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August 03, 2007

Offensive Rap/Hip Hop Lyrics Slooooowly Cleaning Up

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Is that the sound of reluctant change I hear in the music industry?  There's an AP article in today's USA Today, "Rappers Cleaning Up Lyrics Post-Imus" that suggests it might be.

It focuses on the platinum selling rapper Chamillionaire and why he's decided to clean up his lyrics:

"The rapper, who won a Grammy this year for his socially charged smash Ridin,' says he never cursed all that much in his music anyway. The N-word was a different story: "I've always used the N-word."

But after the success of his last album, he went out on tour and saw mostly white faces lip-synching the epithet along with his lyrics. I was like, 'You know what? I'm not going to say the N-word on this one because when I go back on the road, and I start performing, I don't want them to be saying it, like me teaching them,'" he told The Associated Press.

Good for Chamillionaire.

When this music issue comes up, I always think if women ran the music industry and there was a style of music and a bunch of videos out there with lyrics about gleefully chopping off penis's and how to do it in the most glorified and vulgar way, we'd hear a lot about how wrong and unfair and destructive it was.  Don't ya' think?  But I digress.

The AP article goes on to say:

"Tolerance for such language may be diminishing. Corporations had cozied up to gangsta rappers in recent years, taking their message mainstream — both Snoop Dogg and T.I., for example, were featured in major car ads. In recent months, however, companies seem less likely to align themselves with rougher artists."

The reason?  The bucks.  Slowly, very slowly the advertisers and music industry execs are getting the message that the offensive lyrics just ain't gonna get an easy pass anymore.  They've been getting away with this crap long enough and more women, especially black women need speak up about it.  Not only to the industry, but to high profile people like Al Sharpton and Russell Simmons who during the whole Imus flap promised to address the issue.  Simmons actually called for a ban on certain words, but has anyone heard from him since?  I don't think so.

Reverend Al said he and his followers are going to continue to keep the issue in the spotlight, but I haven't heard from him either.  Maybe I need to write him another letter.

What Chamillionaire said about the whites in his audience reminded me of Dave Chappelle.  Remember Dave Chappelle?  A couple of years ago when he abruptly left his very popular "Chapelle's Show" on Comedy Central ---and his very lucrative contract with it---to go to South Africa and find himself, you would have thought he sold his mother into slavery, the way people talked about him.  How could he do that?  What was wrong with him?  He was so stupid. Rampant media speculation said he was either a drug addict or crazy.

A few months later when he came back he said he wasn't on drugs and he wasn't crazy.  What happened?  He said he'd started to feel like a "prostitute" and didn't like the direction the content of his show was taking.  The pressure of performing was becoming unbearable and he started to feel many of his sketches were "socially irresponsible."  One particular sketch where he was in blackface, he said made feel that whites were no longer laughing with him, but at him.

So he went off to figure things out about how to be true to himself.  Now we all know celebrities will make up stories to cover up their crap, but let's for the moment say he was telling the truth.

At the time I remember thinking in all the publicity about his "disappearance"  there wasn't one comment that said...good for him.  Maybe he was doing the smart thing to avoid becoming a drug addict or crazy.  Maybe he had a level of sensitivity about himself and the world that celebrities in his position need a lot more of.  Maybe he had a good sense of priorities.

Chappelle has since come back to comedy on his own terms and is working on projects that he says make him feel fulfilled.  Projects like the movie, "Dave Chappelle's Block Party."  The lesson in that story?   The guy's very funny so the money will return, but his "disappearance" might have been the best decision he's ever made.

I know most of the rap and hip hop industry out there would call Chappelle an idiot for throwing away all that money, but more of them need to think seriously about what he did and why he did it.  A real artist doesn't need to be destructive to tell their story.  A real artist doesn't need to denigrate other people to build themselves up.

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