Horrified lawmakers listen to 'gangsta rap' Delegates weigh bill to bar Md. investment

February 13, 1997|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

A House committee in Annapolis sat in horrified silence yesterday as crusaders against "gangsta rap" read verses from a song seldom heard by parents and never played in full on the radio -- but readily available to young people in record stores.

The Rev. Emmett C. Burns Jr., who also is a delegate from Baltimore County, gave the Appropriations Committee a verbatim introduction to the genre via something called "Bad Ass Bitch" by the group 2 Live Crew.

Viciously anti-woman and filled with explicit sexual references, almost nothing of these lyrics could be printed in a family newspaper or broadcast on radio -- and that was the point Burns wanted to make with his reading.

Burns appeared yesterday at a hearing on a bill he introduced that would remove Maryland state pension funds from companies that produce or distribute music that advocates or glamorizes acts of sexual assault and other violence.

The proposed legislation also would prohibit future investment of these funds in such companies.

The state of Texas recently divested itself of $3.5 million in stock in Seagram Co., which owns one of the companies.

Pennsylvania is considering similar action.

Burns was joined at the witness table by C. DeLores Tucker, chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women, who has been crusading against offensive lyrics for more than two years.

"These corporations must know that money in these funds cannot be used to destroy the future that retirees worked so hard to achieve," she said.

Burns said he is convinced that gun violence in which young people shoot each other or police officers is traceable to the "gangsta" culture.

A million copies of "Bad Ass Bitch" and other, often anti-black, lyrics have been sold -- half to children, he said.

"Media conglomerates," Burns said, "are paying us to degrade us."

While "gangsta rap" has a narrow definition in the music world and might not include the work of the now-defunct 2 Live Crew, proponents of the bill used the term yesterday to refer to the lyrics they want to remove from the marketplace.

Almost no one but the music's devotees has a real knowledge of the violent language so casually used, Tucker and Burns said.

'Worried sick'

Del. Talmadge Branch, a Baltimore Democrat, said children "emulate 'gangsta' rappers in style of speaking, in dress and in the way they carry themselves."

"I'm worried sick that my grandchildren will hear some of these horrible, horrible lyrics," said Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a Baltimore County Democrat and a co-sponsor of the bill.

But the bill's sponsors were followed immediately by lobbyists who said the proposed legislation was unworkable, vague, overly broad and unconstitutional.

"This bill," said Bruce C. Bereano, speaking for the Recording Industry Association of America, "will not stop or alter the verses found objectionable by the sponsors of the legislation."

And Dennis C. McCoy, representing the Seagram Co., told the committee it would be a mistake to cede authority over investments to "bureaucrats."

Seagram, he said, is an "excellent" corporate citizen of Maryland, operating two distilleries in Baltimore.

That is not to say, he added, "that every company they own is pure as the driven snow."

He and Bereano said they were personally offended by the lyrics they heard yesterday.

The committee was left to grapple with the revulsion its members clearly felt at the lyrics, as well as their concern about free speech and the practical difficulties of implementing such legislation.

Another approach

One member, Montgomery County Democrat Peter Franchot, suggested an alternative approach.

"We may ask the pension board to seriously consider divesting itself of these stocks," Franchot said.

An informal communication of the General Assembly's sentiments, he said, could be regarded as a "reasonable" way to address the problem -- and to support Tucker's assertion that real change would come only if "financial foundations" are attacked.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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