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Rappers Are In Danger For Real! Keeping Track of Attacks on Rap
(Written June 16, 2001)

KRS-One helped revive his career with the 1995 classic "Rappaz R N Danjah."  As prescient as the Blastmaster is, he probably had no idea that that title would be more relevant in 2001 than upon its original release.

As rap continues to build in its level of influence on global culture, so too have efforts to intimidate and target rappers increased in the last several years.  The historic cases of Ice-T and the 2 Live Crew were just the beginning of a battle that has been taken to the next level with the FCC fining Portland radio station KBOO for airing "Your Revolution," a pro-feminist piece by hip hop poet Sarah Jones.  The reason?  The song "offends community standards and is designed to shock."

The double standard about what constitutes offensive material notwithstanding (after all, much more graphic sentiments by Limp Bizkit, Eminem and Marilyn Manson are put into heavy rotation...but they're white guys on major labels while Jones is a black woman on an small, independent labe.  I guess membership, in both the literal and figurative sense, does have its priviliges.), the action taken in the aftermath of the $7000 fine should have all hip hop fans concerned.

Deena Barnwell, the person who played the song and fuctions as the station's urban music director as an unpaid volunteer, was suspended by KBOO.  The implied message being sent is: play anything consciously provocative and risk losing your job.

Is this part of a plan to keep socially conscious rap songs off the air?  Critics have long complained that artists like Spearhead, Dead Prez and Mos Def can't get air time while rap that depicts blacks in the lowest light is seemingly always on the air.  With the Jones incident, there may be more at work here than the commonly offered excuse that regressive rap "is what the people want to hear."

But that is not the only thinly veiled attack against rap.  The New York Police Department (NYPD) has now admitted to keeping tabs on rappers by monitoring their activities through the Gang Intelligence Unit.   Besides compiling reports of their whereabouts and license plates, files on rappers with criminal records and suspected criminal ties (suspected by whom?) are being generated and passed to all precints.  This surveillance program is widely considered to be the reason Jay-Z was arrested while leaving a New York club earlier this year.

The NYPD's claim that this program is to "protect rappers from the culture of violence" makes one want to bust out laughing, but they are serious.  Taking profiling to the next level, they've unofficially declared rap to be on the same level as organized crime, and must investigate it as such.

Finally, we have a little-known quote that was uttered during Russell Simmons' rap convention.  While everyone was praising the fact that rappers could gather to discuss issues other than whose ice shined the brightest, Congressman Bennie Thompson went on record saying that the rap industry needed to get a firmer grip on its artists because "Washington can regulate you out of business if you don't have your act together."

Thompson was not the only person offering unsolicited advice.  Earl Hilliard stated that the current labelling system that slaps cds with an advisory sticker is inadequate and "we need to go to the next level and go beyond that."

That "next level" is Joseph Lieberman's bill that would give the Federal Trade Commission authority to take legal action against labels accused of false advertising.  In this case, false advertising may be defined as releasing an edited song for video and radio play but putting an explicit version on the cd.  Since nearly all rappers need radio edits to give them exposure, this bill could be devastating if passed.

Taken altogether, these moves all point to a continued fear about rap's potential as an organizing force for social change.  After all, the issues that plague much of the black community -- police brutality, inadequate education, lack of economic opportunities -- are frequent topics of rap songs.  With youth around the world lapping up rap albums as soon as they are released, especially white kids, it is not improbable to suggest that they may listen to what is said and beging to push for change.  That is what happened in the 60s with soul music.

But let history reflect that as much became a vehicle for conscious-raising in the 60s and 70s, the FBI and CIA took active roles in collecting information on artists ranging from Jimi Hendrix to James Brown and Bob Marley.   It is common knowledge now that federal agents infiltrated the ranks of Bad Boy and Death Row a few years ago.  Who is to say it isn't happening over at Def Jam, Rawkus and No Limit?

People need to realize that the rap game is no joke and like De La said, the stakes is high.  Those involved with rap on any level - promoters, artists, journalists, program directors - have to accept responsibility for their actions.  There are many forces plotting their demise, and only through better leadership and heightened awareness to the political landscape will artists be able to avoid the pitfalls being set up for them. 

Copyright 2001 Anthony Lamar Rucker.   All rights reserved.

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