Gangstra rap plays to First Amendment

February 16, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

Whenever I speak to high school students, nothing sends them into fits of guffawing more than the notion that their elders, in our never-ending quest to protect them from the ravages of gangsta rap, think that the group 2 Live Crew is a gangsta rap outfit.

Oh, how the young folks snicker and giggle! But their elders, having put our feet in our mouths once too often on this issue, have solved the problem. We'll simply redefine reality. That'll show the whippersnappers.

In an article Thursday, Sun staff writer C. Fraser Smith reported on the latest goings on in Annapolis. State legislators have donned their moral good-knight armor and have sallied forth to slay the gangsta rap beast. First they'll try to pass a bill that will prevent Maryland state pension funds from going to record companies that produce gangsta rap. Gangsta rap will then get a new definition. According to Smith, those sponsoring and supporting the bill will get around not knowing what they're talking about by employing a bit of verbal subterfuge.

" . . . proponents of the bill used the term [gangsta rap] . . . to refer to the lyrics they want to remove from the marketplace."

In other words, gangsta rap will be whatever the hell lawmakers decree it to be. Any rap record containing a language or a message they don't care for will be a target. Any record company that produces the newly defined gangsta rap will now face the prospect that - horror of horrors - funds from Maryland's pension system will not be used for investment.

At least these legislators aren't trying to ban gangsta rap. They're simply saying they don't want their money to subsidize that which offends them. That's fair enough. Of course we are then left with the nagging question of why they stop with gangsta rap. Could it be that as elected officials they can never go wrong in speaking out against gangsta rap? Most of the people listening to gangsta rap are young and probably don't bother to vote. I mean, it's not like you're going to risk your political career by picking on gangsta rappers.

A reading of the first few paragraphs of Smith's story led me to suspect that C. Delores Tucker might have a hand in this. Sure enough, on the inside pages was Tucker's name. It seems she appeared before a state Senate appropriations committee, testifying with Baltimore County Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. about the evils of gangsta rap. I don't question Tucker's sincerity in fighting gangsta rap, but I believe she has let her personal ire with rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg consume the rest of us in a battle to stifle freedom of expression.

I know the state lawmakers who had to listen to 2 Live Crew's "Bad Ass Bitch" will consider it a stretch to consider the loathsome rubbish freedom of expression. But it is. In fact, my buddies in the AC-To-Hell-With-You would argue that it's precisely the kind of freedom of expression the First Amendment was designed to protect: the type that offends us. And those guys and gals in the ACLU would be right - for a welcome change.

Suppose, for example, Burns had shown a clip of Quentin Tarantino's film "From Dusk Till Dawn" to the assembled legislators. They would have heard, at one point, a man launch into a disgusting and lengthy peroration about women using a well-known word for a part of the female anatomy. I hope they would have been just as shocked by it as by 2 Live Crew's "Bad Ass Bitch." I hope they realize that "From Dusk Till Dawn" now plays on cable and is more readily available to those kids the legislators want to "protect" than "Bad Ass Bitch" is.

But neither Burns nor Tucker nor the lawmakers would ever dream of suggesting that state pension funds should be xTC withheld from Dimension Films, the company that released this monstrosity onto an unsuspecting public. In their bizarre world, the most odious smut and filth that needs to be stamped out in the country comes from gangsta rappers. Gangsta rap smut and filth make regular smut and filth - pornography, Tarantino movies and such - seem almost sacred by comparison, if we are to believe gangsta rap critics.

I don't hold to such nonsense. If you're against smut and filth, you're either against all of it or should keep mum about it. I've got a Nazi in me that needs to get out, so I'm fully prepared to join the Tucker-Burns-William Bennett-Bob Dole anti-smut brigade. But the target has to be all smut and filth, not only that coming from gangsta rappers.

But that's my second choice. My first choice would be that we leave artists alone to create their art as they see fit, no matter how much it offends us. We should all consider what jazz would be like today if the stuffed shirts of early 20th-century America who thought jazz was "vulgar darky music" - to lift a quote describing jazz from one movie - had censored Louis Armstrong, whose innovative trumpet rhythms revolutionized the genre.

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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