Taking the 'gangsta' out of rap Don't ban it: Music makers must accept responsibility for behavior it promotes.

January 07, 1996

THE PATHOLOGIES usually associated with being a teen-ager in urban America -- gang membership, violence, drug abuse, promiscuity -- can destroy a young life. For many, peer pressure to participate in those activities is intense. And it doesn't help that popular culture, through music and fashion, seems to promote these dangerous lifestyles. So-called "gangsta rap," in particular, often romanticizes drug dealers who boast about the money they make and the women they seduce while occasionally lamenting the death of a partner who fell victim to one of the inevitabilities of street life.

The makers of these songs defend them by claiming they are only portraying what is everyday life for many of America's young people. Indeed, the most popular rappers are those who look like they actually live the lives they sing about. They say they are play acting, but it's sometimes hard to tell where their pantomime ends. Rapper Eazy-E died this year of AIDS. Tupac Shakur, convicted of sexual assault this year, was shot five times outside his recording studio. He survived. Snoop Doggy Dogg is currently a defendant in a murder trial.

Such role models have been ammunition for gangsta rap critics, who say the music promotes self-destructive behavior. Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole has gotten political mileage with such criticism. And C. Delores Tucker, who as chair of the National Political Caucus of Black Women was little known outside the African-American community, has gained much greater notoriety with her anti-rap music campaign. Fame of another sort was afforded local radio disc jockey Marcel Thornton, who lost his job for refusing to play songs he says are violent or demeaning to women.

In each of these crusades, as it was with Tipper Gore's 1985 campaign to put warning labels on CDs and tapes with sexually explicit lyrics, there is an understandable fear of censorship. Preferable to government edicts would be a voluntary effort by musical artists, their record companies and the mass media that showcase popular music to be more responsible. The "real life" they depict is also being emulated by young people who don't live in such environments. Those who live there don't need rap songs to remind them of their surroundings. All they have to do is walk outside the door.

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