u.s. commerce, trade and consumer protection sub-committee hearing on rap/hip hop
Will effort to mix Congress, culture jibe?
More than five months after CBS Radio and cable's MSNBC pink-slipped morning mouth Don Imus for his racial slur of the Rutgers women's basketball team, the fallout continues.
MSNBC this week got around to its long-expected appointment of Joe Scarborough as its full-time replacement for Imus, whose remarks ignited a debate on language and the depiction of African-American women.
And it was that debate U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) finally brought to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, convening a daylong hearing, "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degrading Images."
To take on "the issue of violence, hate and degradation that has reduced too many of our youngsters to automatons," was a bit of a tightrope walk. TV and radio are the province of the House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee. But, as chairman of the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, Rush found jurisdiction in sales and transport of music, videos and games.
"This is a very serious issue that's not on most of the Congress' radar screen," Rush said. "We're never going to be called over to vote on this issue."
Rush maintained he wasn't anti-hip-hop. But, he asked: "How do we effectively, as a society, intervene with this powerful, powerful psychological point of view that creates a demeaning point of view ... of our women? Imus [did] that, as far as I'm concerned and a lot of artists [do] that."
One of those artists, Master P, the former gangsta rapper whose given name is Percy Miller, offered an apology to all women for his past output.
But rapper and producer David Banner, born Levell Crump, stood firm, saying his work reflected societal ills and was neither cause nor accelerant.
"Change the situation in my neighborhood and maybe I'll get better," he said. "If by some stroke of the pen hip-hop was silenced, the issues would still be present in our communities. Drugs, violence, sexism and the criminal element were around long before hip-hop existed."
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who is chair of the Telecommunications Subcommittee, ripped into Viacom's BET for "questionable programming" in a play for the lowest common denominator. But Philippe Dauman, Viacom's president and chief executive, said his company is always trying to "speak authentically" to its viewers, whether on BET, MTV or Comedy Central.
"These are complex issues that are raised here," Dauman said. "These are societal issues. Certainly there's a role in media that both impacts and reflects what takes place. You can legislate things like gun control or other issues that affect our youth today and we certainly air a lot of those issues."
Alfred Liggins III, chief executive of Radio One Inc., a sizable media concern that primarily serves African-Americans, said consumer markets tend to regulate themselves.
"Hip-hop sales are significantly tailing off, and I can tell from an organization that actually plays this music, is immersed in it, that the tastes of the community are sort waning on the current state of hip-hop," he said. "That's not something we're causing. That's something that the consumer is actually causing and getting tired of and it's showing."
Liggins hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that efforts by Congress or anyone else to police language and depictions in the media will always trail the ability of enterprising youngsters to circumvent it.
"If you actually want to police the impact that these images have on kids, you should probably start thinking about curriculums in public schools ... analyzing and dissecting pop culture entities and phenomena," Liggins said. "Explain the difference between Britney Spears' activities as we currently see them and a normal activity, or a rap song that has something in it that might be misogynistic or violent ... and what a normal behavior might be."
You can silence Imus, but there are a lot of Imuses out there.
Hearing Focuses on Language and Violence in Rap Music
New York Times
WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 - What a difference a week makes.
Last week, the purveyors of rap music cheered as new CDs from Kanye West and 50 Cent burst onto the top of the Billboard chart. But on Tuesday, rap artists and entertainment executives found themselves fending off Congressional criticism that they exploit violence and sexism for profit.
In a hearing convened by Representative Bobby L. Rush, Democrat of Illinois, lawmakers asked music industry executives about their companies' role in the production of explicit rap, at one point inviting them to read aloud from 50 Cent's lyrics. The lawmakers also asked whether marketers were doing enough to shield young listeners from graphic content.
"This hearing is not anti-hip-hop," said Mr. Rush, a former Black Panther who several years ago fought a challenge from a then little-known Barack Obama to hold on to his House seat. Still, he said, violence and degradation have "reduced too many of our youngsters to automatons, those who don't recognize life, those who don't value life."
Mr. Rush, echoing comments of others on the panel, praised freedom of expression but asked the chief executives of two music companies whether they would consider a ban on certain words considered derogatory.
"We don't think that banning expression is an appropriate approach," said Edgar Bronfman Jr., chairman of the Warner Music Group. Tasteless language, he added, "is in the eye of the beholder."
Under questioning, Mr. Bronfman and Doug Morris, chairman of the Universal Music Group, stood by the industry's existing method of handling explicit content, including the voluntary labeling of graphic CDs with parental-advisory stickers. Though they defended the industry's practices, Mr. Bronfman and Mr. Morris lamented that efforts to restrict young listeners' access to explicit music had become futile amid the proliferation of copyrighted songs and videos online.
The hearing, before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, reflected the continuing debate that has swept the rap world since CBS fired Don Imus, the radio host, for making derogatory comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Mr. Imus's ouster prompted discussions about performers' use of misogynous or violent language in songs and music videos.
All of that culminated in the hearing on Tuesday. It touched just lightly on the Imus case, in which a white radio host insulted black women. Instead, the spotlight fell on a panel of white executives defending music principally recorded by black men, and in some instances considered offensive to women. The focus was not only on record labels. Also questioned were executives from Viacom, the parent of MTV and BET; Radio One; and the video-game maker Take-Two Interactive Software.
At least one performer at the hearing told lawmakers that rap music had been unfairly singled out as a scapegoat for deeper social problems. "Gang violence was here before rap music," said David Banner, a rapper who records for Universal Music and whose real name is Levell Crump. "I can admit that there are some problems in hip-hop, but it is only a reflection of what is taking place in our society. Hip-hop is sick because America is sick."
A different note was sounded by Master P, previously a dominant force in rap, who has recently struggled to find a hit. Master P, whose real name is Percy Miller, said rap artists needed to consider how fans might be affected by their music. While societal woes contribute to violence and other problems, he said, "we are inflaming this problem by not being responsible." He said he had devoted himself to producing cleaner music with positive messages.
Mr. Miller also apologized to "all the women out there," and added, "I was honestly wrong."
Music industry defends hip-hop - "just a song"
WASHINGTON (Hollywood Reporter) - Rap musicians and top record label executives defended the hip-hop business Tuesday, telling lawmakers it is wrong to single out the genre for congressional reprobation.
Lavell Crump, who goes by the name David Banner, told the House consumer protection subcommittee that picking on rap unfairly singles out the black community.
"When it comes down to it, it's just a song," Crump said. "Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor of California, but in his movies he killed half of Cambodia and he went to Mars and blew up Mars . . . but that's OK because he's a white man and he's an actor."
Crump and Percy Miller, a.k.a. Master P, told lawmakers during a hearing on the impact of media on American culture that songs with lyrics about death, sex and substance abuse are nothing new.
"Hip-hop is sick because America is sick," Crump said.
Miller comes from a different perspective, having sworn off the use of offensive words and other depictions because he says they do little to further society. He told the panel that he had an epiphany when he turned down his own music when his kids were in the car so they couldn't hear the words.
"This whole thing is about growing up," he told lawmakers.
They might talk about art and how they reflect the pent-up rage in the black community, but "most guys are in it for the money," Miller said.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., made it clear that he didn't have plans to push a legislative solution, but he did expect some action on the part of the artists and the industry.
Record industry executives refused a push by some lawmakers to ban the most offensive words.
"I don't think you can improve anything if you ban three words," Universal Music Group chairman and CEO Doug Morris said. "'The Bitch Is Back' by Elton John, you're not going to ban that song, but I do think we'll take this back with us and deal with it in a proper manner."
Warner Music Group chairman and CEO Edgar Bronfman made the same point when he backed up rapper Common's lyrics but pointed out that the CDs are stickered with a warning.
"The language you find offensive here is not offensive to everyone," he said in answer to questions by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.
Congress addresses hip-hop lyrics