Rap and Censorship
The beginnings of rap are believed to based on African rhythms which were used as a form of communication by the native peoples. The lyrical component of rap music is thought to have been greatly influenced by Cab Calloway with his repetitive chants and scats, along with his call-and-response technique with the audience.
Rap evolved and gained in popularity in the 1960's when a few revolutionary "DJ's," including Kool DJ Herc, DJ Lovebug Starski, and DJ Hollywood, began to work block parties in the Bronx. They would bring in large speakers, hook them up to a turntable and play two of the same record at the same time, repeating the same section of the vinyl over and over by scratching it. Other performers would chant and yell to the crowd.
In 1979, music companies recorded rap for the first time. Such acts as The Sugar Hill Gang, The Fatback Band, and Grandmaster Flash were among the first to gain popularity. In 1982, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released the first popular politically based rap. Grandmaster's song "The Message" deals with life in the inner city, and the stress of being around violence and drugs. It included such lyrics as, "Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat, I tried to get away but I can't get far, cause the man with the touch-up repossessed my car, don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge?"
The early popularity of rap was hindered by an inability to reach new audiences. After much controversy, MTV began to run videos by black artists. These artists were showcased primarily on the new program "Yo! MTV Raps". The rhythms and the lyrics attracted a spectrum of listeners, from inner-city minorities to suburban upper-class whites.
During the same era, as rap was rising in popularity, the infamous "PMRC hearings" occurred. Tennessee senator Al Gore's wife, Tipper, led the PMRC, or Parents' Music Resource Center. This group, which included a number of other wives of Washington legislators, convinced Congress to hold hearings regarding the placement of warning labels on "offensive" albums. The National PTA also called for warning labels on violent, sexually explicit, or vulgar albums in their yearly address in 1984.
During the Congressional hearings, several ideas were considered including warning labels, a ratings system, and singer/songwriter Frank Zappa's idea which was to publish the actual lyrics of the album and put them on a sheet of paper inside the packaging. Zappa's idea was dismissed, but the ideas of warning labels and ratings were reviewed, with the eventual recommendation that recording companies label their music based on content.
Who determined content, and how, became the issue as demonstrated by the treatment of the 1992 album "Death Certificate" by the "Gangsta" rapper, Ice Cube. This album was determined to be so profane that Billboard Magazine asked merchandisers to refuse to sell or advertise it. Ice Cube's British label, Island Records, then edited two of the album's tracks before selling it and without obtaining permission from Ice Cube to alter his recording. In one of these edited songs, "No Vaseline", Ice Cube raps about his former N.W.A. bandmates with lyrics such as " Yo Dre? you been a dick, Eazy-E saw your ass and went in it quick. "Tried to dis Ice Cube but it wasn't worth it, cause the broomstick fits your ass so perfect."
The language of these lyrics may be offensive to many, but if a buyer or a retailer is discouraged because of the warning label, listeners might also miss out on a song like "Alive on Arrival." In this song Ice Cube describes what it's like to seek treatment at South Central L.A.'s much under-funded Martin Luther King Hospital. "Look at the waiting room, it's filled to the brim like the County Jail day-room, nobody's getting help, since we're poor the hospital moves slow? then I begin the ass-kissin' just to get helped by an over-worked physician."
There is also an apparent inequality in the placement of these warning labels. For instance, Alanis Morrissette's 1994 "Jagged Little Pill" album had swearing and references to oral sex in a public place, as well as breaking and entering. The Dixie Chicks, on their album "Fly" devote an entire song to