Rap’s Big Time Out

Rap's Big Time Out

The question if rap music can be regulated after its industry, its fans and its musicians are green-lighted by major record labels and various corporate beneficiaries is a no-brainer; duh! Unfortunately, the solution to rap’s regulation is not cut and dry. In fact, there is no correct answer. Fortunately, there are a lot of unanswered questions that great minds within hip-hop culture can attempt to clear up.

Rap’s Big Time Out seeks the opinions of hip-hop scholars and musicians on three specific questions that take on the significant, interesting and news in the world of rap:

Q1: In April, Harlem rapper, Cam’Ron, is on 60 Minutes explaining the “no snitchin'” to police policy that he lives by and glamorizes to youths. What is your opinion on the “no snitchin'” message that rappers are glamorizing to youths?

Q2: Prior to Don Imus saying “nappy headed ho” on ABC and NBC radio, the public perception was that the media and the African-American community did not severely address offensive rap lyrics. Why did it take the comments of a white radio jockey to raise extensive concern by the media and the African-American community, towards offensive rap lyrics?

Q3: Recently, Russell Simmons appears on CNN and announces that “ho,” “bitch” and “nigger” are “extreme curse words” and wants to ban the words on clean versions of rap on radio and television. In your opinion, what effect will this possible change have on rappers and their message to youths?


Paul Wall

Paul Wall is a rapper from Houston that recently released his sophomore album, Get Money, Stay True, in April. Wall’s successes extend past music as he owns and operates Grills By Paul Wall with his business partner and friend, Johnny Dang. In May, Wall’s music feature runs in Format and he discusses blood diamonds and his grills.

Format: Prior to Don Imus saying “nappy headed ho”…
Paul Wall: I think, because everyone had such a big problem with what he said and a lot of the media, it’s kind of their job, I guess, to be the watch guard over what’s going on, at the same time they question everything that is going on and that’s the media’s job, and that’s why we’re such a great nation that we are. The fact that he referred to some people that he don’t even know, a respectable basketball team, as hos, was bad. If he used the term hos, I don’t think there is nothing wrong with him using the word ho. If it’s a ho, then you call a ho a ho, if it’s not a ho you don’t call her a ho and I don’t think a basketball team are some hos, so he shouldn’t of called them some hos.

The biggest problem is when he referred to them as nappy headed hos, that’s when he made it racial and that’s not right, that’s not right at all. Sometimes it takes the strangest things to happen to make a change. I think it is bad what he did, but I think it’s producing a positive outcome, because it’s getting a lot of people involved. A lot of people are questioning what’s going on with the music, questioning what people are doing when they make their music and I think it’s a great thing, because even though it is a form a censorship, which isn’t always good, it’s providing limitations, but encouraging artists to get in and make positive changes to the music.

Format: Recently, Russell Simmons appeared on CNN…
Paul Wall: I’ve been hearing a lot of rumors about a lot of radio stations that have agreed to stop playing vulgar music, stop playing any music that they consider degrading to music and I’ve never made music that is degrading to women so it’s not going to effect me. But the part that does affect me, the sexually explicit content, because there are a few songs that I have that are sexual. For instance, there is a song on Get Money, Stay True called “That Fire” with me and Trina, actually, that song is inspired by my wife – she used to always joke around with me about how she had that fire whenever we would get in the bedroom. It’s very vulgar, it’s not degrading, at all, but it is very vulgar and graphic in terms of the sexual content that’s in it, but it is about my wife. At the same time, there is a song we were thinking about running with as a single, but now the radio have agreed to not play any sexual content, in terms of music, it makes us go back to the drawing board. It does affect me in some ways, but at the same time, when you make music you just want to make music, at least I do.

When I make music I just want to go in there and make music, whatever I’m feeling I want to get off my chest. Whatever track that a producer made that inspires me to write, I want to write about whatever I’m inspired to write about. My music is always inspired by my lifestyle. A lot of times I think back to my grind or how it was five years ago when I would drive from Houston to St Louis and back in the same day, just to go get some money. That’s what inspires me to make my music and I don’t want to have any kind of deterrent that says I can make music, but as long as it’s not about this or that. When you start having limitations on what you can and can’t do it starts taking away from the artist. At the same time, there is a responsibility that people have as artists, as musicians to the community as a role model and leader to do things that don’t have a negative effect. It’s a double-edged sword, it goes both ways.


Fredro Starr

Fredro Starr is a founding member of Onyx, a `90s rap group that pioneered raw rap sounds from New York City. Starr has an successful acting career with roles in Clockers, Sunset Park and Save The Last Dance. Starr has appeared on several television shows that include Law & Order, The Wire and NYPD Blue.

Format: In April, Harlem rapper, Cam’Ron, is on 60 Minutes…
Fredro Starr: My opinion on no snitchin’ is that I think Cam’Ron had a valid point that he made. I think, to some extent, he stretched it with living next door to a serial killer. A personal friend of mine, Jam Master Jay, he was murdered in the streets and [the police] never found out who killed him. There were talks of this person and that person, but the code of the streets is not to snitch and to this day [the police] haven’t found his killer, and he was my friend. I see two points of the situation: no snitchin’ is what is instilled in us as a little kid. When you’re a little kid people say, ‘Don’t be a tattle tale.’ You get that no snitchin’ as a little kid when you’re growing up with a lot of brothers and sisters. You know how to hide things, that’s just the code of the streets, that’s how we grew up. It’s deeper than hip-hop, this comes down to living in the hood, living in the ghetto. I think Cam’Ron’s point is valid, but me living next to a serial killer, I wouldn’t snitch; I might kill the serial killer.

There is a fine line when you’re in the streets, as far as snitchin’. Some rappers snitch on records and that’s called dry snitchin’. 50 Cent had a song called “Ghetto Koran,” which is probably the ultimate reason why he got shot in the first fucking place. He, basically, told on a lot of people in South Jamaica Queens who were into illegal business, whether it was drugs or on trial for murder, allegedly. He said this stuff on the record, but he put in rap form. That was a form of dry snitchin’, the “Ghetto Koran,” that’s why they call 50 Cent a snitch, because he didn’t go to the cops and snitch on nobody, but he would say things. For example, my boy, Tata, he’s locked up with the Feds and, I don’t know if this is the right quote, but 50 Cent said, ‘If you don’t pay me/ I’ll kill you like Tata did Pee Wee/ you don’t believe me,’ some shit like that. That’s dry snitching, because 50 Cent is allocating by saying somebody killed somebody, which on the streets, you’re not supposed to say that. There are a lot of things that people call snitchin’.

Format: Prior to Don Imus saying “nappy headed ho”…
Fredro Starr: That’s common sense. If you go somewhere where there is a bunch of black people, a white person is not going to say, ‘Hey, what’s up nigger.’ That word and these words that kids grew up on, they’re wrong, but they’re ours. Once somebody that’s not of our race says the word inappropriately will, of course, stir some types of emotions when you talk about ours. I don’t think anybody in white America, who is white, would be offended by it, because they’re not of that culture. I think Imus stepped out of line of his culture of what he can say. I see Russell [Simmons] on TV with Oprah trying to take the words out of hip-hop, which is I’m not going to say is ridiculous, because slavery stopped and the word nigger might stop, but it’s going to take some time. I think it’s a smart move to eliminate those words from hip-hop and out of our culture.

Rappers are the ones projection the words out to the masses, that’s where Don Imus probably hears it from. Rap messages are the voice of the ghetto. Rappers are the voice of the ghetto. If you hear someone saying, ‘I’m a P.I.M.P., I’m a pimp, I’m a player,’ and they hear that, not like they’re walking in South Jamaica Queens saying it, but they hear on a record, that’s the closes they want to get to it. MTV and the radio station is the closest they want to get to the ghetto. They don’t want to drive through the ghetto. They’ll lock their car doors. Imus invaded our culture with saying that, so, of course, it’s going to be alarming. White America sees hip-hop how it’s portrayed on television and, sadly to say, hip-hop is portrayed in that way – fast cars, girls shaking their asses in videos. It’s TRL, kids that are 14-years-old looking at that shit. At the same time, there are a lot of other cultures that people don’t find appropriate, like guys kissing on TV. There’s a lot of things that you just hear on the street that people just want to touch and then they speak about it, because they don’t really understand it, they’re not really there.

Format: Recently, Russell Simmons appeared on CNN…
Fredro Starr: I don’t think it will have too much of an effect on anything. I think people are going to say, ‘Yo, you can’t say that word’ and they’ll change it to another word. It’s going to be positive, but what are they going to change the word with? Now, it might turn into something different that’s not ho or bitch, but it might be just as worse. I’m not saying it’s going to make people go talk about the rise of Martin Luther King and people will be all positive, now. I think we’re still going to get the same rap music, but if they do choose to eliminate those words, I think it is better for us, as a whole, as the African race, as black people to get away from that infrastructure in our culture that seems like it’s never going to go away, but it has to start somewhere. I think somebody like Russell Simmons, who is a positive figure in the rap community, is one of the perfect people to set it off. It has to be a chain reaction, now.

My record was called Bacdafucup and that was on Def Jam Records, and Russell Simmons put that record out. On “Blac Vagina Finda” me and Sticky said, ‘What’s up with these nappy headed hos,’ we said that! Russell put that out, we sold two-million records and I’m sure Russell benefited from that, he has a big career. Russell made a lot of money off of ‘hos,’ ‘bitches’ and ‘niggers.’ He made a lot of money off it. I guess this is his way of giving back, but he already got rich off it, so now what? To me, he was the one putting the poison out. He could of said that when he heard the records at Def Jam. He could have said, ‘No, we don’t want to put that out,’ but when the money was coming in with it, it wasn’t a problem. Now, he’s not putting records out, he’s putting fashion and whatever, whatever he can say he wants to ban those records. It’s kind of hypocritical, in a way. Or just time progresses and people grow older. But Russell did put Bacdafucup out and that was a curse word right there, my album was a curse word! I think people change and rap is evolving.


Bakari Kitwana

Bakari Kitwana is a published author and co-founder the National Hip-Hop Political Convention. Kitwana’s published works include Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop (2005), The Hip-Hop Generation (2002) and The Rap On Gansta Rap (1994). Kitwana is the former executive editor of The Source and writes a regular column for The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Format: In April, Harlem rapper, Cam’Ron, is on 60 Minutes…
Bakari Kitwana: Well, I think that it’s very complicated and I think that people have the tendency to look at it on a surface level. They say law enforcement’s trying to do its job, why not cooperate with them and help solve these crimes. I think that people have to understand, that many black youths’ primary encounters with the police are negative ones and, often times, police are harassing them, police are violating their constitutional rights, so the idea of cooperating with the police is just not something that is even logical. And I think that if you don’t come out of that situation then you don’t get it. Look at the statistics of police brutality, look at the escalation of incarceration between 1970 and the year 2000. You have 200,000 people incarcerated in 1970 and by the year 2000 it was two-million people that were incarcerated, over one-million who are African-American. So certainly, as I talk about in my book The Hip-Hop Generation, a part of the reason why the numbers are so jaded is because of the paramilitary policing that goes on in black community.

I think the other piece of it is, this is a generation of young African-Americans who didn’t grow up during the COINTELPRO era of FBI and police harassment of black political organizations. Most certainly they are aware of it and I think that relationship of the police to black communities, the history of it, is marred by a lot negativism. The other part of their authority, in terms of snitching specifically, in my book The Hip-Hop Generation I talk about this in some detail. You have, a lot of times, the police are pitting relatives against either, people who are friends who have known each other all their lives, so in my book the Hip-Hop Generation, I have a section where I talk about snitchin’ and talk about conspiracy drug cases, one case in particular, where snitchin’ testimony is responsible for locking people up and disrupting relationships between relatives. Asking parents to snitch on their children or children to snitch on their parents, or cousins or relatives or people they’ve known their entire lives. And so it’s very disruptive and I don’t even think that nine times out of ten the testimony is accurate.

Format: Prior to Don Imus saying “nappy headed ho”…
Bakari Kitwana: Well now this is a good question, it’s a loaded question. I think that what happened in the case of Don Imus, I don’t think that those people outside of the African-American community – in terms of this morality attack that we’re seeing on hip-hop right now as a result of Don Imus – I don’t think that most of those people are reacting to hip-hop, as much as they are what they consider to be a level playing field. Basically, I think that the idea is that if a 60-something-year-old white dude has to lose his job for saying this, why are we letting these rappers say it without any repercussions?

So to me, it’s very similar to how people are reacting to Michigan in terms of race. Like OK, I didn’t get into the University of Michigan, because these black kids got in and there’s a racial quota. So, that’s not I didn’t get in, because other white kids got in, but because these black kids got in. I think we have a jaded sense of how race works in America. I think that that’s a part of it. I think the other part of it in terms of Don Imus.

I think there has been a longstanding critique within the black community to these representations, going back to, I want to say `91 or even `92. Tricia Rose’s Book, Black Noise, 1989, you can look at these tapes of young women at Spelman College protesting Nelly, to Feminism and Hip-Hop Conference at the University of Chicago, to Joan Morgan’s book, Pimps up, Ho’s Down that came out in 1999. I talk about this in my book, The Rap on Gangsta Rap that came out in `94 and my book The Hip-hop Generation in 2002, and even this year in March and April. Starting on March the 5th, we launched a national town hall meeting tour focused on the question does hip-hop degrade women? So, I think that’s what happened is, we have media being able to set a national dialogue and I think that because of Don Imus, you have a handful of people who really weren’t in the conversation to begin with, like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and Oprah Winfrey who are now weighing in on the issue. So, I think there is more of a national euphoria around the question of these representations. I don’t think it’s a new question, I think it’s a longstanding one, but I don’t think that it has played out in the national media in the same way that it’s playing out now.

Format: Recently, Russell Simmons appeared on CNN…
Bakari Kitwana: I think that in an ideal world, people listen to Russell Simmons and I think that if this idea catches on, maybe artists will begin to make cleaner records. They are very capable, given their creativity, to do so. I think Chamillioniare recently announced that on his next album he doesn’t have any profanity; he doesn’t have any rude words in it. What’s problematic about the ban, as it’s being identified, are a couple things. One, I think it reframes the debate, and what I mean by that is the manner in which there has always been a conversation coming out of the hip-hop community that was challenging hip-hop artists to be more positive and to be more accurate of a reflection of what’s going on in the community, but a large part of that conversation was around balance, and that conversation said we’re dealing with a corporate industry that is giving one aspect of hip-hop the radio play and the video play.

Within the hip-hop community the question was never to ban the words, it was to present a balance. Where are the positive artists who we know are out there who aren’t getting signed, who aren’t getting the radio play, who aren’t getting the video play? Even artists who have records that do get the radio play and the video play, they have songs on the same albums that don’t get the play. So I think that the problem with the ban as it’s being defined, are two things, that’s one of them; it reframes the debate so that now we’re no longer talking about balance, so it has shifted this thing to a question of morality and not a question of morality on the part of the music industry executives, but a question of morality on the part of the artist. If we have a voluntary ban on umbrellas during a rainstorm, if it starts raining, you can take your umbrella out if you want to or you can just get wet. It doesn’t push people to do the right thing, to give people the room to get out of it if they want to.

I think that the larger problem and the larger question is, as a society, we are unable to come up with a balance for how we deal with our free speech rights and regulate content that’s affecting children. And I think that neither the congress, nor the music industry, nor the FCC has been able to come up with the right balance for this. When the Janet Jackson nipple exposure took place, the FCC did its job, but when the “Whisper Song” is played and “Rain on These Hos,” etcetera, etcetera where is the FCC? I think that it lets the FCC off the hook, it lets the corporate elite off the hook and it puts the focus on a question of morality within black communities, as though these young black men are immoral, ignoring the fact that there is an entire legion of hip-hop artists, who if there was balance within the music industry and these artists were heard, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.


Oliver Wang

Oliver Wang is an assistant professor in the department of sociology at California State University, Long Beach, music and cultural journalist, and audioblogger. Wang’s audioblog, Soul Sides, is internationally acclaimed for its rare soul burners. In May 2007, Zealous Records releases Soul Sides Vol. 2 is an album compiled from Wang’s personal record crates. Wang’s byline is regularly found in Wax Poetics Magazine.

Format: In April, Harlem rapper, Cam’Ron, is on 60 Minutes…
Oliver Wang: I think it’s complicated, because on one level I think the surface way of thinking about it is that, what they’re effectively saying, ‘We’ll take care of our problems within our own community.’ Ultimately, it means that the sense of justice as a rule of law is tossed out the window in favor for street law and I don’t think that’s a really positive way or progressive way to move things, because as flawed as rule of law is, it still ensures fair and equal treatment, ideally speaking. I think what complicates it is the reason why people have gotten to the point where people have stop snitchin’ as a cultural moor, is that these are communities that have not had a very positive experiences with the criminal justice system and I think it’s not surprising that they’d be mistrusting of the police and investigators, because it’s not as if that system has really benefited them. In many cases, in terms of police brutality and other injustices, they’ve really been the victims in the way that system as not worked and has failed them. I think one has to keep in mind both of those things, it’s not an either or.

Personally, I can’t support stop snitchin’ as a philosophy, because I don’t trust street law very much, but I also understand if people don’t trust the conventional criminal justice system, either, to adjudicate or to provide justice for victims of violence or any crime. The other thing that I think people have not acknowledged enough is, if you want to talk about a code of silence, look at how the police department handles internal corruption. There is the so called blue wall that police don’t snitch on each other, so it seems ironic that people would be pointing the finger at rappers when politicians, people in the military, people in the police, they all practice the same concept, the only difference is that they don’t wear it as a T-shirt slogan.

Format: Prior to Don Imus saying “nappy headed ho”…
Oliver Wang: Personally, I think that argument is really disingenuous in a red herring and the reason is, is because people within the rap community have been complaining about misogyny, about sexism for years. This idea that somehow the Don Imus controversy somehow exposed how we let rappers off the hook is kind of bullshit. If you look at the amount of community organizing, the amount of key voices that have been raising these issues for decades. That internal critique and criticism against sexism and misogyny has been there for many, many years. The thing is that people who want to say, ‘You’re going after Don Imus, but you’re not going after Snoop Dogg,’ the only people who say that are people who have no clue as to what happens in terms of the internal politics and dynamics of hip-hop. If they knew that they would realize that stuff like Byron Hurt’s documentary and Elizabeth Mendez Berry’s Vibe article on domestic violence are all examples of how there have been attempts of really addressing these issues within hip-hop.

That said, what makes the Don Imus thing the bigger issue is because of the racial dynamic, because he’s this older white man that’s using a sexist and racist term – especially someone who has as much media reach as Don Imus, he’s not some small town newspaper columnist – that is going to make it all the more controversial. Michael Richards is not the first white comedian to address someone by the N-word, but he’s Michael Richards and that is what elevates this sense of outrage, because he is such a public figure and that’s the same thing as Don Imus. But it’s not like Snoop is getting a pass from a lot of people in the hip-hop community, it’s just that those people that think he’s been getting a pass don’t know what’s going on in hip-hop, they’re just finding a very convenient scapegoat.

Format: Recently, Russell Simmons appeared on CNN…
Oliver Wang: For one thing, a lot of those words are already bleeped out on clean versions, not in every case, but you don’t usually turn on the radio at noon time and here the N-word being dropped or bitch or ho being dropped. I kind of Russell’s suggestion to be a little bit strange, because a lot of those words, not in every case but in many cases, are already edited to begin with, if you’re talking about editing them on clean versions, I don’t see that as having a huge impact. It just means that instead of three words that get bleeped out during the course of a BET video, you now have seven or eight.

I think the more gutsier and more controversial move is finding ways to put pressure on artists to simply excise that language from their music entirely, but that gets to very complicated debates around censorship, free speech and expression. I don’t know if that’s the way to go, but I do think what’s possible is people like Russell Simmons and other people who are in the position of the media to have shot calling power, and make the decision that they’re not going to support, air or distribute music that they find excessively misogynistic, offensive and demeaning, and that would be a far more interesting step in terms of shaking things up.


Duke Da God

Currently, Duke Da God is a member of one of the most influential rap movements in the rap industry, Dipset. Working closely with Cam’Ron, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana and Freekey Zekey, Duke Da God is the overseer of Dipset mixtapes and, recently, Duke Da God hosts Diplomats & DukeDaGod Present: Dipset – More Than Music, Vol.2.

Format: In April, Harlem rapper, Cam’Ron, is on 60 Minutes…
Duke Da God: I always say that hip-hop gets bored after awhile and the same things that were going on back in the days – I remember N.W.A. did the Niggaz4life album and I think they said the word nigger like 300 times on that album, I think they counted every time they said the word nigger. On their album, they were saying shit like, ‘nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger’ all types of shit, but it’s like they got to keep pulling up issues and try to make it real big. The N-word, the B-word and stuff that’s been in the music for the last 20 years, at least 20 years, N.W.A. was out back in `89. It’s like they got to dig stuff back up. It keeps repeating itself, the same problems that happened before are happening all over again with controlling the content of the music.

Format: Prior to Don Imus saying “nappy headed ho”…
Duke Da God: I’m saying as far as radio and all that, that’s cool. As far as TV, radio and certain programs when they say those words, it’s cool for that, but as far as a form of expressing yourself, you can sing bitch and it can come across so smooth and it goes unnoticed, but if you’re just saying it, it’s more vulgar. I feel that it’s OK to do that for the clean [version], for the radio. I know the radio says bitch, ass, sometimes on the radio. It’s OK to eliminate that, but as far as the masters, the dirty edits I don’t think that’s a wise thing to do, because you can sing the word bitch or ass, like ‘Oh, give me some ass,’ and it sounds so smooth and goes undetected. It’s how people feel and if you take the feelings out of people’s music then it won’t be nothing no more. It’s like, Russell [Simmons] made it already, you know, you don’t have to do it like that, but everybody is kind of different.

Format: Recently, Russell Simmons appeared on CNN…
Duke Da God: That’s a good question, you know what I mean, but I just – you know, I don’t know, that’s a good question right there. I can’t speak on behalf of every black person, but that’s a good question right there. My guess is that it’s awareness. The way I see it, when Imus got fired the Reverend [Jesse Jackson] and everybody put the pressure on that situation for Imus to get fired. I guess the network ain’t want to go through all the headaches that the Reverend was going to give them, so they let him go. They’re trying to clean up [rap] a little bit, but like I said, it’s going through what it’s going through. Deloris Tucker was doing the same shit. As far as the Imus situation and why it took a white person to shed light on the situation, I guess happened the way it just happened. The Reverend and everybody are trying to clean up the music, because they don’t want to be hypocrites.


Jeff Chang

Jeff Chang is a winner of the American Book Award and Asian American Literary Award for his book, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. Chang was a co-organizer of the National Hip-Hop Political Convention and is highly active in community, youth relations and hip-hop activism. Recently, Chang released his second book, Total Chaos: The Art And Aesthetics of Hip-Hop.

Format: In April, Harlem rapper, Cam’Ron, is on 60 Minutes…
Jeff Chang: I think it’s pretty complicated. I think it’s a little bit separate from the Imus and Russell [Simmons] stuff that’s going on around issues of hip-hop language and censorship, and the appropriate sense of words and language. If you look at what’s been happening in hip-hop, over the years, I think that message has always kind of been there, in a lot of ways. It has to do with the way that policing has gone down in communities and in the way crime has been organized, as well, in those communities. I say those communities, I mean our communities, because I’m literally right here, in the hood. It’s the kind of thing where you have Cam’Ron appear on 60 Minutes talking to Anderson Cooper and it’s all out of context. Cam’Ron, presumably, doesn’t live in the same neighborhood he grew up in anymore – a lot of the rappers that are talking about the stuff don’t live in the same neighborhoods that they grew up in, anymore. So, for rappers, it’s the type of situation where they almost have to prove that they’re still down with folks in the hood and this is how they do it. They make references to situations that they’re seeing in the hood and often they want to court power of folks that hold juice in the hood.

The no snitchin’ type of thing is coming not directly from them, it’s coming through those folks in the hood that are saying, ‘OK, you want to be down with us, this is what you have to do.’ And nobody has really talked about that, nobody has talked about that particular power dynamic that is going on. At the same time, it is a very complicated situation, because policing in the hood is a situation where, a lot of time, people are straight mad at the way that they’re being treated by authorities. The laws that you look at, over the last two decades, have moved in the direction where it gives authorities more and more of a right to rouse innocent folks wherever they may be. There is a lot of anger, justifiable anger, a lot of times when you’re talking about particular kinds of neighborhoods across the country where this is going on. It’s not a cut and dry type of situation. Obviously, I wouldn’t want to have a type of situation where if I was hurt or one of my homies was hurt, that that folks that did it were not brought to justice. But at the same time, I can understand why there may be a guardedness about cooperating with authorities.

Format: Prior to Don Imus saying “nappy headed ho”…
Jeff Chang: I think that’s really wrong! There is no history that’s been widely disseminated about this, except for some of the stuff that I talked about in my book, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, and amongst folks that have been involved in the hip-hop journalism game for a long time. The first boycott around language was not done by authorities, it wasn’t done by record companies and it wasn’t done by anti-hip-hop censors, it was done by Davey D and Kevy Kev in the Bay Area. In 1989, they basically said, we’ve got these community radio stations that are playing hip-hop and are communicating things to the hood, and we’re going to hold an open forum on whether or not people think we should N.W.A. or whether or not people think it is actually reactionary stuff. Whether it’s saying things about young men that we don’t want to have on our airwaves. This is hip-hop, community radio and this is reaching literally hundreds of thousands of people in the Bay Area. Over the course of two weeks they had call-ins from people, in the community, asking them about this radio situation and, in the end, the community said, we don’t want to have N.W.A. on the air. Out of that, Davey D and Kevy Kev launched a nationwide boycott of N.W.A. and tried to call attention to the issue of language, how it address women and the way that it distributes images of violence. And these are not folks that are civil rights leaders that are steam rolling CDs, like Calvin Butts was doing for a little while. This isn’t Deloris Tucker who is coming in on her high horse trying to get congress to censor hip-hop. These are people that are very close to the communities and they asked the communities what they want. That was the first boycott of folks in hip-hop that every came out and that was back in 1989.

Right now, it makes it seem as if, because Imus gets rousted for this stuff, that it’s because white folks raised the issue. I was watching Fox News where they had John Gibson asking the same question you asked, he said, to Davey D and Chuck Creekmur from Allhiphop.com, ‘Why is it that it’s me, a white guy that has to make this type of stuff? For two years I’ve been on this rant how this language has to be censored.’ Davey laughed at him and said, ‘Well that’s kind of cute, man, but we’ve at this for more than 20 years.’ It’s a debate that’s been rising within the hip-hop community. It’s been on the cover of magazines, it’s been all over hip-hop discussions from the community level, up to the national hip-hop political convention. It’s been something we’ve all been dealing with. The reason it’s an issue now, is because people like Byron Hurt have been out there, this year, making a lot of noise about it. So Byron Hurt’s movie comes out on PBS and millions of people see it, and suddenly people are talking about it in a bigger way than they’ve ever talked about it before. It didn’t happen out of a vacuum, it didn’t happen because this white guy said these wrong words; it happened because this discussion has finally reached a critical mass.

Format: Recently, Russell Simmons appeared on CNN…
Jeff Chang: I don’t think that particular ban, in of itself, will have much effect, because it’s voluntary. They’re asking the industry to voluntarily monitor itself, which is basically like saying, ‘Let’s ask the racists to please stop being racist for a while.’ It’s not the kind of think that the industry is going to do willingly. They might do it under duress, under some sort of pressure, but a voluntary ban is not going to do much. The fact of the matter, too, is that it is not much to ask for.

I know in New York it’s a little different, but out here you can’t hear that stuff on the radio. They’ll flip those words for anything that is being played on the major commercial stations. It’s not much of a change for a lot of places, maybe it will be for New York, but it is certainly not that for the Bay Area and a lot of other places. What it may do is it may have rappers say, ‘I’m going to move a little bit more in that direction.’ It’s a manifestation of the larger feelings among the public that enough is enough of this. When you look at the fact that hip-hop sales have dropped by 20 per cent, last year, and this year the numbers are still way off and are leading the down turn in the record industry, and you look at the Black Youth Project Report, overwhelmingly young people are saying they’re not happy with the images they’re seeing of young black women and young black men. Then you have a situation where there is a massive change in opinion that’s come about and the music that is being put out by the major labels doesn’t reflect that.


Pigeon John

After four solo albums, and countless other works in the independent music scene, Pigeon John has established himself as one of the most well-known artists in underground hip-hop post 2000. Possessing the unique ability to uplift through humor in his music, especially when dealing with serious issues, Pigeon John makes hip-hop with a “head full of Beatles and De La playing ping pong.”

Format: In April, Harlem rapper, Cam’Ron, is on 60 Minutes…
Pigeon John: Here’s what I think is happening. It’s an age old tale. Everyone’s seen A Bronx Tale, right. When Robert De Niro’s son sees a murder in an Italian neighborhood and he’s a little kid, it’s the same thing it’s just an Italian neighborhood. And it kind of glamorizes it, because he turns into a young gangster, but Robert De Niro never gets pulled on 60 Minutes to talk about how his movie is affecting the youth. I think that every hood, ever since America existed, has held that policy. It’s just when young African-Americans do that it becomes dangerous and it becomes glamorized and risky, and parents don’t like it, but when Robert De Niro does it, it becomes traditional, the old time fashion mafia, the old way, decent. And I think it’s just you know, when black people do something, for the most part I am generalizing, but for the most part there’s plenty of examples of other races doing the same thing and there’s plenty of examples of America doing the same thing, but no one gets pulled on 60 Minutes and says you are teaching my kids the wrong thing. So I think it’s a little naïve to say that rap holds that much weight. I think it’s a cultural thing.

Format: Prior to Don Imus saying “nappy headed ho”…
Pigeon John: I think it’s like when two ethnic groups – it can be white all the way to black – how they refer to each other and themselves, and I don’t think this is healthy, but it’s just the way things are. I’m mixed, if I was a black dude in Hawthorne and a bunch of young Mexican dudes who were my friends, if they called themselves wetbacks and then I step in and say that, it’s going to mean something absolutely different. That’s what happened – it’s the age old thing like we can say it, but if you say it you’re going to get beat up. It’s a little off balance, it doesn’t really make any sense, but I think that’s why it did happen like that where it’s a big thing. I think, in general, it’s a personal responsibility whether we say those words or we don’t say those words, but to enforce that responsibility is an absolute mistake and will affect no one. It will just be a big splash but it won’t change anything. I think for me, personally, as an artist, I don’t use those words or anything like that or even cuss on my records. But, at the same time, artistically, I don’t get mad at other people. I love the last Clipse record, artistically it’s great and you can tell they’re telling the truth and they use all those words. I don’t and we can co-exist.

Format: Recently, Russell Simmons appeared on CNN…
Pigeon John: That’s a good question. I think it’s a noble thing to do that. I think those choices, as far as how music is affecting the youth and containing that or trying to edit that artistically, I think is naïve. It’s not going to stop or help or do anything. You can go to any high school in America and ask them what they think and [students] do not care. You can look in their eyes, they’re not thinking about what Cam’Ron is doing or did he say ho or bitch. They’re thinking about trying to sleep with Sally! They’re not really quote unquote being affected in real life. I think it’s a noble thing, I think he’s a little older so he sees his girls turning into teenagers and that’s a natural progression. Everyone kind of becomes wiser with age. I think that it’s not going to change anything. Nothing is new under the sun. So if you edit something or try to edit something, all the kids are going to do is come up with another name. So instead of ho, it’s going to be flower. And that’s going to be like, ‘Are you talking about girls?’



Known primarily for his innovative delivery, flow, and style, Grafh has been heralded as one of the most lyrically consistent and powerful rappers in the new millennium. With his debut album, Autografh (download preview), dropping June 24, 2007, Grafh is set to bring hip-hop back to New York City.

Format: In April, Harlem rapper, Cam’Ron, is on 60 Minutes…
It’s deeper than what the rappers are glamorizing. It’s a little deeper than what Cam’Ron addressed it as, too. I don’t relate it at all to business, I mean it’s a street issue, it’s not about glamorizing it the youth or generalizing it to the general consumer. They have nothing to do with “don’t snitch.” If an off-duty police officer sees a crime, he’s gonna tell and that has nothing to do with snitching; if somebodies moms gets her purse snatched, and if she calls the police, that’s not snitching. When we say don’t snitch, we’re keeping it within the realm of the gangstas and just the street in general, it has nothing to do with the general consumer when they say don’t snitch.

It has nothing to do with my career or none of that music stuff; it’s a street issue, so I don’t really agree with any artist who connects it to business at all. When they say it will hurt you business of course it will, because you’ll be a snitch, it’ll hurt your life; you’ll get killed for that in the street, where I come from. It has nothing to do with business. It’s going hurt you as a man, because you’re gonna get looked at as a bitch. So you can’t do anything and sell an image that’s supposed to be masculine or represent purity or anything real if you done told on somebody and you consider yourself a street dude, or you’re from the environment where I’m from. So that’s how I feel about that subject in general and we just don’t tell on each other here, that’s the way we live. It’s a code that we abide by and it only applies to those that live that type of life. If you’re not involved in that type of life then it doesn’t apply to you. You enjoy the music and you take it for what it is. When somebody says don’t snitch, they’re not talking to you if you’re not from the street.

Format: Prior to Don Imus saying “nappy headed ho”…
Grafh: I think it’ll have a negative effect. We’ll have to change the way we speak in our music. We’ll have to modify how we talk generally in the music. It won’t have a big effect, because you don’t have to say nigger in your verse, we don’t have to rap in slang, we could rap in proper English if we wanted to. But it’s just more free and it’s more realistic to rap the way you talk. The artists that I believe are the artists that rap the way they speak.

Me personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal, that’s just the way I feel. And that’s only because in the areas that’s how we talk, in general. You’d have to stop us from talking like that in common conversation or, at least, if you feel it’s a problem teach the kids to separate slang from proper English and they can go back and forth. I can speak slang as well proper English. It doesn’t affect my vocabulary. But when I’m chilling with my homies then I might say, ‘what up nigger,’ and it means the same thing as, ‘what up my dude,’ or ‘what up fam,’ they all equivalent, it’s not negative connotation at all. The effect it’s gonna have, it’s gonna be tedious and meaningless, it’s not gonna have any effect at all. People going still say it. What are you gonna do, ban the sales of they records? If I sell five million records saying nigger who is going stop me from saying nigger on a record? It doesn’t affect anything, they just wasting time in my opinion.

Format: Recently, Russell Simmons appeared on CNN…
Grafh: I think it’ll have a negative effect. We’ll have to change the way we speak in our music. We’ll have to modify how we talk generally in the music. It won’t have a big effect, because you don’t have to say nigger in your verse, we don’t have to rap in slang, we could rap in proper English if we wanted to. But it’s just more free and it’s more realistic to rap the way you talk. The artists that I believe are the artists that rap the way they speak. Me personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal, that’s just the way I feel. And that’s only because in the areas that’s how we talk, in general. You’d have to stop us from talking like that in common conversation or, at least, if you feel it’s a problem teach the kids to separate slang from proper English and they can go back and forth.

I can speak slang as well proper English. It doesn’t affect my vocabulary. But when I’m chilling with my homies then I might say, ‘what up nigger,’ and it means the same thing as, ‘what up my dude,’ or ‘what up fam,’ they all equivalent, it’s not negative connotation at all. The effect it’s gonna have, it’s gonna be tedious and meaningless, it’s not gonna have any effect at all. People going still say it. What are you gonna do, ban the sales of they records? If I sell five million records saying nigger who is going stop me from saying nigger on a record? It doesn’t affect anything, they just wasting time in my opinion.



Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, K’Naan immigrated to Toronto, after a brief stay in Harlem, at age 13. Fusing world music with hip-hop, K’Naan has traveled around the world several times, promoting his music and message. In 2007, K’Naan received the BBC Radio 3 award for world music in the newcomer category.

Format: In April, Harlem rapper, Cam’Ron, is on 60 Minutes…
K’Naan: It’s not just in hip-hop, it’s in culture and I think that the culture that it’s in is something that you should be looking at rather than that it’s in hip-hop messages. It’s in ghetto culture, it’s in segregated culture and the reason for that often, which I think no one wants to really discuss, is that the police aren’t your friends in the ghetto, they’re not the people that you often trust in the ghetto, they’re also viewed as part of the aggression in the ghetto. So when you have a group of people that are viewed as the aggression as well as other types of crews or gangs or anything of that nature, when the police are seen just as much a part of the game as anyone else, why would you want to go and tell your problems to the police. That’s something that we should be looking at more than just rap.

Format: Prior to Don Imus saying “nappy headed ho”…
K’Naan: I’m surprised that it had any impact at all. The guy as far as impact, not in society, but as far as pointing a question towards hip-hop – dude is not a hip-hop artist, I think that it’s kind of funny. The problems were so exasperated for so long that it would have taken anything to raise that question and the question has been raised before, and it’s always been going, it’s just not been on CNN that much. I think it could have taken anything to make that question now a more publicly discussed topic. He wasn’t special to us. This is not someone that we cared about. So his words really are not that impacting. We needed to discuss what we’re discussing now anyway. He’s just this guy that said some dumb shit.

Format: Recently, Russell Simmons appeared on CNN…
K’Naan: I don’t really know that these things accomplish, what they say they’re going to accomplish. These are just words that have a source. Often, American culture is so obsessed with the quick fix of trying to get something sorted, so we make some rash decisions and we say that’s how we stop this thing. And it happens across the board whether it’s politics or anything – our solution in North America is just let’s see how we can cover the thing up. And a lot of the messages that are in youth culture period, not just hip-hop, is informed by many, many things, many scenarios that make these things happen, which make using certain words OK or even desired and so on. I think that Russell Simmons and these guys should be more concerned with how to really address the deeper issues in this culture.

I don’t think you can ban a certain word. That’s like saying you’re gonna stop people from expressing in a certain way. There will come another guy who will say, I’ll embrace whoever’s doing that. I think what you need to do is promote responsibility for what artists are doing. Black music has often historically been, in this culture, the only types of artists who are not given any sort of media lessons or mentoring in the sense that when record labels signed acts from other genres like in the rock genres and so on, they had artist development for them, but you don’t have that in black culture, you never had it. The real effect is to try and address the cultural aspect of where this stuff is coming from, but if you say you’re just gonna ban that word, then you’ll just have a bunch of other hood DVDs made where now this is the real shit, check this out. Let’s be honest and just address the real thing.



Currently, politically charged rapper, Paris, operates and maintains Guerrilla Funk Recordings (www.guerrillafunk.com), a record label that Paris says was “born out of necessity,” providing a politically and socially conscious roster of recording artists. Recently, Paris has written his thoughts on Don Imus, here.

Format: In April, Harlem rapper, Cam’Ron, is on 60 Minutes…
Paris: That’s strictly a Black and Latino perspective, especially in America. There’s been a history of violence against people of color here by the police and you see it in high profile cases like Rodney King or a host of others. And, those are the high profile cases that we see and of course when we see them we’re devastated by them and we’re infuriated. From the outside looking in, that seems to be the only time these appear, but when you live within the community and stereotyping and police harassment go hand in hand then you learn over time not to trust the police. So there are plenty of us that would rather keep the police out of any of our business, be it domestic disputes, be it issues you have with someone else in the community, the last thing we ever want to do is get the police involved. Once the state or the Feds are involved in our business, and once you’re in the system, you’re officially a part of the system.

Once the police come by your house for anything domestic or a noise complaint or whatever it may be, you’re in the system and you’re on their radar, and that’s how a lot of people feel about it. So I could understand that. By the same token, I don’t understand when something blatant happens. You know I’m definitely a component of street justice, so I’m probably the wrong person to ask. If somebody did something to my family, I’m not really looking for the police to take care of that. It’s a double edged sword. Some people feel we should be involved and if you see an obvious crime report it and handle your business and do the upstanding thing. Then there are other people that go take care of themselves. I think that communities of color are in a sense in disarray here and I don’t think we can rely on the police ourselves honestly, not in this day and age. There’s no revolution possible without the will of the people. And the will of the people is definitely not there.

Most rappers are simple. Most rappers have the mentality of a 12 year old, so I don’t think rappers should be in a position to send any messages to anybody, because 99 per cent of the time they’re negative and they’re bad for us. That’s the problem when entertainment is touted over education. We’re in a bad state. We look to people who are as simple as most of these cats are as role models and as people to be emulated. And so that’s why I have a problem with it.

Format: Prior to Don Imus saying “nappy headed ho”…
Paris: It took Imus, basically, looking to assign the blame to black people for his own racism before people took notice, but you gotta realize that the black community, a lot of us, and a handful of us as hip-hop artists and other artists in general have been complaining about music for a long time. We’re not the ones who determine what gets heard. If I programmed Clear Channel, 99 percent of that shit wouldn’t be on the radio. But I don’t. There’s one white man who programs the entire northwest region of the country. That’s a hell of a lot of power for one man to have. That’s roughly 1200 stations nationwide, well, the northwest region; I don’t even know how many stations that encompasses. I think there are nine clear channel stations in the San Francisco Bay Area alone.

And if you look at hate speech, I know that hip-hop is more pervasive than ever, and I know that it is more influential than it’s ever been, but I also know that Fox News is full of hate speech and there’s very little regulation of Fox News. I know that there is a ton of hate speech on Clear Channel. There are 1000 Imus’ on the radio, on morning shows, on Clear Channel and Radio One that are broadcasting across the nation that say equally offensive things, that mock people of color, that mock the culture, that attempt to push the envelope with their sexism and with their misogyny, and with their racism every day. So yeah, he was the scapegoat to a certain extent, but I think if you gonna look at one part of the problem you have to look at all parts of the problem. I think that hip-hop should be self regulated. I come from an era where negativity was an exception to the rule in hip-hop.

When I first came out it was me, it was Public Enemy, X-Clan, Boogie Down Productions that genre of hip-hop was the most prominent, and gangsta rap and negativity and things that were bad for our community were an exception to the rule. Even the gangsta rap that was out at the time had some element of social relevance, in that, look this is the condition of our community and we want to change it if we can, but most of us are going to hustle and adapt so we can survive. That was the overall message that I took from it. There’s no social relevance in talking about rims or platinum fronts or half naked women or the dope game or any of that and a lot of that is 99 per cent of what I hear in the media right now. It might be something that’s engineered to go down sweetly with club friendly beats, but the message is the same. So Imus was really the catalyst for a national discussion on it, I am just fearful that this national discussion is going end up in censorship, especially in the upcoming election year.

Format: Recently, Russell Simmons appeared on CNN…
Paris: Well first of all it’s easy for Russell Simmons, with a ten figure bank account, to come in after the fact and claim some kind of moral responsibility, after he’s introduced poison into the community for the past 20 years. I don’t remember any politically or socially conscious hip-hop acts since Public Enemy being on Def Jam, and they’ve been off of Def Jam for a while, so basically, fuck what he’s talking about. He lost my respect when he came out about the blood diamond issue on the side of jewelers. But in terms of those words being demonized, well, when I say bitch or when I say ho, I’m not talking about women 99 per cent of the time. When I look at Bush, I say Bush is a ho. When I look at Cheney, Cheney’s a bitch, to me. People who do our community a disservice are the people who fall in that category for me. And it’s voices like mine who will be silenced first if there’s any kind of attempt at censorship and that’s what I’m concerned with. It has to be something that is not regulated. It has to be a type of common sense that’s enacted.

And I’ve never been one to call for everybody to be the same. I’ve never been one to say, ‘Hey there’s certain words that you can’t say.’ I’ve never been one to call for censorship in any way. Rather we call for balance and I think it’s necessary that the positive be introduced and supported and nurtured in the same way that the negative is. The problem is when you have large white national corporations that celebrate ghetto-ism, celebrate black men as thugs and black women as bitches, and make money and normalize that behavior. As I say, the streets don’t determine style anymore. Corporations dictate the tempo, and the style and the culture of urban America right now. Things that kids see on TV and what they hear on the radio is what determines what they embrace culturally and they take their style key from what they see in the media. And so when I say that corporations dictate the taste of the street, that’s exactly what’s happening right now. So I would say it’s important, rather than have corporations say that there are certain words that we won’t promote anymore, and that you can’t say, and having their be a chilling effect on freedom of speech in the arts, it’s necessary instead that they support positive messages in the same way that they support the negative.

Jordan Chalifoux

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  1. Yall should have asked Peter Shaprio, dude who wrote A Rough Guide to Hip Hop, for his opinion!!!!! I know he’s busy makin babies, but I’m sure he had time to drop knowledge. He is Da GOD!


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