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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016

Real danger is not words but message

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Russell Simmons has made millions of dollars as the "Godfather of Hip Hop" music. He's articulate and extremely savvy in the business world. So Simmons can recognize a train wreck coming better than most. That's why the music mogul wants rappers to tone down the language. I'm betting Simmons will have some success but ultimately fail.

Simmons knows that in the wake of the Don Imus snafu, all eyes will focus on the controversial lyrics of the hip hop community. So he wants to ban three delicate words from rap music. I reluctantly list those three words - bitch, ho and the n-word. It's those three little words that are creating a firestorm in our current national discussions and Simmons is certainly smart enough to know some action is needed.

Here's my problem with the censorship that Simmons advocates. He believes that by banning words, you can somehow change the message of the street language that is hip hop. His purpose may be noble but I believe he misses the point.

Let's not forget that much of the controversy that surrounded the hip hop movement began not with salty language but with "cop killing" lyrics. The "ho" and "bitch" lyrics followed. But in the beginning, society took notice of hip hop because some of the songs advocated lawlessness directed at the police.

We tend to focus on words but our focus should be on culture and the intent behind the words. Words can be insulting and degrading but it's the message behind the words that really matters. Simmons know this. But he also knows that he can control words but he will never be able to control the meaning and the message that his music conveys. And that message is anti-social and anti-authority. Therein lies the problem. The problem is not the language.

We should all abhor censorship. That's the price of freedom, like it or not. What Simmons is honestly doing is constructing a public relations campaign to blunt any backlash that might be directed at his industry. He believes that by highlighting words that are obviously incendiary, he can direct the attention away from the songs and put the public focus instead on the music industry. Nice try Russell. Unfortunately, it's also transparent.

Simmons will find out what others have before him. You cannot change culture. It is the foundation on which our lives are often based. And the culture of the rap/hip hop community is not based on words. It's based on anger and fear and the belief that society is unfair. Cleaning up the language may soothe some but the danger is in the message, not the words.

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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen