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Debate in Imus imbroglio turns toward rap lyrics

By The Associated Press
04.16.07

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has questioned the way some rappers talk about women in songs, saying the lyrics were similar to the derogatory language used by fired radio host Don Imus.

They are "degrading their sisters. That doesn't inspire me," Obama said April 13 of some hip-hop artists when a man in a campaign-event crowd in Florence, S.C., questioned him.

Earlier last week, Obama criticized Imus, who was fired April 12 for labeling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."

"I do think we've seen a coarsening of the culture," Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press. As a constitutional lawyer, Obama said, he was a free-speech advocate.

"But just because you can say something doesn't mean you should say something," he said. "And I think that we have not talked enough about the harmful images and messages that are sent." He said as a parent it was a constant struggle to reinforce his two daughters' sense of self-esteem.

"I think that all of us have become a little complicit in this kind of relaxed attitude toward some pretty offensive things," Obama said. "And I hope this prompts some self-reflection on the part of all of us."

In Iowa, Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said Imus' departure could result in exits for other talk-show hosts, such as Rosie O'Donnell and Bill Maher.

The former Arkansas governor and frequent Imus guest said Imus' comments were inexcusable and wrong, but noted other celebrities had also made offensive comments.

"Well, that was a decision the networks had to make," Huckabee told Radio Iowa. "I think if Imus is going to get fired, then there's a lot of other people that need to go out the door. Rosie's probably got to go. Bill Maher has to go. Gosh, half of talk radio and television has to go."

Huckabee has appeared on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" to promote his candidacy.

Others turned up the volume against harmful themes in rap.

"We all know where the real battleground is," wrote Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock. "We know that the gangsta rappers and their followers in the athletic world have far bigger platforms to negatively define us than some old white man with a bad radio show."

"We have to begin working on a response to the larger problem," said the Rev. DeForest B. Soaries Jr., who as pastor of the Rutgers coach helped mediate the Imus imbroglio. Soaries announced April 13 that he would organize a nationwide initiative to address the culture that "has produced language that has denigrated women."

The larger problem was alluded to by CBS President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves when he announced Imus' firing: "The effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society ... has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision."

Pointing out that the rapper Mims uses "ho" and worse epithets in his chart-topping song "This Is Why I'm Hot," columnist Michelle Malkin asked: "What kind of relief do we get from this deadening, coarsening, dehumanizing barrage?"

The Rev. Al Sharpton, among the loudest critics calling for Imus' termination, also indicated that entertainment was the next battleground. "We will not stop until we make it clear that no one should denigrate women," he said after Imus' firing. "We must deal with the fact that ho and the b-word are words that are wrong from anybody's lips.

"It would be wrong if we stopped here and acted like Imus was the only problem. There are others that need to get this same message."

Some defenders of rap music and hip-hop culture, such as the pioneering mogul Russell Simmons, deny any connection between Imus and hip-hop. They describe rap lyrics as reflections of the violent, drug-plagued, hopeless environments that many rappers come from. Instead of criticizing rappers, defenders say, critics should improve their reality.

"Comparing Don Imus' language with hip-hop artists' poetic expression is misguided and inaccurate and feeds into a mindset that can be a catalyst for unwarranted, rampant censorship," Simmons said in a statement April 13.

The superstar rapper Snoop Dogg also denied any connection to Imus. "(Rappers) are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports," he told MTV.com. "We're talking about hos that's in the 'hood that ain't doing ---- that's trying to get a n---- for his money."

Criticism of rap is nothing new — it began soon after the music emerged from New York City's underclass more than 30 years ago.

In 1993, the rapper-turned actor Queen Latifah challenged rap's misogyny in her hit song "U.N.I.T.Y." That same year, C. Delores Tucker, who was chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women Inc., led an organized movement — which included congressional hearings — condemning sexist and violent rap.

That same year, the Rev. Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem drove a steamroller over a pile of tapes and CDs.

In 2004, students at Spelman College, a black women's college in Atlanta, became upset over rapper Nelly's video for his song "Tip Drill," in which he cavorts with strippers and swipes a credit card between one woman's buttocks. The rapper wanted to hold a campus bone marrow drive for his ailing sister, but students demanded he first participate in a discussion about the video's troubling images. Nelly declined.

In 2005, Essence magazine launched its "Take Back the Music" campaign. Writers such as Joan Morgan and Kierna Mayo and filmmaker Byron Hurt also have tackled the issue recently.

T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, author of "Pimps Up, Ho's Down: Hip Hop's Hold on Young Black Women" and a professor at Vanderbilt University, said many black women resist rap music and hip-hop culture, but their efforts are largely ignored by mainstream media. As an example, the professor pointed to "Rap Sessions," the 10-city tour in which she's participating. She said the tour and its central question — does hip-hop hate women? — have gotten very little mainstream media coverage.

"It's only when we interface with a powerful white media personality like Imus that the issue is raised and the question turns to 'Why aren't you as vociferous in your critique of hip-hop?' We have been! You've been listening to the music, but you haven't been listening to the protests from us."

Crouch said change in rap music and entertainment likely wouldn't come fast, because corporations are still profiting from the business — but it's coming.

"I've been on (rappers) for 20 years," Crouch said. "I was in the civil rights movement. I know it takes a long time when you're standing up against extraordinary money and great power. But we're beginning to see a shift."

In San Bernardino, Calif., a small radio station began airing "Best of Imus" programs today in defiance of Imus' firing.

Fred Lundgren, chairman of 1,400-watt KCAA (1050 AM), said the station would include in its weeklong series the program that wound up getting Imus cashiered.

"I'm not going to let networks dictate to me who I run on my station," said Lundgren.

The station, which has broadcast the shock jock's morning show since 2003, also plans to air mostly supportive listener mail and e-mail reacting to the controversy.

The station can be heard in communities east and south of Los Angeles. The Imus material was also available on the station's Web site at http://www.kcaaradio.com.

Lundgren said the motive for broadcasting the Imus reruns was in part financial.

"I hate to say it, but without Imus, we're pretty much toast," said Lundgren, adding: "What Imus did was deplorable, inexcusable, but it shouldn't end the career of a man who has done so much good. This is an overreaction beyond anything I've ever seen in radio."

(Editor's note: After this story was posted, CBS Radio, which controls rights to the Imus show, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit last week against KCAA and its owners, Broadcast Management Services of Katy, Texas. The media company wanted $150,000 for each copyright violation caused by the Imus reruns. A settlement was reached, ending the lawsuit, after Radio station lawyer Brian Oxman said KCAA had planned to end the rebroadcasts on April 27 anyway. CBS Radio said it would not seek damages.)


Update
Music execs hold summit on offensive rap lyrics
Private meeting comes in wake of Don Imus' firing for on-air slur about Rutgers women's basketball team. 04.20.07

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Enss Mitchell at Comedy Union in Los Angeles says free speech is key issue since the Michael Richards firestorm. 12.11.06

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Anthony Latour settled last year with school district over expulsion; latest deal stems from police charges of terroristic threats based on violent lyrics. 12.29.06

CBS fires Don Imus from radio show
Earlier, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama called for talk-show host's ouster. 04.12.07

NAACP stages public funeral for 'n-word'
'Die n-word, and we don't want to see you 'round here no more,' says Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. 07.10.07

Imus, Coulter and the marketplace for offensive speech
By Charles C. Haynes The danger is that the messier the speech, the louder the clamor for government to clean up the mess. 04.15.07

From Jackie Robinson to Don Imus
By Gene Policinski Comparing what shock-jock said this year with what first black Major League Baseball player heard in 1947. 04.20.07

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