Hip Hop Supporters Now Recommending Censorship?

Billboard.com is reporting that Russell Simmons, the founder of the Def Jam Rap/Hip Hop label, is on the “Rap is ruining society” bandwagon officially. Simmons and others from the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network released a statement about their recommendations for record companies and broadcasters. In part, the statement said, “HSAN is concerned about the growing public outrage concerning the use of the words ‘bitch,’ ‘ho,’ and ‘nigger.’ We recommend that the recording and broadcast industries voluntarily remove/bleep/delete the misogynistic words ‘bitch’ and ‘ho’ and the racially offensive word ‘nigger.'”

The HSAN’s full statement is reprinted below the fold.

Though the word “voluntarily” is cleverly worked into the statement, do you think this is advocating censorship? Regardless, do you think it’s proper for a man who has made his fortune from Hip Hop, including the more “offensive” artists, to call for such action?

By targeting the companies they work for, the group avoids looking like they are trying to censor what artists are saying. Companies have the right to produce whatever they want and expect employees to behave by the standards they set. But with the prominence of independent labels in Hip Hop, and the rise of indies overall in the face of the restrictive major-label system, it seems like this is merely pushing the problem away from companies with stockholders to appease.

Indie labels could pick up the slack, signing artists who refuse to play by the new corporate rules (if they are instated), and then, given the hunger for that kind of music, they could become bigger than the majors. The music industry is not really like the film industry. There, to make a “proper” film, artists are more likely to need a bigger company behind them. With cheap, high-quality recording technology and the Internet, that need isn’t as apparent in music. There is a demand for “Gangsta” or thugged-out music, sans censorship; will majors be able to bite their lips and let someone else provide the supply, all in the name of “making society better”? Doesn’t sound like many corporations I know.

This all wreaks of the maligned PMRC campaign, headed up by Tipper Gore, in the ’80s.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry about what the PMRC was all about: “The PMRC claimed that popular music, especially rock music, was partially responsible for the contemporary increase in rape, teenage pregnancy, and teen suicide. The group’s mission was ‘to educate and inform parents’ about ‘the growing trend in music towards lyrics that are sexually explicit, excessively violent, or glorify the use of drugs and alcohol,’ and to seek the censorship and rating of music.”

Sound familiar? And what ever happened to PMRC?

— Mike Breen

Recommendation to the Recording and Broadcast Industries:
A Statement by Russell Simmons and Dr. Benjamin Chavis on behalf of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network

April 23, 2007

The theme of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN) is “Taking Back Responsibility.” We are consistent in our strong affirmation, defense, and protection of the First Amendment right of free speech and artistic expression. We have recently been involved in a process of dialogue with recording and broadcast industry executives about issues concerning corporate social responsibility.

It is important to re-emphasize that our internal discussions with industry leaders are not about censorship. 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.

HSAN reaffirms, therefore, that there should not be any government regulation or public policy that should ever violate the First Amendment. With freedom of expression, however, comes responsibility. With that said, HSAN is concerned about the growing public outrage concerning the use of the words “bitch,” “ho,” and “nigger.” We recommend that the recording and broadcast industries voluntarily remove/bleep/delete the misogynistic words “bitch” and “ho” and the racially offensive word “nigger.”

Going forward, these three words should be considered with the same objections to obscenity as “extreme curse words.” The words “bitch” and “ho” are utterly derogatory and disrespectful of the painful, hurtful, misogyny that, in particular, African American women have experienced in the United States as part of the history of oppression, inequality, and suffering of women. The word “nigger” is a racially derogatory term that disrespects the pain, suffering, history of racial oppression, and multiple forms of racism against African Americans and other people of color.

In addition, we recommend the formation of a music industry Coalition on Broadcast Standards, consisting of leading executives from music, radio and television industries. The Coalition would recommend guidelines for lyrical and visual standards within the industries.

We also recommend that the recording industry establish artist mentoring programs and forums to stimulate effective dialogue between artists, hip-hop fans, industry leaders and others to promote better understanding and positive change. HSAN will help to coordinate these forums.

These issues are complex, but require creative voluntary actions exemplifying good corporate social responsibility.

(from HSAN.org)

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3 Comments on “Hip Hop Supporters Now Recommending Censorship?”

  1. Evorgleb Says:

    Seems like Russell is feeling some pressure after appearing on Oprah. We’ve been talking about this over at Highbrid Nation. If you ask me though, artists should be able to say whatever they want. Its up to the retail outlets to not sell albums marked with parental advisory logos. Its up to the radio stations to not play music with such offensive lyrics. Trust me if everyone in between stops supporting the artists with those lyrics than the artist will likely change thier lyrics. Simple cause and effect.

  2. Kevin Britton Says:

    This is…interesting. So Dr. Frankenstein (Russell) creates a monster, makes millions off the monster, and now wants the monster he created to play nice. Besides, with all this bleeping, most rap songs would begin to sound like those Emergency Broadcast System tests you see from time to time on TV. Support SENSE, not CENSORSHIP!

  3. citybeat Says:

    Great comments Kevin and Evorgleb (thanks for the site link, that’s a cool page). While it would be great if people would stop listening to the ‘bad,’ ‘negative’ hip hop, I think it’s more a chicken or egg situation than cause and effect. Are the corporate labels filling a need, or are they the instigators?

    To me, whenever you get into the territory of telling people what they can and can’t say in art, you begin blazing down a slippery slope. To echo the old anti-PMRC mantra (and other anti-censorship screeds): Where does it stop and WHO decides what’s “offensive”? If it’s “the government,” our culture is in a lot of trouble.

    – breen


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