Number 111 / December 1993:
GANGSTA RAP LOVES YOU....The latest assault on gangsta rap began in November when a handful of self-appointed Los Angeles "community leaders" threatened KPWR-FM with an advertiser boycott if it didn't ban all songs using the words "nigga," "bitch," or "ho." On December 7, KPWR gave in and began to mask or delete the three words.
During that same week, WBLS / New York announced it will no longer play songs it feels encourage violence, misogyny, or vulgarity; WPGC / Washington, D.C. reaffirmed a bleep-and-ban policy; BET unveiled a ban on "violent" rap videos; and WCKZ / Charlotte exiled gangsta rap to late night airplay. On December 11, President Clinton used his weekly nationwide radio address to congratulate radio for meeting "the obligations we all share to fight violence with values."
But this isn't about words in a song. WCKZ program director Tim Patterson admitted to USA Today that, although his station takes some of the words of most-requested artist Snoop Doggy Dogg and flips them backwards, "We know what he's saying."
KPWR program director Rick Cummings defended his station's cave-in by saying: "Even though it's ["nigga"] sort of a greeting, and I can't tell Snoop Doggy Dogg how to address his homies, we may be doing more harm by legitimizing the word for other cultures that can't or don't understand the black culture."
But if gangsta rap is so hard to understand, why does KPWR's own research show that 65% of its listeners are Latino? Why is the music so popular that there are now upwards of 50 major market stations featuring it? "We can't ignore the songs," Tim Patterson explains. "They get such a huge response."
Millions are attracted to the brilliant production style of Dr. Dre, the vocal skills of Ice Cube, or the sheer beauty of a modern-day spiritual like D.R.S.'s "Gangsta Lean."
Part of gangsta rap's lyrical appeal stems from its uncritical embrace of the youth abandoned by society. When Ice Cube spoke at Locke High School in South Central Los Angeles on December 6, he took the mike right after the principal had explained that only students who had shown "academic improvement" had been allowed into the gym. "I'm here to talk to everybody outside," Cube said, "everybody who's ditching school today." On that firm foundation, gangsta rap is evolving into America's most important voice for unity.
It begins with the rappers themselves, as they move from boasting and putting each other down to giving each other respect (check 2Pac's "Representin' '93," in which he gives shout-outs to at least one hundred other artists). From there it expands to peace among the black gangs (check Scarface's "Now I Feel Ya" or Snoop's liner notes), unity between the generations (check Ice Cube's "Lil Ass Gee"), and unity between those inside and outside of prison (check "Gangsta Lean"). Moving on, black rappers now extend a hand to Latinos (check anything recent by Ice-T). This call for unity is echoed by the Latinos of Cypress Hill, the Funky Aztecs in Oakland, Spanish People in Control in Miami, and LA's Brotherhood From Another Hood (produced by Japanese-American Kevin Nakao).
Whites, although often dissed in gangsta rap as cops or Klansmen, respond to the music both for its irresistible sounds and because they have problems with cops and making the rent, too. "Gangsta rap is following the same course as the LA Rebellion," author Luis Rodriguez explains. "The blacks started it, then the Latinos jumped in, and before it was over the whites hit the streets."
Despite its overt sexism, gangsta rap promotes unity of the sexes by standing up for women. It begins with love for the same mothers that district attorneys often try to prosecute for their kids' run-ins with the law (check "Bang Bang Boogie" by DBG'Z, as lovingly sentimental as "Mother and Child Reunion" or even "My Yiddish Mama"). Gangsta rappers are the most visible and consistent defenders of the LA Rebellion and the women who took to the streets to steal food and diapers for their kids (12% of those arrested were female). The Rebellion was caused in part by the unpunished murder of a young woman, Latasha Harlins, who's been forgotten by everyone except gangsta rappers (check 2Pac's "Something 2 Die 4").
2Pac also spits in the face of Bill Clinton's utterly misogynist welfare schemes when, on the pro-choice "Keep Ya Head Up," he gives love and respect to all women on welfare. Surely, gangsta rap will spread the word as such women find common cause with the kind of men who Coolio's "Country Line" portrays being humiliated in a welfare office.
This isn't to say that anyone offended by gangsta lyrics shouldn't speak up, and there are productive ways to do it. On Queen Latifah's new Black Reign, she is unrelenting in her demand that no one can call her a "bitch" or a "ho." Yet Latifah appeared on KPWR to defend gangsta rap, explaining how much she'd learned about it simply by moving to L.A. Backstage at the recent Billboard awards, Latifah said: "A lot of that stuff has got to be heard. I wonder who's pulling those radio programmer's strings?"
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