I'm not an historian, but rather a burgeoning literary critic. Perhaps some might regard me a little less than qualified to present the little history lesson below. Yet, if Skip Gates could serve as an "expert witness" for Luther Campbell et. al. in a (successful) attempt to locate As Nasty as They Wanna Be within a larger black vernacular context--whatever that is--I think I can sketch out a brief history and connect some dots to show why Russell Simmons' proposed ban(d-Aid) of certain words from Hip Hop songs is short-sighted, poorly thought out, and simply (the weak or the strong/who got it going on...) dead wrong--and that's despite his addendum.
In a statement released by the Hip Hop Summit Action Network yesterday, Simmons and Dr. Benjamin Chavis suggested that pertinent media industries "bleep-out" the words "bitch," "ho," and "nigger"--not nigga--presumably (and perhaps primarily) from Hip Hop songs and related art forms. It was noted that this is a markedly different stance from the one Simmons and Chavis took in the immediate aftermath of the Don Imus incident. In an interview promoting his new book, Simmons would later reiterate that he continues to be a champion of freedom of expression, and clarify that the idea of the voluntary ban was intended for the "airwaves."(See story here.) Not that that's not what radio stations already do... With my previous musings in mind, I'd like to offer another reason why not to ban words. I hope to (yet again) prove why not saying something doesn't necessarily change thought patterns or behavior.
Sometimes history works nicely. And this is such a case. In 1989, rap group 2 Live Crew released their third album, As Nasty as They Wanna Be. It would prove to be the group's most successful and controversial, making Luther Campbell (aka Luke Skyywalker) and the likes of Tipper Gore strange bedfellows, putting such couplings on the tip of every tongue from South Central to suburbia. Though stamped with a parental advisory sticker, ANATWB was legally classified as obscene, and subsequently banned in the state of Florida. Two years later, with the help of Professor Gates' above mentioned testimony, that ruling was overturned. Fueled by the courtroom controversy, along with major airplay of the hit, "Me So Horny,"--which sampled an Asian woman's voice from the movie, Full Metal Jacket-- ANATWB sold two million copies.
The same year of that record's release, a then unknown Chicagoan by the name of Robert Kelly formed his first R&B group and recorded a song. Two years later, linked with Public Announcement, Kelly released his debut album, Born into the 90s. Though the album spawned several hits and was a relative success, Kelly left Public Announcement; he released his debut solo album in 1993.
Why do I link these two? My main point is to exhibit the close proximity between the beginning of Kelly's career and the public outcry over misogyny in Hip Hop. Though he is arguably the most successful male R&B singer of the 90s, it must be considered that at this historical moment, Hip Hop and R&B started (or were already) dating. By 1995, with the release of Method Man and Mary J. Blige's remake of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "You're All I Need" the two musical genres were officially shacking up. Secondly, I highlight these contemporaneous instances to say the following: if the ban--albeit brief-- of ANATWB was a punch in the jaw, by the time R. Kelly released 12 Play in 1993, he must have still been tasting a bit of blood and salt in his mouth. I contend that part of the fall out of 2 Live Crew's briefly banned misogynistic output was the implicit requirement that rappers and the R&B crooners inspired and influenced by rap occasionally come up with different, more creative(?) ways of objectifying and demeaning women. And no one does that better than R. Kelly.
Here's an excerpt from Kelly's 1995 hit, "You Remind Me of Something":
You remind me of somethingAnd from 2003's "Ignition," where he samples his own voice from the above song:
I just can't think of what it is
You remind me of my jeep, I wanna ride it
Something like my sound, I wanna pump it
Girl you look just like my cars, I wanna wax it
And something like my bank account
I wanna spend it, baby...
You remind me of somethingNow, here's an excerpt from Kelly's verse on 2007's "Make it Rain Remix":
I just can't think of what it is
Girl, please let me stick my key in your ignition,
So I can get this thing started and get rollin', babe
See, I'll be doin' about 80 on your freeway
Girl, I won't stop until I drive you crazy
I be drilling these chicks like Major Payne*my emphasis
When I make it rain, they be like "yo... do it again"
From the club to the coupe, inside my gates
Up in my bedroom screaming each other's name
They was perty perty, and I was flirty flirty
Lil' dro, lil' bub now they gettin' dirty dirty
Don't ax me what my name is, stupid bitch I'm famous*
You gon' make me aim this, leave your ass brainless
I'm tryin' to stay R&B but these streets is a part of me
So don't get it twisted
You see I order one bottle, then I fuck with one model
Then I order more bottles, now I got more models
I'm from that city where them niggas don't play man
I take a chick to my room like caveman
So ask your girlfriend my name, I bet she go
"Skeet Skeet Skeet Skeet, Weatherman 'bout to make it rain!"**
**Skeet is slang for ejaculation, generally outside of a woman's vagina.
Should I be happily relieved that R. Kelly and the rest could possibly no longer publicly refer to women as bitches and hoes, but rather continue to liken me to automobiles and any other creative analogies they can think of while in the studio? Mr. Simmons, I feel as if your suggestion requires that I pick my poison. Actually, that's quite inaccurate. The suggestion proffered by Simmons and Dr. Chavis simply compels the offending artists to choose another poison. For banning words, voluntarily or otherwise, does not fix or even assuage the problem. It simply kicks a bit of dirt where a land mine once detonated. If I may return to my literary roots, it's like Jem chopping off the heads of Mrs. Dubose's camellias. And what did she tell him? "Next time, you'll know how to do it right, won't you? You'll pull it up by the roots, won't you?"
Mr. Simmons and Dr. Chavis, I truly believe that you and your Hip Hop Summit cronies can put your heads together, and come up with a much more effective solution. If I may borrow an R. Kelly simile, the mind is sort of like a car engine. Gentlemen, please start yours.
Labels: random bullshit
language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison