Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons said Monday that the recording and broadcast industries should consistently ban three racial and sexist epithets from all so-called clean versions of rap songs and the airwaves.
Currently such epithets are banned from most clean versions, but record companies sometimes "arbitrarily" decide which offensive words to exclude and there is no uniform standard for deleting such words, Simmons said.<b1>
The recommendations drew a mixed reaction and come two weeks after some began complaining anew about rap lyrics after radio personality Don Imus was fired by CBS Radio and NBC for referring to the players on USA's Rutgers university women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos." 'Nappy' is a derogatory reference to the hair of some black people, and "ho" is slang for "whore."
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 on 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."
Last week, Simmons called a private meeting of influential music industry executives to discuss the issue. However, no music executives were associated with Monday's announcement by Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. Calls to Sony Music, Universal Music Group and Atlantic Records were not returned. The Recording Industry Association of America and Warner Music Group declined to comment.
<b2>Reaction to the announcement was mixed.
Bakari Kitwana, who has written about rap in books such as Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop, said it was a step in the right direction. Kitwana said there needed to be uniformity in removing obscenities from music. He pointed out that in some songs curse words are replaced with clean words while, in others, epithets and curse words are merely covered up by silence, allowing listeners to still infer from context the edited words.
"It shows that people in the industry are realizing that the pendulum is swinging and that there's a national conversation that they don't want to be on the wrong side of," Kitwana said of the recommendations. "This is further along than we could have expected them to go 10 years ago. But there has to be more. I think they can do more around the question of content."
Writer Joan Morgan said the announcement amounted to "absolutely nothing." She called the recommendations "short-sighted at best and disingenuous at worst." It was, she said, an "anaemic, insufficient response" that failed to address homophobia and other issues in certain strains of hip-hop culture and rap music. <b3>
Morgan, author of When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down, said calling for the removal of the three epithets assumes "all of the violence, misogyny and sexism in hip-hop is only expressed in" those words. "It's says let's take the responsibility away from people creating the content and put it back on the corporations," said Morgan.
The recommendations also included forums to foster dialogue among entertainers, hip-hop fans and executives and the creation of a mentoring program for entertainers. Another recommendation called for the establishment of a coalition of music, radio and television executives to advise those industries on "lyrical and visual standards."
The announcement cautioned against violating free-speech rights but said that freedom of expression comes with responsibility. "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," read a joint statement from Simmons and Benjamin Chavis, the network's executive director.