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Some rappers clean up act
NEW YORK (AP)
Rap’s critics have been complaining for years, only to watch the music become even more profane — and more popular. But now it seems as if Don Imus may be accomplishing what a generation of detractors could not.
Four months after outrage over Mr. Imus‘ sexist and racial comments led to intense scrutiny of rap’s negative imagery, and as the genre’s sales continue to plummet, some artists are publicly abandoning offensive language.
The platinum-seller Chamillionaire recently announced that his new album, “Ultimate Victory,” would be cuss-and-“n”-word free. Numerous lesser-known rappers are promoting themselves as alternatives to misogynistic gangsta rap. The handlers behind 17-year-old sensation Sean Kingston are touting him as PG-rated. And the veteran gangsta Master P also declared that he would make clean music (though the “Dancing With the Stars” contestant’s hit-making days now seem long gone).
Still, others remain defiant amid increasing pressure from the public and corporations. They vow to remain, in the words of rap’s raunch king Uncle Luke, as nasty as they wanna be.
“It would have to say something real strong to make me change the way I do my music,” said Twista, whose explicit lyrics got him dropped from a McDonald's-sponsored concert this week. “I’m gonna keep saying it because I know I’m just making good music.”
Chamillionaire figured he could still make good music — just without the rough language. The rapper, who won a Grammy this year for his socially charged smash “Ridin,’ ” says he never cursed all that much in his music anyway. The “n”-word was a different story: “I’ve always used the “n”-word.”
But after the success of his last album, he went out on tour and saw mostly white faces lip-synching the epithet along with his lyrics. Now Chamillionaire has had a change of heart for his new album, due in September on Universal Music Group, a unit of General Electric Co.
“I’m not going to say the “n”-word on this one because when I go back on the road, and I start performing, I don’t want them to be saying it, like me teaching them,” he told Associated Press.
Chamillionaire insists his conversion is a moral issue and not due to the Imus backlash: “There are a lot of people who are opportunists … I’m definitely not that.” But more opportunities may arise for rappers with clean lyrics in the wake of Mr. Imus‘ firing for calling the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos” on his radio broadcast.
The Imus outrage was soon redirected toward equally misogynistic references in rap, as many questioned whether there was a double standard. Then came calls from everyone from civil rights leaders to rap pioneer Russell Simmons for corporations and radio stations to more closely censor profanity and racial epithets.
Fifteen to 20 years ago, when the likes of Tipper Gore and C. Dolores Tucker were protesting, rap just fed off the controversy and gained momentum amid booming sales that generated hundreds of millions of dollars for publicly owned corporations. But now rap sales have plunged a dramatic 33 percent from 2006 — double the decline of the overall music industry. And rappers have moved from the fringe to the mainstream, which makes them — and their endorsements, movie roles and clothing lines — more vulnerable to outside pressure.
Talib Kweli, widely known as a socially conscious artist, says there’s always been positive rappers, but they haven’t received the attention of their gangsta counterparts. He’s not convinced that will change post-Imus, but says Chamillionaire’s decision is “a wise one, a smart one and a creative one, and I commend him on it.
“He’s the type of artist who is talented enough to pull that off, and he’s making a point. Industry executives … are so used to the formula that they don’t know what to do, and I think they’re scared.”
A few may have been scared straight. The new CD from Sean Kingston, featuring the hit “Beautiful Girls” and a mix of reggae, rap and R&B;, is being promoted as curse-free. You might not think the baby-faced artist would put out raunchy lyrics due to his young age, but this is an industry that gave the world a 15-year-old Foxy Brown rapping about the power of sex and one-hit wonder J-Kwon bragging about getting “Tipsy” at 17.
By Bob Dole
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