Don't invest in foul-mouthed hip-hop, Sharpton tells the states

Al_lBack when the Rev. Al Sharpton (pictured) agitated for Don Imus to be punished for a long history of racist, misogynist language (of which "nappy-headed hos" was only the most recent), a lot of pundits (and PW commenters) scolded Sharpton for supposedly not applying the same criticism to hip-hop lyrics and the companies that profit from rap. Those scoldings were unjustified; Rev. Al has long been a critic of exactly that facet of the hip-hop industry. Today, that criticism continued with 20 rallies across the country, organized by Sharpton, in which he called for states to divest their pension funds from media conglomerates that release records on which rappers to use words like "n—-r," "b—h," "ho," and now, "nappy."

Now, I think it’s fair play to use the market against itself to influence media content — remember, what cost Imus his job was not Sharpton’s complaints but massive advertiser pullouts — but I think Rev. Al is going too far in urging state legislatures to get involved. When the government starts playing favorites with content, it starts trampling on the First Amendment.

addCredit(“Al Sharpton: Larry Busacca/”)

Two other cavils: First, Sharpton says, "Every record company haswhat they call a lyrics committee, where they screen lyrics to makesure they’re not against police, or gays, or Jews. Well, how comethey’re clearing lyrics against blacks and women?" Call me naive, but Iwonder: Is this true, that labels have lyrics committees whose task it is to excise slurs against cops, gays, and Jews? Second, Sharpton citesViacom, Vivendi, and (EW parent company) Time Warner as the topcorporate offenders. Um, Al, Time Warner doesn’t own a major label,much less one that releases hip-hop records. Neither does Viacom,though that company’s BET and MTV networks air rap videos. If you’regoing to single out the offenders, make sure you’re picking the rightcompanies.

It’s unfortunate that this sort of factual carelessness, coupledwith his own history of racially inflammatory statements, makes Rev. Ala less than credible spokesperson. Because who else is out there takingconcrete action on this issue? Who has come up with any better ideas onhow hip-hop (and popular music in general) can police itself? And ifso, what are those better ideas?


Comments (16 total) Add your comment
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  • Sally

    Rev. Al is a head scratcher. He just moved to Chicago to stir the pot up here, as if New York wasn’t big enough for him.
    No, the states should not be targeted – the record companys should be targeted. The pension companies should be targeted. Individual investors should be targeted. That’s like asking the U.S. Govt to divest itself of weapons because they kill. Aint going to happen.

  • Stephen

    I don’t like this guy. While I should support a lot of his views, it just seems he never met a camera he didn’t like.

  • Stephen

    Also, my vote goes for rapper Common to do the task. He’s like Kanye West without the ego. I loved this guy after he was on Oprah, and seems like a genuinely good-hearted man in interviews.

  • baby G

    “Every record company has what they call a lyrics committee, where they screen lyrics to make sure they’re not against police, or gays, or Jews….”
    WTF, excuse me?? Since when? He and Jesse Jackson are the biggest fakes, the biggest phonies. They seem to think they’re the official spokesperson for black people, yet the only time they address the community is if they can get press for it. Like when that stripper lied and said those Duke players raped her. Even after Jesse Jackson found out she was a liar he went on TV and said he was going to help her so she doesn’t have to be a stripper and even if those rich white boys didn’t actually rape her, he said he would have to question the character of them for hiring a stripper and that would make them likely to assault a woman. And regardless of what Imus said or who it offended, he apologized and he doesn’t have to answer to Sharpton or anyone else. I’d tell him, Jackson, and Gloria Allred to go F themselves.

  • Matthew

    That statement about taking out lyrics that are against police, Jews, and Gays is totally bs. Already at least ten songs that’ve come out in recent years come to mind that are against police and gays. Maybe not Jews, but you still get the point.

  • Matthew

    Also, my vote goes for rapper Common to do the task.
    I AGREE!! Yeah Stephen I totally agree with that. He’s modest unlike some other certain rappers. Plus he also seems pretty nice.
    Plus I love “Drivin’ Me Wild.” :]

  • mike

    Rev. Al’s “causes” always seem to equal air time for him. It would be better if he had one job to do somewhere than lighting fires.
    By the way, did he ever apologize to the Duke Lacross players for the damaging things he said about them?

  • Stephanie Travitsky

    Common should definitely be the one to express this, though I would like to add that KRS One expressed this view a while ago. The bottom line is that when I was a teen, rappers like Miss Melody, Chubb Rock, and MC Lyte never cursed in their rap songs because there was no need to. Unless there is a certain reason why a curse should be used, a curse should not be used. Not that it is degrating it is just pointless to curse. I don’t see the artistic value in it. Also calling someone a disgusting name like ho and n-ga(er) is also pointless unless the artist is pointing out why it is pointless and wrong. Queen Latifah discussed this problem in her rap “U.N.I.T.Y”. I am not saying that rap should be what MC Hammer put out with the glitz and the baggy pants, but rap should have some depth without the jagged rocks in between. Media hounds like Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton should not be the people who should fight for this cause.

  • Dio_K

    Living in the US with our form of democracy and capitalism can be frustrating. I don’t care for the hate or the targets of a lot of hip-hop or even heavy-metal lyrics. That said, it’s their right to say what they want; first ammendment and all. But it’s my right not to buy it or listen to it. A friend said I’m buring my head in the sand, but I don’t accuse him of cluelessness because he doesn’t listen to Rufus Wainwright. I believe artists are unsually imaginative people who should be free to say what they please. But I’m not the arts police so many people I consider to be hacks get to say whatever they please too.

  • Stephanie Travitsky

    I don’t think that it is about freedom of speech anymore, it is about the music industry making money off of unnesseccary uses of curse words (which by the way are in the dictionary) and expressions of violence. It is artistic if the artist is discussing a social problem.

  • junior

    What about country music (I don’t like the violence in “Before He Cheats,” ban it!) or rock music or emo… It won’t end until all music is Disneyfied and has no flavor anymore. While I guess many are prudes, I love cursing along to rap/rock songs and saying horrible things I would never say because A) it’s a song – a form of artistic expression, B) I don’t think or would do any of those things C) I treat people with respect. If we promote respect and community, it won’t matter what the lyrics are in songs, will it? Focus on what’s important.

  • Katy

    Call him an ambulance chaser, but at least Al Sharpton isn’t afraid to fight for what he believes in. The real problem is the consumer culture that supports music with this kind of content. Unfortunate that the dollar is the only thing that speaks, despite any other good intentions. Sharpton, too, knows this, and has made the same appeal to the people.

  • Stephen

    I’m an advocate for freedom of speech, but I don’t think anybody (blacks, jews, gays, everyone) should abuse that freedom and say something stupid and degrading. That turns us into a mean society.

  • Jen

    I generally don’t agree with Al Sharpton, but I do agree that misogynist and racist language in rap and hip-hop is damaging. However, he’s going about it in the completely wrong way. Instead of trying to get the government to effectively censor speech, he needs to get the rap/hip-hop community (artists AND fans) involved in cutting out the crap.

  • CJ Collier

    You know his actions wouldn’t ring so hollow if he didn’t take money from these companies or show up at their award shows.

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