Friday, June 14, 2024

Musicians stifled by censors

An angry mom has attracted attention recently because she wants rapper Vince Staples to think about the children.

A Christian mother of four made national news when she posted an 11-minute video ranting and crying about the lyrical content of Staples’ song “Norf Norf” off his album “Summertime ‘06.”

The unnamed mother said: “This is on our local radio station. This crap is being played. I couldn’t even believe the words that I was listening to. As a mom, it infuriated me.”

October 4, Staples responded by scolding internet users who were laughing at the mother, saying “no person needs to be attacked for their opinion on what they see to be appropriate for their children. They have a right to it.”

This is only the latest in hip-hop’s battle with censorship.

It did not appear overnight and is not always about race, but seems to disproportionately censor urban music. In the 1930s, censors banned artist Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit,” which describes the horrors of lynching, from U.S. radio. Two decades later, black artists experimented with crafting their own music.

The R&B genre was created as a bond between blues and soul music. The style was defined by eclectic performers singing freely about love, heartbreak and lust. As it grew into the mainstream, it was disapproved for it expression about sexual desires and drug use. Houston’s Juvenile Delinquency and Crime Commission banned more than 30 songs in the 1950s.

Music then and now represents the attitude of the youth culture. Older generations use censorship against younger ones because the music does not reflect their values. R&B contrasted the generation before them the way rock and roll did and rap does now. In all cases, the new genre challenged the old ways of respecting authority in favor of exploring identity, sexual freedom, drug use and questioning the same authority.

When youngsters in the Bronx began rapping in the late 1970s it was little more than an innovative party trick. It would be years before rap was profitable, fashionable, cathartic and censored. One anti-censorship crusades involved N.W.A. defying orders from the FBI and their record label not to perform. The same year three members of rap group 2 Live Crew was acquitted of obscenity charges for performing obscene lyrics as a club in Hollywood, Florida. An edited version of Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” cost Colorado Springs Radio a $7,000 fine.

This year, rapper Tyler, The Creator has been banned from entering the United Kingdom due to the lyrical content in his first two albums, released six years ago. There’s Bill O’Riley, whose campaign against rap has been well-documented. In the midst of Don Imus’ controversy where the radio show host called a group of female basketball players “nappy headed hos,” O’Riley was quick to point out how rap music had made the word so common. Trump’s spokesperson Katrina Pierson visited CNN Sunday to claim Trump’s lewd comments were compared to the “hip hop you hear on local radio stations.”

While music can be highly influential to a young audience, regulating it needs to be balanced. Wanting to protect children from profane lyrics that glamorize the wrong things or have violent undertones is to be expected. But censorship is a direct affront to the First Amendment rights this country was built on.

Certainly if rappers censored themselves, there would be no need for this outrage. But rap music has an embedded pride in authenticity. Music often presents an exaggerated reflection of reality but editing it will stifle a discussion about current issues.

Email Taylor Richardson at

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