ARTICLE: Hiphop and free speech

Hiphop and free speech (By DJ MF)

A couple of months ago, without much fanfare, US Congress fired off the first shot in what could be an assault on free speech in music, and more specifically hip-hop, by “urging” the hip-hop industry to regulate content in lyrics before the government could get around to it.

The system proposed by US Congress included a ratings system similar to the film industry, and mandatory posting of lyrical content in stores that sell “offensive” music. On the surface this is not a problem, but if you delve further you begin to see the ramifications.

This would mean that every album sold by a store with “offensive” content would have to have its lyrics catalogued and available on demand to anybody who wants to see them. Just think of how large a collection that would be, and how much hip-hop falls under this umbrella.

Also think of how hard it would be for smaller record shops to keep a collection like this, especially if they didn’t specialize in hip-hop.

Eventually, many smaller shops would find that keeping a hip-hop collection would not be cost feasible. Furthermore, the bigger stores would come under heavy pressure from outside groups to ban questionable material outright.

One should also question why hip-hop is being singled out. It isn’t the only type of music out there with “offensive” lyrics, but the American government seems intent on trying to silence hip-hop alone. What about other genres? In my opinion, Britney Spears telling me to hit her one more time or B4-4 telling someone to get down on them is more offensive than an MC who tells a true tale of living in the ghetto. And those pop-genre acts are marketed to 12-year-old kids. Could race have anything to do with it?

What does this mean for hip-hop then? Well, most obviously this means the muzzling of the culture. No longer will artists be allowed to say what they think, but they’ll be forced to adhere to guidelines imposed by the government in order to ensure that their music can even be offered in stores, thus disabling their right to free speech.

And if you think that the US government is bluffing, just look at their recent actions. Former vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman has already tabled a bill to punish companies that “market” harmful entertainment to children; representative Bennie Thompson has even gone so far as to tell industry that the government will “regulate [them] out of business if they don’t get [their] act together.”

Then there’s question of what happens in Canada. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a major push by the Canadian government to enact something similar if the US goes through with this. And then not only can you say goodbye to free speech in hip-hop, but eventually all other kinds of music as well, because you know they won’t just stop at one genre.

As Public Enemy so eloquently stated years ago, “Fight the power!”

DJ MF

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