Keep assets out of a sling Analysis: In protecting state pension money from unseemly rap music, a legislative net is cast so far, it even turns up 'Maryland, My Maryland.'

February 18, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Say that you own a company that has, over the years, done quite a lot of business in and with the state of Maryland. In fact, the State Retirement and Pension System recently invested in a large piece of your company's stock. So, to show your appreciation to Maryland and its people, you had a CD made of "Maryland, My Maryland," which your sales staff distributed to customers and public schools across the state.

Congratulations. By the terms of House Bill 718 -- the "gangsta rap" divestiture bill -- the State Retirement and Pension System may no longer invest in your company.

Seems hard to believe, doesn't it? But under the overly vague language of the bill, even the Maryland state song is too incendiary to be "endorsed" by the investment of state pension funds.

Take that, Snoop Doggy Dogg.

According to the proposed law, which was introduced Jan. 31 and heard before committee last week, the pension fund's Board of Trustees "may not invest assets in any company that, directly or indirectly, writes, records, produces, advertises, markets, sells otherwise promotes any song, lyrics, or other musical work that advocates, glamorizes or explicitly describes acts of violence, including murder, rape, sexual assault, robbery, battery, and assault ..."

Murder and assault, eh? That certainly disqualifies our state song. After urging the state in the first stanza to "avenge the patriotic gore that flecked the streets of Baltimore/And be the battle queen of yore," the song applauds "Howard's warlike thrust," invokes "Watson's blood at Montery," and commands its citizenry to take up arms against "the Northern scum." It may not be "Cop Killer," but it clearly "advocates [and] glamorizes ... acts of violence."

Quashing recordings of the state song was hardly the bill's intent, of course. According to its sponsors, the idea behind H.B. 718 was to keep state pension moneys from funding the corruption of youth -- specifically by investing in companies that produce or distribute gangsta rap. "Media conglomerates are paying us to degrade us," proclaimed the Rev. Emmett C. Burns, one of the bill's sponsors, at last week's hearing.

An idea from Texas

Taking a cue from the state of Texas, which recently divested itself of $3.5 million in Seagram Co. stock (Seagram-owned MCA Records distributes the gangsta rap label Death Row Records), Burns and 14 other delegates introduced H.B. 718 in hopes of keeping Maryland moneys out of the hands of those who would manufacture, market or otherwise profit from gangsta rap.

As it turns out, though, the term "gangsta rap" appears nowhere in the proposed legislation. Instead, what the bill details is a laundry list of lyrical no-nos, including lyrics advocating or describing sexual deviance ("including acts of necrophilia, pedophilia, and bestiality"), illicit drug or alcohol abuse, violence against law enforcement officers, gang or criminal activity, the degradation or demoralization of women, or racial and ethnic violence.

It's not hard to understand why the delegates would choose to cast their net so wide. To begin with, it's clear that none of the bill's sponsors are entirely sure what gangsta rap is.

For instance, during last Wednesday's hearing, Burns read lyrics from the 2 Live Crew rap "Bad Ass Bitch." There's no denying that its lyrics are offensive to some, but merely including nasty words or thoughts does not make a rap "gangsta." Gangsta rap sprang out of the gang scene of Los Angeles, and makes specific references to the culture of Crips and Bloods; the now-defunct 2 Live Crew, by contrast, was based in Miami, had no gang ties and tended to concern itself only with sex. There was nothing "gangsta" in the slightest about the group.

(As for Burns' contention that 2 Live Crew's music is readily available to young people in record stores, it should be noted that 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell always made it clear that his recordings were meant for adults only. "As Nasty As They Wanna Be," the album from which "Bad Ass Bitch" is taken, carried an "explicit language" warning even before record industry-mandated warnings became common. Moreover, Campbell at the same time released a non-adult version, called "As Clean As They Wanna Be," which contained neither profanities nor "Bad Ass Bitch.")

Unfortunately, the broad- based language of the bill covers so much ground that it would apply even to albums no one in their right mind would consider corrupting. Forget Ice Cube, tha Dogg Pound and 2 Pac; the bill would also dismiss the Beatles' "White Album" (there's assault and alcohol abuse in "Rocky Raccoon"), the Eagles' "Hotel California" (illicit drug use in "Life in the Fast Lane"), Stevie Wonder's "Innervisions" (criminal activity described in "Livin' for the City"), even "Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook" (don't forget that murder in "Miss Otis Regrets").

"Frankie and Johnny," "Stagger Lee," "Mack the Knife," "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" -- corrupters all.

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