By The new album by old-school rapper Schooly D, entitled Welcome to America, neatly encapsulates the plusses and minuses of so-called gangsta rap. Producers Schooly D (born Jesse B. Weaver Jr.) and Mike Tyler achieve a harrowing sound throughout; the focus is on dark, bass-driven grooves that give the title track and chillingly effective street fables such as "I Know You Want to Kill Me" an undeniable immediacy. Listen to the words elsewhere, however, and you're bound to experience a sudden drop in your IQ. Schooly regularly treats women with blistering contempt and boasts of such laudable behavior as guzzling forty ounces. The low point comes during "Niggas Like Me," when a giggly female chorus delivers a rewritten version of a well-known Parliament/Funkadelic chant: "We love to fuck you, Schooly D/Your dick is the best..."
Words such as these set to boiling the blood of DeLores Tucker, chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women (NPCBW). Tucker, who on February 11 testified before a panel at the U.S. House of Representatives, is incensed by the content of gangsta rap, which in her opinion degrades women and glorifies nonproductive, antisocial behavior. She and her patrons feel that Congress should institute a mandatory rating system for popular music of the sort now used in the movie industry (at present, most companies voluntarily put parental advisory stickers on potentially objectionable albums rather than submit releases to a national rating board). In addition, NPCBW supporters plan to pressure record companies and retailers not to make such material available to members of the general public who, they apparently believe, are not nearly sharp enough to understand that these discs aren't intended as instruction manuals.
Brought in to counter this point of view was Yo Yo (Yolanda Whitaker), among the brightest and most positive of the current crop of rappers in spite of her continued allegiance to Ice Cube, the former N.W.A. star whose solo recordings have left him open to charges of racism, misogyny and premature brain death. Yo Yo's arguments were cogent (she claimed that rap lyrics are a reflection of the shabby conditions in inner-city America, and that the performers themselves represent a group which had largely been ignored prior to hip-hop's commercial breakthrough), but it was clear from television coverage of the hearing that the mainly white men on this House energy and commerce subcommittee weren't buying it. After all, Yo Yo's flamboyant wardrobe and cornrowed hair served as reminders of how little she had in common with these politicians' voting constituents: primarily frightened members of the middle class who don't spend a lot of time waiting in line for tickets to the next Dr. Dre concert.
So here's betting that the music industry, in its utter spinelessness, moves soon to develop a ratings system before Congress passes legislation demanding one. Furthermore, expect more national record-store chains to follow the lead of Wal-Mart, which is already refusing to stock discs that are even slightly controversial, or to create special X-rated sections, perhaps hidden behind heavy curtains so that fans of the genre can be made to feel like deranged loners with grubby trenchcoats and constant erections. Such moves will do absolutely nothing to protect young, impressionable minds from the sentiments expressed on such platters, nor will it eliminate discrimination against America's females, reduce crime and truancy or otherwise raise the quality of our lives. But it will give those self-appointed guardians of taste too timid to tackle the real problems in our society (poverty, homelessness) a false sense of satisfaction.
Moreover, it will likely push hardcore rap--which in spite of current evidence of creative bankruptcy remains among the most vital musical genres--off mainstream airwaves. A few Los Angeles radio stations have already declared that they will no longer broadcast gangsta material, and something similar is also happening locally. KS-104, the Denver radio station that was practically alone in playing challenging rap music as part of its regular rotation, has eliminated many such tunes from its playlist and moved others to the wee hours of the morning. Program director Chris Davis says this was done because gangsta rap "skews male," while the rest of the outlet's music appeals more to female listeners. Whatever the reason, the result is that the music is being ghettoized, and may be on the way out the door altogether.
People such as Tucker clearly would not mourn its passing, but they should. De facto censorship campaigns such as the one presently gaining steam not only violate many of the principles on which this country was founded, but they never, never, never work. Whether you like it or not, Schooly D has the right to brag about his penis. It's up to you whether you want to listen.
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