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BEWARE: The Lyric Police

Hip-Hop has a long history of controversial statements. Back in the late 80’s when it started to permeate the mainstream from time to time certain emcees and rappers would get called out for these statements. In those days N.W.A. was called out for “Fuck The Police”, Ice -T (technically his rock group Body Count) was called out for “Cop Killa” and gangsta rap’s overt violence and sexual imagery was called out by the likes of civil rights activist C.Delores Tucker.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s when Uncle Luke and 2 Live Crew were facing serious legal ramifications for performing their vulgar hits, we hip-hop fans hated censorship. We were young and rebellious. Our attitude was understandably contrary to those values which the mainstream of American society aspired to. After all this was the tail end of the Reagan/Bush I era and even though America “prospered” under Clinton the windfall was largely absent from our communities. The American Dream had left us behind.

[ALSO READ: Uncle Luke Questions Rick Ross’ Gangster; Tells Rick Ross “Squash Your Beef”]

There may have been an agenda with the press’s coverage of Hip-Hop as well. The majority of the 80’s were spent painting black teens as public enemy #1 and  Hip-Hop was the soundtrack of those black teens. Both sides of the political spectrum took their shots at hip-hop. From Dan Qualye to Tipper Gore chances are if a politician uttered the name of a rapper it was to condemn their lyrical content.

The main thing about those days though was that there was very little self policing. The hip-hop press (admittedly in it’s infancy) did not pass judgement on the contents of an emcee’s lyrics, it was judged by us merely on  its technical merits. Meaning an emcee could rap about murder, misogyny, and mayhem as long as he was “nice”.  Tupac Shakur had us all disrespecting C. Delores Tucker. Ironically many of us only knew her as the dingbat who had it in for Gangsta Rap. And even if we had known who she was in our eyes her movement had failed us. I mean who wouldn’t be bitter knowing that the civil rights era and the black power movements gave way to the Reagan Era. These were desperate times and hip-hop was the hood’s CNN. Where else were you going to hear about police brutality, poverty, and the crack and AIDS epidemics? So those faux American Dreams and Family Values were tossed to the wayside. Because our community knew better than any the hypocrisy of a nation of people who supposedly love freedom, equality and Christ enacting policies to lock us up, keep us down and take away from those that already had the least.

The only problem with throwing out those values is tossing the good away with the bad. So hip-hop was allowed to become a verbal skid row. I don’t begrudge any emcee their freedom of expression but for every “Ain’t No Fun” we had a “By The Time I Get To Arizona” for every 2 Live Crew there was a Boogie Down Productions. There was an attempt to elevate. But “gangsta rap” and other crime influenced tales became the standard archetype for the most successful rappers. This is where some hip-hop historians differ. Some say the dearth of positivity among today’s mainstream audience is a direct reflection of what the hip-hop audience demanded. Other says that the powers that be have no interest in promoting positive images to blacks. Either way today hip-hop has become monolithic in its disregard for people’s basic moral standards.

When criticism was lobbed at our favorite emcees however, it most likely came from an outsider. And we very rightly dismissed it. Rappers basically said whatever they wanted especially in a genre that encouraged the artists to give their music directly to the people via mixtapes. What right did some old suburban mother or some politician or some failed civil rights leader have to comment on the state of OUR music? It wasn’t for them it was for us. Treach from Naughty By Nature said it the best “If you ain’t ever been to the Ghetto, don’t ever come to the ghetto, cause you wouldn’t understand the ghetto….”.

Well it’s been about twenty years since that era and my have things changed. Hip-hop has become a billion dollar industry. In some ways although blacks in America are still not on equal footing, still fighting the good fight progress has been made. You know Black President and everything. And Today a lot of those rebellious teens that made hip-hop what it is today are raising teens of their own. And today when a hip-hop artist is called out for his lyric it’s more likely to be by a fan of hip-hop. Someone who supposedly understands the cultural significance of the music, the movement and the moment.

This has happened three times just in the past month and a half. Lil Wayne’s comparison of a groupie’s lady parts to the face of Civil Rights Martyr Emmet Till was met with disgust by the bloggerati. Ditto for Rick Ross’s flirtation with date rape on Rocko’s U.O.E.N.O. where he infamously attempts to use molly like its GHB. And the less said about the furor over Beyonce’s Bow Down Bitches (I know the song is called something else but you can google that if you really care).

When I see someone from within the culture taking that step towards naggy lyric policing it irks me. We are doing to these rappers and their fans what was done to us and that’s so very hypocritical. I’m not discussing the artistic merits of these rappers. But when a radio station says they are not going to play any song by Rick Ross or Lil Wayne I am truly sad for hip-hop. That radio station should comb through their playlists and remove every song from any artist whoever said anything violent, homophobic, or demeaning towards women. It should ban any artist that ever said the “n-word” or had the gall to suggest that getting an education wasn’t the best way to get riches. They should stop playing records from artists who advocate infidelity, dishonesty, crime or drug use. That would hardly be a hip-hop station, hell it wouldn’t be much of a country music station either.

Hip-hop is largely about identity. Rap fans identify with their favorite artists. So when you criticize said artists some can take it as a slap in the face. Let’s not do to these kids what was done to us. You start attacking their culture (yes it’s their culture too) and they withdraw from you. You have a generation of parents who listen to a lot of the same music as their kids. This might fool some kids into thinking you can understand their struggle. Take advantage of that.

Lil Wayne’s Emmet Till line sparked a discussion about who Emmett Till was and what he meant. We don’t have to reach that far for a silver lining because I imagine that most of Lil Wayne’s fans had no clue until they read about it from an outraged mommy blogger the next day. Rick Ross’s line sparked a discussion about the creepy rapey practice of drink spiking. So maybe the next girl in VIP thinks twice about putting down her champagne lest there be a molly in it and she don’t even know it. Back when hip-hop was no holds barred, when it was honest, when it was take it or leave it or kiss my ass which ever you prefer we wouldn’t expect any apologies. Which is good because you’re more likely to get Tupac doing a double middle finger salute and spitting at the camera than what you got from Rick Ross the other day. Ross went on the radio and really tried his best to be a class act. Numerous times he referred to the black woman as a beautiful queen and the most precious thing on Earth. He said the molly champagne lyric wasn’t advocating rape. I feel him. The line was creepy. But I knew it didn’t mean he thought rape was cool. But what Ross has to understand is that those condemning him are the lyric police. And they won’t ever hear his apology. And even if they do it won’t convince them.

Today’s lyric police are confusing to me. I wonder if they’ll start picking out artists back catalogs and chastising them for the lyrics to some of THEIR favorite songs. Yeah but that probably won’t happen. Righteous indignation is usually a short term thing.

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