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Hip-Hop's Bad Rap Is Undeserved

Guest Commentary 12/21/2003 07:00:00 PM Eastern

As a 47-year-old Irish-American white guy, I probably don't look much like your idea of a hip-hop fan. But I started my career on Don Kirschner's Rock Concert
and went on to create and produce one of the first music-video programs, TBS's Night Tracks.

Ever since, I've taken an interest in each new musical form. I've followed hip-hop from the beginning and developed an appreciation for this contemporary American art form. I appreciate its positive energy, its socially aware messages, its creativity, its humor, and the richness of its language.

I've also discovered how hip-hop brings together races and cultures in appreciation of its "good vibe." In fact, I've discovered this first hand, as executive producer of new Nickelodeon show Romeo!, starring hip-hop artists Master P and his real-life son Lil' Romeo. I affectionately describe it as a Partridge Family
for the hip-hop generation. Our multiracial cast reflects the diversity of the hip-hop world.

Hip-hop has assumed a special significance in my life, and I am personally offended when hip-hop gets tarred as negative and/or violent. As in the early days of rock 'n' roll, indiscriminate listeners may hear evocative words over a strong beat and label it negative. But to appreciate the true artistry of hip-hop, you have to listen to the words within the context.

This was the problem in the recent case involving the FCC and poet/performance artist/hip-hop artist Sarah Jones. In her feminist anthem "Your Revolution," Jones quoted the misogynistic lyrics of male rap artists, parodying their sexual rapaciousness as a way of declaring her own independence. But the FCC (which had never targeted the songs or male artists parodied by Jones) glommed onto one sexual phrase in "Your Revolution" and labeled the song "indecent."

Fortunately, The KBOO Foundation (which runs KBOO(FM) Portland, Ore., the station fined $7,000 for playing Jones's song) protested the ruling, and Jones filed a First Amendment lawsuit, protesting FCC censorship of her work. Two years after ruling, the FCC reviewed the lyrics in depth and considered them in context, concluding that "the material is not patently offensive and therefore not indecent" and rescinding the fine against KBOO. (Jones's suit was then deemed moot and dismissed.) But censorship should never have been the "solution" in the first place.

The artist has a fundamental right to express himself or herself. And consumers—of music, movies, television, art, books or any other medium—must be allowed to make their own
decisions about what they want to hear, watch, look at or read.

And when it comes to children's television—which might feature hip-hop artists putting across a positive social message in a unique musical form—parents, too, need to pay attention, listen to the words, and then make a choice.

Tom Lynch is CEO and founder of the Tom Lynch Co.

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