In the end, 'it's just a song'

Artists, execs play hip-hop defense

WASHINGTON -- Rap musicians and top record label executives on Tuesday defended the hip-hop business, telling lawmakers that it is wrong to single out the genre for congressional reprobation.

Levell Crump, who goes by the name David Banner, told the House consumer protection subcommittee that picking on rap unfairly singles out the black community.

"When it comes down to it, it's just a song," Crump said. "Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor of California, but in his movies he killed half of Cambodia and he went to Mars and blew up Mars ... but that's OK because he's a white man and he's an actor."

Crump and Percy Miller, aka Master P, told lawmakers during a hearing on the impact of media on American culture that songs with lyrics about death, sex and substance abuse are nothing new and that rap's reliance on such words as "nigger," "whore" and "bitch" describe the neighborhoods and feelings of individuals caught up in some of society's ills.

"Hip-hop is sick because America is sick," Crump said.

Miller comes from a different perspective, having sworn off the use of offensive words and other depictions because he says they do little to further society. He told the panel that he had an epiphany when he turned down his own music when his kids were in the car so they couldn't hear the words.

"This whole thing is about growing up," he told lawmakers.

They might talk about art and how they reflect the pent-up rage in the black community, but "most guys are in it for the money," Miller said.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., made it clear that he didn't have plans to push a legislative solution, but he did expect some action on the part of the artists and the industry.

"I agree about rage," he said. "I've got rage. I'm a member of Congress, but I've still got rage. Look man, brothers. Let me say this, you can't justify the word nigger because my slave master used it. ... I don't want to ape and imitate my slave master."

Record industry executives refused a push by some lawmakers to ban the most offensive words.

"I don't think you can improve anything if you ban three words," Universal Music Group chairman and CEO Doug Morris said. " 'The Bitch Is Back' by Elton John, you're not going to ban that song, but I do think we'll take this back with us and deal with it in a proper manner."

Warner Music Group chairman and CEO Edgar Bronfman made the same point when he backed up rapper Common's lyrics but pointed out that the CDs are stickered with a warning.

"The language you find offensive here is not offensive to everyone," he said in answer to questions by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.

While Viacom has a different role as it is a distributor, company chairman and CEO Philippe Dauman said it takes its standards-and-practices role seriously.

"We do take a very proactive role in editing music videos, which is why you don't hear the 'b' word or the 'h' word or 'n' word in any of our music videos," he said. "Although we take our standards-and-practices role seriously, we also believe that it is not our role to censor the creative expression of artists whose music reflects the pain they've suffered or seen in their lives and communities."

Rush appeared to be uninterested in legislating a solution, but he appeared just as unlikely to let the issue drop.

"There is a problem -- a deep-seated, deeply rooted problem in our country," he said. "The paycheck is not an excuse for being part of the problem."
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