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”.