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Music Executives Respond to Criticism Over Offensive Hip-Hop Lyrics

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After a rejuvenated national debate on the state of hip-hop, Russell Simmons and Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, released on Monday a set of recommendations, including removing offensive words from songs to help the recording and broadcast industries deal with derogatory lyrics and images.

The suggestions came from a private meeting that Simmons called last week in New York City. Music executives Damon Dash, CEO of Damon Dash Enterprises; Antonio “L.A.” Reid, chairman of Island Def Jam; Sylvia Rhone, president of Motown Records; and Debra Lee, chairwoman and CEO of BET Networks attended the meeting.

“It is important to reemphasize that our internal discussions with industry leaders are not about censorship,” said a statement released by the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. “Our discussions are about the corporate and 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.”

The Summit recommended that:

— The recording and broadcast industries voluntarily delete or bleep out “bitch,” “ho” and “nigger,” three words that from now on should be considered as offensive as “extreme curse words”
— Leading executives from the music, radio and television industries form a Coalition on Broadcast Standards with the purpose of suggesting guidelines for lyrical and visual standards
— The recording industry establish artist mentoring programs and forums to encourage dialogue among artists, fans and industry leaders to foster understanding and positive change


Credit: Courtesy of HHSAN
Benjamin Chavis, co-chairman of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network

“The issues are complex but require creative voluntary actions exemplifying good corporate social responsibility,” the statement concluded. On an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show last week, Simmons acknowledged the problem of offensive language in mainstream hip-hop. But rather than hold artists accountable for their lyrics, he blamed poverty and dismal social circumstances.

Some are taking a stronger stand against negative messages in popular music. On the heels of the Summit’s announcement, the NAACP launched an initiative on Monday about demeaning images of African-Americans in the media. The STOP Campaign targets the record and television industries, as well as the African-American community itself, demanding that individuals stop using derogatory language toward women and stop supporting artists and companies that portray disrespectful images.

Helen Little, program director of New York’s Power 105 urban radio station, announced last week that the station will now consider lyrical content before a song is aired.

“It is not reason enough to say, ‘We should play this because it’s popular,’ ” Little said. “We will play a song that is popular and doesn’t offend.”

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