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This Time, a Record Company Did Responsible Thing

March 27, 2000|EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON | Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of "The Disappearance of Black Leadership," forthcoming from Middle Passage Press. He can be reached at

Universal Music Group finally did something record companies should have done a long time ago. The company told its rap recording group the Murderers that it wouldn't release their new album until they removed anti-police and anti-gay slurs from their lyrics ("No Album Out Yet but Rappers Still Under Fire," by Soren Baker, March 11). Universal also announced that it will closely scrutinize the content of all new titles.

For a decade, Universal and other record labels were stone silent while their rap artists routinely peddled lyrics that savage women, gays, Jews, whites and blacks. It's no mystery why. These groups rake in bushels of money for the companies. In 1999, Universal grabbed nearly 30% of the record sales in the United States and its rap groups were five of its 10 top-selling music acts.

Still, the Murderers accused Universal of hypocrisy for demanding that they excise their inflammatory and homophobic lyrics while saying nothing about the use of the N-word. Rap groups liberally sprinkle the word throughout their songs. The Murderers also claimed that the company is way out of touch with how many young blacks think and talk.

They're right about the N-word. Black rappers, comedians and some writers go through tortuous gyrations to justify the use of the N-word. They maintain that repeated use of the word renders it harmless. This is pure malarkey. The word is demeaning and offensive to most blacks. Universal and other record companies should have cracked down hard on the use of that word by artists a long time ago.

The Murderers are also right when they say that many young blacks buy into the swagger, bounce and tough-guy talk captured in rap lyrics. Many rap groups--who ironically are college-educated and come from solid, two-parent, middle-class families--gleefully exploit this negative posturing to fatten their bank accounts and transform themselves into youth icons and self-styled rebels with a cause. Even this group's name, the Murderers, is designed to pander to that death-defying image. But what these rap groups refuse to admit is that some young blacks do more than emulate the tough-guy routine. They act out destructive and outlandish behavior.

The actual and alleged mayhem and bad behavior of the rap world's glitterati, coupled with that of some fans, fuels horrid nightmares in many whites that young blacks are born-and-bred menaces to society. This deep racial fear creates horrendous problems for young blacks. Racial profiling is one. Some law enforcement officials privately and sometimes openly defend the morally and legally indefensible practice of targeting young blacks on streets and highways for stops and searches solely because they're young and black. They fervently believe that these youth are crime-prone and therefore it's not racism but simply proactive law enforcement to detain them. This makes perfectly good sense to them. They too watch MTV and listen to some of the top rappers glorify violence and preach disrespect for authority.

The Murderers gloat that their squabble with Universal over lyrics will cause legions of their boosters to assail the company for pouncing on young blacks who dare to tell the truth. But that's a small price for Universal to pay to tell rappers and the rest of the record industry that profits must not come before corporate responsibility.

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