Rappers Master P. and David Banner appeared on Capitol Hill today (September 25) to testify before members of Congress, who conducted hearings with the top entertainment executives about lyrics in Hip-Hop music.
The hearings, titled "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degrading Images," kicked off at 10:00 am in the Rayburn House Office Building.
The hearings were called by Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), a former Black Panther Party member who chairs the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection.
Rep. Rush held the hearings with industry executives, the rappers, and several scholars, who discussed the impact of racist and sexist language "transmitted via interstate commerce and telecommunications modes."
The first panel to testify before congress included Edgar Bronfman Jr. (Warner Music Group), Doug Morris (Universal Music Group), Alfred C. Liggins III (CEO, Radio One), Philippe Dauman (CEO, Viacom) and Strauss Zelnick (CEO, Take Two Interactive).
"In our standards and practices, we do in fact ban those words," Philippe Dauman, CEO of Viacom testified. "When we have music videos submitted to us, if they contain those words, we will not air them across any of our platforms, unless they're edited."
Viacom's holdings include MTV, BET, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and others.
Edgar Bronfman, CEO of Warner Music Group, said that his company did and would not censor artists.
"We at Warner are creators of content," Bronfman testified. "We don't feel that banning expression is an appropriate approach. No content goes out of Warner music that does not have a sticker to warn parents of explicit lyrics. Hateful language is in the eye of the beholder and it is important that it be contextualized."
Morris of Universal Music Group, echoed Bronfman's sentiment.
"I would never ban any of the words," Morris testified. "What I think bothers everyone on this committee is the feeling that standards in the companies have deteriorated. I don't think you can improve anything by banning three words undefined from the industry."
The Internet has wrestled much of the control over content from each of the record labels, testified Alfred Liggins, CEO of Radio One, a point that was noted several times by congressional members several times during the hearings.
"I find it ironic that my colleagues run companies that have practices and reviews, but we live in a world where people can access any content," Dauman testified. "There's no way to control all content whether we find it objectionable or not."
Bronfman also noted the power of the Internet, the ability to view files on new devices and pleaded with the committee to help stop the spread of piracy instead of censoring lyrics.
"Ninety percent of the music we release has nothing to do with rap music," said Morris, CEO of Universal Music Group, which recently released blockbuster albums by Kanye West and 50 Cent. "What I am angry about is the fact that the music business is being destroyed by criminal behavior and no one is addressing that. Our business is being destroyed by criminals. If you put on LimeWire, all of our songs are taken for free. Tower Records, hundreds of record stores, are closing down."
There is nothing to stop artists from going to directly to the Internet and releasing their music, each one of the executives agreed, but committee members reminded each executive that the Internet was not the subject of the hearings.
"The images I see here are only a slice of life in the hood. I live in the hood. Where are the working class people represented?" Rep. Rush said to applause.
The second panel of the day included Hip-Hop mogul Master P., rapper David Banner and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, who offered very different points of view.
Rush thanked each of the artists for coming to the hearings voluntarily, and praised each for their participation in the hearings.
"I'm from Jackson Mississippi, one of the most violent cities in the world," David Banner testified. "Rap music is what kept me out of trouble. Statistics will never show the positive side of rap. Rap music has changed me and the lives of everyone around me."
Banner, who eloquently read from a prepared speech, cited Mark Twain's literary classic Huckleberry Finn.
"They use the word nigger 215 times, but the book was not banned because of its artistic value. But Hip-Hop is held to different values."
"I'm not here to bash Hip-Hop," Master P said. "My goal is to preserve Hip-Hop. It's a part of problem in society and we are inflaming the problem. I was once part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution. The reason we have such a problem is because nobody wants to take responsibility. I been on both sides, the business side and the artist side. Even the executives are not the problem. We have to form some sort of union where we have control. We start getting with our kids and figure out how we can prepare our kids. We are preparing them to lose, that's why we have so many angry artists. They don't know about finances or taxes. I want to challenge the executives to put up facilities so we can teach these kids more than music. We are focusing on just the artists, but have to get behind the scenes."
When committee member Illinois committee member Jan Schakowsky turned the subject to women, Dr. Dyson described Hip-Hop's depiction of women as "lamentable" but stated that misogyny did not begin with Hip-Hop music.
"It didn't start with Snoop Dogg. America is built on degraded images perpetuated against black men and women who built the country," Dr. Dyson testified. "Am I offended by certain [things said] in Hip-Hop communities? Yes. But I don't begin with them. I wouldn't quarantine the crazy to Hip-Hop. The country cannot come to the aide of Banner (Mississippi) and Master P (Louisiana) after Hurricane Katrina, but now they want to indict them for the way they express themselves. The virtue of Hip-Hop is that you don't have to guess. There are ways in which polite society enforces the same values. We have a powerful manifestation of it, but we have avoided how these sentiments are expressed in society."
Representative Rush calmed the growing tensions in the room by reminding the artists that Hip-Hop was not under fire, nor being indicted.
"I am proud of the Hip-Hop genre," Representative Rush said. "I know where it began and what it has become. It has created opportunities for young African American men and women to emerge from the depths of the ghetto to become icons in the corporate world. It has created thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of jobs for people. I find that it is an art form. However, given all that, I know that there is a problem, a deep seeded, deep rooted problem that exists in our community. But a pay check is not an excuse for being a part of that problem. You have to emerge as us of do, and did."
Texas committee member Charles A. Gonzalez noted a difference of opinion between Master P and David Banner's body language and told them both they were avoiding the issue.
Both artists admitted that when they changed the focus of their lyrics, public consumption of their records dropped, resulting in a memorable chastising of Banner and Master P by Gonzalez
Massachusetts committee member Edward J. Markey asked Banner how he could work to have a positive message.
"All they hear is your music. What can you do? In your music to get out the positive message," Markey asked. "Is your music consistent with the message you send out? Every time one of your videos play. What can you do in your videos and music to help and propel this message?"
"I view my music as a Bible with a Playboy cover on it," Banner said. "Instead of listening to the curse words, please don't hear just that, hear that we are crying to help."
Master P., stated that Banner needed to separate his personal life from his public persona as the rapper "David Banner."
"Education and knowledge are two different things," Master P. stated, a point he noted throughout the day. "We have to glorify the positive things in Hip-Hop and the kids are going to want to change. Everyone is in panic mode. I want to take David Banner, and our kids out of panic mode. These guys are not going to sacrifice their jobs, unless we teach the some financial literacy. I am just saying take out some of the negative stuff they won't play on the TV and radio anyway. When those guys left they were on the same page, but we are at each others throats."
Representative Rush concluded the panel by thanking the rappers and telling them they did an excellent service for their nation.