Perspectives: Will the Messages in Rap Music Change Because of Russell Simmons’ Efforts? - Higher Education


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Perspectives: Will the Messages in Rap Music Change Because of Russell Simmons’ Efforts?

by Dr. James Ewers

One of the outcomes of the unfortunate incident in which Don Imus lobbed a racist and sexist slur at the Rutgers women’s basketball team is that it has started a social justice movement over issues of gender and race. Almost immediately, national organizations like the National Organization of Women and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network released statements denouncing the incendiary comments and vowing to launch attacks against them. Many of the usual suspects have spoken out in favor of tighter government regulations for what goes out over the airways. We will wait and see how long the tide rolls against misogynistic and racist language.

A new voice was added to the chorus line against inappropriate lyrics in music. To my surprise, Russell Simmons, the pioneering rap industry mogul who also has a line of clothing, last week joined in the effort to clean up rap lyrics. He has been on the rap scene for many years now. Simmons initially rejected comparisons between Imus’ epithet and the “poetic expression” of hip-hop artists.

“Our internal discussions with industry leaders are not about censorship. Our discussions are about the corporate social responsibility of the industry to voluntarily show respect to African-Americans and other people of color, African-American women and to all women in lyrics and images,” said Simmons and Benjamin Chavis, co-founders of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. 

Simmons wants to ban on TV and in radio words I’m too much of a gentleman to repeat, but let’s say they rhyme with snitch and so. The n-word would also be gone under guidelines that also call on rappers to remove those words from the “clean” versions of their CDs. He’s taking aim at the record executives who produce this garbage on the radio and television. Where is this movement headed?  Of course many in the music industry cry out that their artistic freedom and expression are being taken away. These arguments don’t deserve a response when their artistic freedom leads to the irresponsible dehumanization of women.

This is significant because Simmons is not only a bag of chips, he is a whole store of chips. So if the Simmons mandate is upheld by others in the music industry does this mean that we can unplug our ears? You mean girl or woman could replace the b-word and the n-word could be stricken from rap lyrics forever? As Kool and the Gang sang many years ago, “Celebrate good times, come on.” Or it could be what the Temptations sang when I was in graduate school, “It was just my imagination, once again, running away with me.” Only time will tell. 

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Russell Simmons weren’t the first ones to speak out against the harmful effects of rap music. C. Delores Tucker, former secretary of state for Pennsylvania, spoke out many years ago when rap’s popularity was beginning to soar. Tipper Gore was also a vocal critic of rap music. Both were ignored and called rebel rousers. Well, it appears that their words were prophetic because rap music is destroying an entire generation of young people. Children of color are growing up using inappropriate language at an early age due, in part, to what they hear in rap lyrics. In an effort to emulate rappers, young boys are going to school with their pants hanging loosely and wearing shirts three sizes too large. These negative influences portrayed by rap stars are unhealthy and thus put young people at risk.

Maybe Simmons and others will make a true, committed stand against these lyrics. Let’s not let their calls suffer the same fate as Tucker’s and Gore’s. We can do our part by calling record companies and expressing our disfavor with rap music. Ask whoever answers the phone if they have a daughter or a niece and then ask them if they want them to be called b——?  Rap music needs to clean up its act right now!

Dr. James B. Ewers Jr. is Associate Dean for Student Affairs at Miami University Middletown in Middletown, Ohio.



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