Nobody would argue there aren't times when hip-hop and R&B (along with every other genre of music) embarrasses itself with some of its lyrics. Russell Simmons has decided enough is enough - but he isn't suggesting censorship as such:
A Statement by Russell Simmons and Dr. Benjamin Chavis on behalf of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network
April 23, 2007
The theme of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN) is "Taking Back Responsibility." We are consistent in our strong affirmation, defense, and protection of the First Amendment right of free speech and artistic expression. We have recently been involved in a process of dialogue with recording and broadcast industry executives about issues concerning corporate social responsibility.
It is important to re-emphasize that our internal discussions with industry leaders are not about censorship. Our discussions are about the corporate 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.
HSAN reaffirms, therefore, that there should not be any government regulation or public policy that should ever violate the First Amendment. With freedom of expression, however, comes responsibility. With that said, HSAN is concerned about the growing public outrage concerning the use of the words "bitch," "ho," and "nigger." We recommend that the recording and broadcast industries voluntarily remove/bleep/delete the misogynistic words "bitch" and "ho" and the racially offensive word "nigger."
Going forward, these three words should be considered with the same objections to obscenity as "extreme curse words." The words "bitch" and "ho" are utterly derogatory and disrespectful of the painful, hurtful, misogyny that, in particular, African American women have experienced in the United States as part of the history of oppression, inequality, and suffering of women. The word "nigger" is a racially derogatory term that disrespects the pain, suffering, history of racial oppression, and multiple forms of racism against African Americans and other people of color.
In addition, we recommend the formation of a music industry Coalition on Broadcast Standards, consisting of leading executives from music, radio and television industries. The Coalition would recommend guidelines for lyrical and visual standards within the industries.
We also recommend that the recording industry establish artist mentoring programs and forums to stimulate effective dialogue between artists, hip-hop fans, industry leaders and others to promote better understanding and positive change. HSAN will help to coordinate these forums.
These issues are complex, but require creative voluntary actions exemplifying good corporate social responsibility.
We'd have thought that if we learned anything at the hands of Tipper Gore, it's that quasi-voluntary codes of conduct, and standards and bleeping doesn't make things better - after all, has a Parental Advisory rating ever made any band think twice about its content?
The way to stop musicians recording songs which treat women like shit and play games with racist epithets isn't to have some sort of pools panel of sobriety rating songs on how they fit a pre-determined grid of what's acceptable; it's more about changing the atmosphere so that acts wouldn't want to release a song which talks about women as "whores" in the first place. Rather than issuing long, rambling calls for something to be done, figures like Simmons should use their influence to suggest that it might be a good idea for rap videos to contain fewer women in their knickers, for example. You need to challenge the mindset that makes the records, not merely put your hands over your ears when they get to the bits you find uncomfortable.