Hip-hop says no to 'ho'

Self-censorship of three words urged

Russell Simmons and Benjamin Chavis, leaders of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, said Monday that the recording and broadcast industries should voluntarily censor the "misogynistic" words "bitch" and "ho" and the "racially offensive" n-word from future recordings.

"These three words should be considered with the same objections to obscenity as 'extreme curse words,' " they said.

The move comes in the wake of radio host Don Imus' firing over insensitive comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. Many activists in the black community have since turned their attention to rap lyrics and begun to question what steps the music industry should take to police itself.

"We recommend the formation of a music industry Coalition on Broadcast Standards, consisting of leading executives from music, radio and television industries," Simmons and Chavis said on behalf of the HHSAN, an advocacy group dedicated to the cultural relevance of hip-hop music. "The coalition would recommend guidelines for lyrical and visual standards within the industries."

Simmons, the prominent hip-hop executive who co-founded Def Jam, and Chavis, a longtime civil rights leader and former CEO of the NAACP, also called for setting up an industry watchdog to set guidelines for lyrical and visual standards.

"We also recommend that the recording industry establish artist mentoring programs and forums to stimulate effective dialogue between artists, hip-hop fans, industry leaders and others to promote better understanding and positive change," they said.

Monday's statement changed course from another one Simmons and Chavis issued April 13, a day after Imus' show was canceled, in which they said offensive references in hip-hop "may be uncomfortable for some to hear, but our job is not to silence or censor that expression."

"Our internal discussions with industry leaders are not about censorship," they said Monday. "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."

Many artists, meanwhile, have argued for freedom of expression and believe the issue is being taken out of context.

"I call women 'hos' in my music, but that doesn't mean I'm trying to degrade someone," female rapper Remy Ma said in an interview. "That's just the way we talk. I think (Tupac Shakur) said it best: Once you take the power away from the word, it doesn't mean the same thing."

Mariel Concepcion is an online editor at Billboard. Reuters contributed to this report.