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Black Leaders Weighing In on Rap Debate


The Rev. Al Sharpton has warned Time Warner executives that they will have him, other prominent black political figures and the African American community to contend with if they bow to pressure from Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and other conservatives to stop selling records containing controversial lyrics by rap artists.

"Yes, I have a problem as a parent with some of these lyrics, but I have even more of a problem with the right wing using this concern as an excuse to usher in censorship. That is not right and it will infringe on our First Amendment rights," Sharpton said Tuesday as he described his Monday meeting with Time Warner executives in New York.

Sharpton added, "I told the Time Warner people that they should not in any way cave in to the pressure and protest. If they do, they will see protest from people like me, and we will have a lot of support from the black constituency. We will accuse them of playing presidential politics and using our children as political guinea pigs, and of creating a climate of regression and censorship."

His remarks echoed statements made last week by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who said at a pro-affirmative action rally held at UCLA: "The question today is how do we stop the hate talk--the hate, the hurt, the hostility, the meanness. We'd rather talk about the militia. We'd rather talk about the Oklahoma City bombing. They start talking about gangster rap. Gangsters don't rap and rappers are not gangsters. That's nothing but diversion."

In a column to be published in an upcoming issue of Vibe Magazine, Jackson says, "In railing against the lyrics of gangsta rap, Dole denounces the messengers, and slights the message. There is no excuse for some of these lyrics. But there is also no excuse for our ghettos--where young men can't find jobs nor support families, where hope has gone and drugs and guns become a way out."

And U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), an outspoken supporter of rap music, said Tuesday that she supports "freedom of expression," adding that "despite the fact that the media is embracing Dole and making him a real voice on this issue, I don't think he's credible."

The sentiments by Sharpton, Jackson and Waters reflects the re-entry of black leaders into the debate over rap lyrics and the portrayals of violent lifestyles and negative images of females.


William Bennett, former Secretary of Education, and C. DeLores Tucker, chair of the National Political Congress of Black Women, last month launched an advertising campaign attacking Time Warner for promoting music that "celebrates the rape, torture and murder of women."

Senate Majority Leader and presidential candidate Dole jumped into the anti-Time Warner fray two weeks ago, echoing comments made by Bennett and Tucker. Time Warner owns 50% of Interscope Records, which is distributor of, or home to, several maligned acts, including Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tupac Shakur.

The attack by Bennett and Tucker reignited a controversy that spilled over into Capitol Hill hearings last year over the social impact of gangsta rap.

Following a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing called in February, 1994, Waters said, "It would be a foolhardy mistake to single out poets as the cause of America's problems."

She added, "These are our children and they've invented a new art form to describe their pains, fears and frustrations with us as adults. Just because we don't like the symbols they use or the way they look, we should not allow that to cause us to embark on a course of censorship."

Later that month, U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.) chaired a Senate subcommittee hearing that dealt with explicit lyrics. In her comments, Moseley-Braun called for record companies to take more responsibility in monitoring their acts.

"Those in the industry cannot dodge their responsibilities to society by hiding behind the First Amendment," she said. "The First Amendment states that the government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. It does not say that corporations should take no responsibility to monitor the content of material they market to the public.

"Just because something can be sold to the public does not necessarily mean that it should." (Moseley-Braun was unavailable for comment Tuesday.)

After the hearings, the debate in political circles quieted down until the recent campaign was launched by Bennett and Tucker, and Dole lambasted the movie and music industries during a campaign speech in Hollywood.

In opposing those views, Sharpton said he met on Monday with Doug Morris, chairman of Warner Music U.S.; Mel Lewinter, president and chief operating officer of Warner Music U.S.; Danny Goldberg, chairman of Warner Bros. Records, and Sylvia Rhone, CEO of Elektra Entertainment.

Sharpton said he told the executives that rap music was being unfairly singled out by Dole and Tucker: "Most movies have a level of violence. Hard rockers say the same thing. Republicans like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger star in the most violent movies around."

Referring to Tucker, Sharpton said that she was being used and manipulated by the right wing. "I think her concern about the lyrics against women is a micro-issue compared to the one about censorship," he said. (Tucker was also unavailable for comment.)

Responding to Sharpton's comments, Ken Sunshine, senior vice president of Warner Music U.S., said: "We're hearing lots of views from activists, politicians and interested parties, and all that is being taken under advisement while we're meticulously researching the process by which we sticker material with questionable lyrics. No decision has been made as to exactly what the outcome will be."

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