April 24, 2007

Word Up -- Word Out (Updated)

The fall of Don Imus may have accomplished what twenty years of finger-wagging couldn't: to get rap to clean up its act. Influential rap mogul Russell Simmons has called for the removal of curse words from hip-hop music, especially those that carry offensive racial and sexist meanings:

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons said Monday that the recording and broadcast industries should consistently ban racial and sexist epithets from all so-called clean versions of rap songs and the airwaves.

Currently such epithets are prohibited in most clean versions, but record companies sometimes "arbitrarily" decide which offensive words to exclude and there's no uniform standard for deleting such words, Simmons said.

The recommendations drew mixed reaction and come two weeks after some began carping anew about rap lyrics after radio personality Don Imus was fired by CBS Radio and NBC for referring to the players on the Rutgers university women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos."

Expressing concern about the "growing public outrage" over the use of such words in rap lyrics, Simmons said the words "bitch," "ho" and "nigger" should be considered "extreme curse words."

"We recommend (they're) always out," Simmons, the pioneering entrepreneur who made millions of dollars as he helped shape hip-hop culture, said in an interview Monday. "This is a first step. It's a clear message and a consistency that we want the industry to accept for more corporate social responsibility."

When people like you and I complain about rap lyrics, it generates gales of laughter from the hip-hop culture. When Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson complain about it, rappers just throw more money at their organizations. When Russell Simmons says, "Enough!", people notice. Simmons has promoted and produced rap acts for longer than some of the artists have been alive, and his opinion counts.

It doesn't mean that everyone will agree with him. One writer, Joan Morgan, considers it nothing more than a smoke screen to cover hip-hop's issues of misogyny and homophobia. The RIAA, busy with suing college kids over file sharing, had no comment on Simmon's recommendation. Undoubtedly, some artists will issue objections ... but Simmons will have forced them to defend themselves.

Will Simmons' recommendations change the industry overnight? Of course not, and some artists will never change. However, when someone as influential as Simmons insists that a problem exists, then it will be harder for others to deny it, and then they have to explain why they're not contributing to it. The degradation of women and the glorification of lowlifes like pimps has hopefully run its course, and moguls like Simmons will have to decide that first before it finally falls out of fashion.

UPDATE: I share many of the same libertarian concerns of the commenters about censorship in society, but that's not exactly what Simmons means. In the first place, rap artists already produce those "clean" versions for radio play. Simmons wants them to stop using those words altogether, in recordings for sale as well as for airplay.

Censorship is the government placing a prior restraint on speech. If rap producers and record labels refuse to publish rap music with those words as Simmons proposes, that's not a First Amendment issue at all. The labels own the press, not the artists, who could still perform live and use all the filthy, degrading words they wanted ... but they wouldn't reap the economic benefit of CDs. That's a market decision, not censorship; there is no "right" to have a label record someone for commercial benefit.

Otherwise, I'd make you all listen to my version of "Margaritaville".

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Comments (22)

Posted by unclebenjamin [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 23, 2007 10:56 PM

It is encouraging. Real change can only come from within and this is definitely a step in the right direction. That said, wouldn't it be nice if there was no need for a "clean version"?

Posted by richard mcenroe [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 23, 2007 10:59 PM

So, it's gonna be what, instrumentals now...?

Posted by Carol_Herman [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 23, 2007 11:13 PM

Rap is cleaning up its act?

What are they doing, borrowing the rag from Nancy Pelosi? The 100 days are up and over. Nothing's changed much in congress.

And, her rag is as clean as the day she started driving the speaker's chair through the donk's showroom window.

And, Don Imus had people out there who are called "llisteners." You might not like his show. I certainly DON'T turn on any radio! Except for Drudge. On Sunday nites.

But, recently, people who know how to link to U-Tube. Which replays clips; did have these things blurbed loud enough, that I'm sure I followed a few.

That's where I learned that Imus looks like a guy who has a tracheotomy. And, some side kick; like Clem Ka-diddle-hoffer; sans teeth. Who said nasty things. "Lilke claiming some woman caller was fat." Well, he wasn't handsome! So where did he come off, exactly?

Still. It's a free counry. And, I think we enhance our freedoms when we can point to vocal stuff we absolutely HATE; while we understand the marketplace is free.

And, for radio announcers? Since more men have the ambitions to become one. And, DON'T ... is to notice that Don Imus had a show with RATINGS.

I'd bet Imus has l larger audience than Larry King.

What makes one good, and the other, not?

If you count audiences by counting the fact that people are tuning in, I think its outrageous hooey for the racial pimps to get credit for taking Imus off the air. And, I think, in particular, that Les Moonves is an IDIOT! They pay him money for decisions like that? Some people are just born "lucky."

Hope, someday, Imus comes tearing back. And, those that don't earn their bucks off the microphone; but pull in "executive paychecks" just the same; get to "eat it." That's better than anything you can rap.

Rap was considered a music genre, huh?

My dad thought the music in the 1950's was terrible. I have no idea what he would make of the current sounds. He'd probably just call the police, to report a crime in progress. Obviously all that shouting and yelling must be because you're being tortured by a gunman. Or somebody with a whip.

Music, it ain't.

We've sure lost the reality of dictionary definitions, now that PC is upon us? That, too, is a disgrace.

Posted by Anondson [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 23, 2007 11:30 PM

This is a good step, not even remotely close to getting half way where we need to be as a society.

Watching Russel Simmons on Oprah last week defend hip hop was something else. He was clearly on the hot seat, in an audience full of hostile women. His defense that hip hop artists are today's poets speaking about the tragedy of their life, speaking about the poverty and oppression of their upbringing.

You could see the audience of Oprah's weren't buying it completely. I mean watch any of the videos that demean women and you can see that it isn't poverty being shown, it isn't oppression being shown... except oppression of women.

That's why Russ Simmons' statement doesn't go halfway to where it hip hop needs to go. It doesn't address the mysogyny in the soft-porn videos, only the lyrics.

Posted by Shivv [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 23, 2007 11:36 PM

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it would seem to be a step in the right direction. If Imus lost his job for uttering the phrase "nappy-headed hos" then I do think rappers and other artists should be held to that same standard.

On the other hand, editing this kind of language out on the radio is next to useless. The vast majority of people who listen to music will simply buy the uncensored CD or download the song (legally or illegally). It also seems like an attempt to placate people who have a legitimate complaint regarding the content of rap music. Rather than confronting the hip-hop culture and the ills that it brings to some communities, Simmons is merely suggesting standardization for a system already in place.

Then again, I don't think Imus should have lost his job, and I don't much care what rappers say in their "songs." I'm not part of the hip-hop culture, and I generally don't associate with those who are. If some African-Americans are happy to glorify a culture that values drug-dealing over an education and denigrates women, that's their business.

Posted by RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 1:15 AM

It's easy for Simmons to say, because most of his income comes from clothing, signature products, and investment now--not from producing rap albums. I doubt that this effort will spread very far, or that it's more than just public relations for Simmons and his companies.

Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 1:43 AM

Simmons: "Our discussions are about the corporate social responsibility of the industry to voluntarily show respect to African-Americans and other people of color, African-American women and to all women in lyrics and images."

After drawing the appropriate Venn Diagram, these words leave at least one category open where Simmons will allow a lack of social responsibility.

Posted by Rose [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 2:38 AM

It has been great to watch Sean Hannity rake Al Sharpton over the coals for Sharpton's hypocrisy, on this issue.

I don't think Sean has even mentioned the riots Shaprton incited which led to the murder of a small business owner in a black neighborhood, and his shop being looted and burned down over him - for which Sharpton was convicted and ordered to pay the family restitution.

The last time Sharpton was asked, he had NOT paid the restitution, and was NOT suffering financial problems, either.

Posted by Rose [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 2:48 AM

After drawing the appropriate Venn Diagram, these words leave at least one category open where Simmons will allow a lack of social responsibility.

Posted by: unclesmrgol

******************************

Stretching to make them respect Christians and the American traditions of home and family is asking a lot of them.

Posted by LunenburgLibertarian [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 4:35 AM

Is it possible to "get rap to clean up its act"? I have my doubts. Rap is poverty of the mind and a ghetto for the soul.

Posted by docjim505 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 5:28 AM

Sigh...

Like Shiw, I have mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I really dislike rap music. I mean, I REALLY dislike it. It is ugly, monotonous, and gives me a headache (especially at 1:00am when that's all the other guys in the lab want to hear on the radio). Rap "musicians" seem to most of them be despicable hoodlums who die pretty regularly from each others' bullets. In my opinion, it is almost as unwholesome for our society as pornography.

But...

Perhaps I've been brainwashed by years of political correctness in society or I'm simply developing a greater fondness for libertarianism, but I don't think that we ought to be "censoring" rap or much of anything else. Yes, it is ugly. Yes, it is violent. Yes, it insults and degrades women (and white people, and police officers, and just about everybody else). The same could be said for other, more "respectable" forms of art and expression. I'm sure we can all think of some piece of art, music, movie, TV show, novel, etc. that we find outrageous and disgusting though other people say that it is "edgy" or "daring" or that "it makes an important statement".

My feeling, therefore, is that if you find rap to be outrageous, don't listen to it, and keep a close eye (and ear) on what your kids are listening to.

As for Smilin' Al and Pimp Daddy J... They are self-appointed leaders in black society. Bill Cosby tried to point out how self-destructive parts of that society are, and rap is only part of the problem; he was pilloried for his pains. The Justice Brothers (h/t: Rush) would do better by encouraging the people they purport to lead rather than simply treating one symptom of a serious disease.

Posted by Terry Gain [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 6:12 AM

RAP-really annoying patter. Cleaning up the language is only half the battle. Could someone please convince these poets to replace that noise with music.

Posted by Chris Hunt [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 6:49 AM

God, I still feel pain
I wish I had some cocaine
But that's been gone since early this morn

Posted by Mr Lynn [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 7:12 AM

There is a market for salacious, vulgar, obscene material. The record labels, TV, and movies have been catering to it for two or three decades. To get rid of it will require industry executives to look away from the profits it brings and refuse to publish it.

It can happen, though it may take a new generation of executives to make it happen, a generation less innured to the barrage of vulgarity that passes for popular culture today. I doubt if the current generation has the courage to say "No, we're not putting that out," not with the dollar signs flashing.

Back in the day, movies were sanitized by the Hayes Office, and you couldn't even show a couple in the same bed. That was probably too restrictive, but the reaction today, from films filled with gutter-speak, fornication, and senseless violence to 'gangsta' rap doggeral, has gone way too far in the other direction. We are coarsening our society, and our youth.

There has to be a middle ground between vicious vulgarity and prim mannerism. Ideally it should be enabled voluntarily by people who refuse to cater to the lowest, vilest, expressions that these so-called 'artists' produce. How? By not buying the stuff, and not letting your kids buy it, either. Kill the market, and the supply will dry up.

But it may take some legislation to start the process. Pornography is illegal in many jurisdictions, and obscenity is still prohibited on the public airwaves, at least in 'prime time' (a much-abused rule, by the way). It is not 'politically correct', among conservatives (who usually disdain any 'PC' restrictions) to advocate censorship, but Robert Bork did, and with some justification. If we want to stop the downward slide ("defining deviancy down," in the phrase of Sen. Moynihan's that Rush likes to quote), it may take something like a Hayes Office to put the stamp of disapproval on the 'art' of our day.

If the film, TV, and music industries don't create their own, it may take the government to prod them along.

/Mr Lynn

Posted by I R A Darth Aggie [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 7:42 AM

Otherwise, I'd make you all listen to my version of "Margaritaville".

OH. DEER. LORD. Don't make me come over there. I'd have to bust you down to Lt. jg. Then you'd have to rename the blog to "The LT's bunk". ;-)

Posted by Jim M [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 8:25 AM

Captain, are you sure that Simmons wants to have the record companies"stop using those words altogether, in recordings for sale as well as for airplay. "? Don't the first two paragraphs of the article say that he just wants the three words consistently banned from the clean, airplay version?

Posted by Angry Dumbo [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 9:14 AM

"When people like you and I complain about rap lyrics, it generates gales of laughter from the hip-hop culture. When Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson complain about it, rappers just throw more money at their organizations. When Russell Simmons says, "Enough!", people notice. Simmons has promoted and produced rap acts for longer than some of the artists have been alive, and his opinion counts."

Simmons is a promoter, this is a staged would-be Sister Souljah event produced by the DNC. Come on Captain.

Please compare and contrast Simmons proposal to shun "offensive" rap artists to the country music industry's treatment of the Dixie Chicks. Market forces, NOT. This is politics plain and simple.

Heck Tipper Gore and her PMRC tried to "clean up" rock lyrics back when I was a DJ in college. This stuff is politically based and never works.

http://www.noisebetweenstations.com/personal/essays/music_censorship.html


For goodness sakes, the Supreme Court precedent that pornography is protected First Amendment speech (Roth vs. U.S.) is over 50 years old.

Sorry Captain looks like you have been called on a snipe hunt.

The solution is the same as it has always been: better more active engaged parenting, not looking to the government (market forces - haha) to clean up our filthy culture.


Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 10:06 AM

Angry Dumbo,

The Dixie Chicks went gold with "shut up and sing", so the grammy they got didn't come in a vacuum. Of course, they were poised to go mainstream, so losing their country audience hurt them very little.

That said, what did you think of Sheryl Crow vs. Carl Rove?
According to Crow, she accosted Rove about global warming while he was seated at his table at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. Putting aside Crow's press credentials for the moment, here, in a nutshell, was the conversation:

Sheryl: I was born in the south
Sometimes I have a big mouth
When I see something that I don't like
I gotta say it

Rove: Well, you can say what you want
But you can't say it 'round here
'Cause they'll catch you and give you a whippin'
Well I believe I was right
When I said you were wrong
You didn't like the sound of that
Now did ya?

What does tough girl Crow do? Goes crying to the media, that's what, complaining about Rove's inhospitality.

Sheryl: I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Ever heard of a Wimp Magnolia?

Posted by trapeze [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 10:09 AM

"For goodness sakes, the Supreme Court precedent that pornography is protected First Amendment speech (Roth vs. U.S.) is over 50 years old. "

And your point is...what?

This isn't censorship, not even close. Get a grip...the rap industry has over-reached with its filth for years and this (along with Imus' termination) is the pendulum swinging the other way...or at least it will be if the pressure is kept on the perpetrators.

"Please compare and contrast Simmons proposal to shun "offensive" rap artists to the country music industry's treatment of the Dixie Chicks. Market forces, NOT. This is politics plain and simple. "

So how is this political (from the standpoint of government intervention)? Simmons isn't in office or running for office. This is a weak attempt at damage control. This is someone in the industry who sees a backlash coming and is trying (however weakly) to do something pre-emptive about it. And the "country music industry" had nothing to do with the treatment of the Dixie Chicks...no contracts cancelled...nothing. The DC's were shunned by the CW fans who were disgusted with their over-the-top opinions. CW radio stations merely reacted to their customers.

Posted by the_whiteotter [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 10:27 AM

I showed my 16 year-old daughter the video of Akon "Grinding the mess out of a 14-year old girl" on stage in Trinidad. (I wonder how his 3 wives back in Senegal felt about that?) Akon was one of her favourites. She has now destroyed everything she owned that he had any part in and she's re-evaluating other "artists" as well. We were shopping for clothes and in one store a song by him came on. She put down the clothes she'd picked up and we left without buying anything. If more people would vote with their wallet, we wouldn't be subjected to this crap.

What also bothers me is that you hear the clean version on the radio, then the kids buy the CD and they get this garbage. CRAP - the C is silent...

On the other hand, what do I know? I'm a pasty white guy who "don't unnastand hip-hop culture".

Well thank God for that.

Posted by conservative democrat [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 24, 2007 9:16 PM

Trapeze, a corporation that owns 400 country music radio stations in the US, put out a memo that said not to play the Chicks. Thats called censorship, plain and simple. And looking back at what they said, they were spot on!

Posted by viking01 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 10:21 AM

I wouldn't call what Trapeze did to the Ditzy Hicks censorship. In a free market what they did is preserve their station's image by choosing what doesn't make it into the play list to maintain their listener base. People can still buy Ditzy Hicks CDs, attend their concerts, or listen to their whinings on other stations.

No different from keeping "Disco Duck" off a serious oldies station or saccharine Kenny G off a serious jazz station, or Rosie O'Donut off of one of WF Buckley's refined debate programs, or keeping shills Dan Rather, Tim Russert or Katie Couric off a credible news station. Nor would one choose Hillary brown-noser and tired comic David Letterman to deliver a emergency Civil Defense bulletin. People would be checking their calendars to see if it was April First. It's more a move by Trapeze and other stations or networks to preserve station integrity and to respect the views of the listening audience.

Then at the antipodal opposite there's rap music which insults everything, blames the cops, blames civilized society, then encourages, shall we say, Zimbabwean or Naginesque behavior. There are radio and cable stations which make their loot peddling the shopworn, profane inner city blame-game, stick it to the man claptrap called rap. The Heidi Fleiss equivalent of broadcasting.

"Wasting away in Raymond Naginville...
Searching for my long lost pipe full of crack...