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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.

  • BibatheDiva

    I think the reason these lyrics are getting so much attention is that as social media makes the world smaller, we can address an issue faster. 20 years ago, when we disagreed with something, there wasn’t a lot we could do. We could act in a big way, petition, protest, but the average person wasn’t going to do that, and I was a teenager. Now, I can tweet, I can blog, I can inspire others.
    Hip-Hop needs to police itself. The artform, culture, and consumers are getting older. As a mid-30’s mother, some stuff just doesn’t sit well with me anymore. The music is too sexual and too violent, and we honestly shouldn’t play sexual and violent music on the radio. I have an older child, my kid is 17, she is fully formed in her musical opinions and she listens to it all, but these lines, Ross and Wayne offend her.
    It’s time that we stand back and look at rap music and ask ourselves some hard questions. And we have to stop criticizing every one who demands that we do so. I love hip-hop, it’s been my heart, my music, my livelihood for a long time. I am entering grad school to study about it even more. But, it has hurt me, it scares me, and I believe it has changed and not for the better. I think a dialogue really needs to take place.

    • Q.

      I concur. We need to reclaim our own culture, and dissociate ourselves from the traitorous coons who continue to exacerbate our condition through the dissemination of mental poison to our children. We created this Hip-Hop culture to uplift and inspire, not for demonic entities to defile and masturbate themselves over. Although white supremacy is steadily coming to an end, nigg(er)s are revealing themselves to be Black people’s worst enemies.

    • Plus the music is trash, in a ziploc bag, on a record heat wave breaking, 110 in the shade, with the reflection of the sun bouncing off a mirror, directly on it…in other words : Hot Garbage

      RAP is not Hip Hop….more like $lave$hip Hop.
      It’s not Hip, up to date, or relevant, nor does it Hop or move, instead, it grows more and more stagnant.

  • Q.

    E. Knight,

    You made mostly valid points, though I think you’re confusing “naggy lyric policing” with Black outrage at the coons who have crossed the line of cultural disrespect, in the name of what… hot music? Like Wiliam said, “It’s deeper than rap.” People are fed up with the coonery and destructive messages in the music. It’s that simple. Enough is enough. They disrespect our ancestors and the Black woman to the point of suggesting rape? And they’r supposed to get a pass for “artistic merit?” WHERE THEY DO THAT AT?

    You said that back in the day, “for every “Ain’t No Fun” we had a “By The Time I Get To Arizona.”” The problem is now, for every ““By The Time I Get To Arizona.” we have 99 “Ain’t No Fun’s.” There had been a complete lack of balance in Hip-Hop music going on about 15 years already. At some point, it must STOP.

    Regardless of what the corporate-controlled radio does, conscious and conscientious people need to take a stand against these rap coons, and anyone else in our community who purports to represent us, yet whose actions reveal the complete opposite. I’m not opposed to boycotts, bans, or battles…anything is fair in war–and don’t be confused: this IS war. The list of enemy belligerents includes, but is not limited to: politicians, clergy, businessmen, entertainers, and athletes alike. Anybody can get it.

    • Basically …THIS!! ^^^^

    • box5

      Networth!!!! Yell™

  • paul blake

    Here we go again. Making excuses for the inexcusable. The man talked about putting drugs in a woman’s drink, bringing her home and having fun with her without her even knowing it. For the most part rappers don’t glorify drug selling or murder. They claim that’s what they had to do to survive in the hood. You don’t have to drug a woman into having sex to make it in the hood.

  • Damn E. Knight…you started out strong but started losin cabin pressure about 2/3 in…by the time it was said and done you crashed and burned what had the potential to be a brilliant piece. Now that I’m older, yes I do go thru the back catalogs of the artists I rocked with comin up…cuz I still play that shit faithfully, and I gotta make sure my 4 year old daughter don’t hear no shit she shouldn’t. And trust me I’ve had quite a few “Wtf was I thinkin?!” moments when I come across certain songs that in hindsight had little more to offer than shock value. I don’t get offended easy but it really irked ME that you had the gall to excuse Wayne comparin Emmitt Till to a woman’s coochie and makin light of his murder…or William, who goes out of his way to try and convince the world that everything he spits about is real, braggin about druggin and rapin someone. So just cuz HE says it wasn’t about rapin someone you’re just gonna drink the Kool-Aid huh? What was it about then if it wasn’t about that? See there’s one lil thing you forgot to mention when you talked about how things were back in the day…if Wayne or William had said those lines in the context they did but said it 20 years ago, the Hip-Hop community would’ve EXCOMMUNICATED their dumb asses, esp. Wayne cuz once upon a time the culture actually had a sense of history. Hell Ross’s ass woulda been gone the second the C.O. shit came out and he wouldn’t have even had a chance to say anything about druggin someone. I get the gist of the point you were tryin to make, but when it was all said and done you ended up comparin apples to oranges fam.

    • …This too! ^^

    • Mitchell Patterson

      Young guys really don’t know much about rap history I guess:

      Lookin through her window, now my body is warm
      She’s naked, and I’m a peepin tom
      Her body’s beautiful, so I’m thinkin rape
      Shouldn’t have had her curtains open, so that’s her fate
      Leavin out her house, grabbed the bitch by her mouth
      Drug her back in, slammed her down on the couch
      Whipped out my knife, said, “if you scream, I’m cuttin”
      Opened her legs and commenced the fuckin
      She begged me not to kill her, I gave her a rose
      Then slit her throat, and watched her shake till her eyes closed
      Had sex with the corpse before I left her
      And drew my name on the wall like helter skelter

      -Geto Boys “Mind of a Lunatic”

      • Context fam, context. I remember when this song came out (I ain’t as young as you think…LOL), and it was more than obvious even back then as a shorty that it was just a story bein told…hell we all know that horrorcore shit was Bushwick’s niche, so usin that verse as an example was actually a pretty big reach.. If William’s persona wasn’t all about tryin to convince the public that every word (lie) that comes out his mouth is authentic and he’s really about all that shit, he mighta got a pass under the “just entertainment” flag…but for whatever reason he refuses to fly that flag even though it’s the one most suited for him, he’d rather wear the “this is really me” jacket even though it’s ill-fittin like a mufukka and everyone knows it don’t belong to him. Plus the way he said it was in a braggin manner, he was PROUD to say that shit…hearin that line in that context makes one think he’s drugged a bitch at LEAST once in his life, or would gladly do so given the opportunity. BUT…that verse you posted IS a perfect example of a song you wouldn’t catch me playin much now that I’m grown, especially with havin a child…a daughter at that. And I get your point, Ross wasn’t the first to mention rape by a long shot…again though, context brotha…context.

  • I was just saying the other day, how C Delores Tucker went after Channel Live?, how she must be turning over in her grave, and how I never thought I would wish she were here with us, right now, on this scene, cleaning up Hip Hop.

    1) C. Delores Tucker >> 10 Officer Rickys + 10 Lil Weezys + 10 Chief Keefys

    The difference between Hip Hop then, and Rap or Slave$hip Hop now, your peers would check you before you competitors did.

    Fugg around & rap about raping in 1980’s?, in Bronx River Projects, home of The Mighty Zulu Nation, at a jam, and well, needless to say, the set would have been “interrupted.”

    “This is the difference between MC’ing & RAP. Rappers spit lines that are mostly illegal, MC’s spit rhymes to uplift their people. Peace, Love, Unity, Having Fun, these are the lyrics of KRS ONE!!!!!!”

  • Qui3t ✔️ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    People take this wayy too serious. Music is entertainment you people seem to forget that world is not real. Its all about selling a dream. People rape and kill in movies all the time. It is you responsibility to make sure children know the difference from fantasy and reality and to actually spend time with them instead of letting the tv and internet babysit them