and has aspirations to write and edit music journalism in his professional career.