Thursday, April 26, 2007

Stop the cusswords in hip hop. Y-O.

It's been an interesting week for all lovers – whoops, I mean students – of offensive language. CBS broadcaster Don Imus – who is white - was suspended earlier this month for referring to a mostly black women’s basketball team as “hardcore hos…nappy headed hos”. The BBC news website helpfully points out:

"Ho" is slang for prostitute and "nappy-headed" is a derogatory term for the hair of many black people.

Watch the clip here.

Meanwhile, Russell Simmons, the boss of the Def Jam record label, famous for its pioneering of early hip hop acts such as Public Enemy, Run DMC and The Beastie Boys (ask your dad…or me), has called on rappers to tone down the cusswords in their lyrics and stop using such terms as “bitch”, “ho” and “nigga”.

An article in The Independent reports:

"The words 'bitch' and 'ho' are utterly derogatory and disrespectful of the painful, hurtful, misogyny that, in particular, African American women have experienced in the United States," Simmons' organisation, the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, said in a statement.

"The n-word is a racially derogatory term that disrespects the pain, suffering, history of racial oppression and multiple forms of racism against African Americans and other people of colour," it added.

The article continues by talking about the origins of hip hop and how the money-driven genre of gangsta rap has fetishized some criminal aspects of the African American underclass, celebrating their anti-social lifestyles in their lyrics.

As language students, we know these words matter, but what is their impact on us and society? If we get rid of the words Simmons suggests do we tone down the most extreme and violent ideas within the lyrics? In other words, if we do away with some of the words will we also do away with some of the extreme feelings provoked by them? Is the use of such words in lyrics actually normalising them? Is it making people outside the group who originally used the terms start to adopt them: wiggas from Norfolk farming villages, 10 year old boys from Peckham, 60 year old radio DJs?

And there are wider issues too. Why has it become acceptable to refer to women as hos and bitches? Who let this happen?

For more on this debate, you could look at this blog and this article on Radio 1 Extra’s website.

And there’s a Haribo-related prize to the first person who can post the name of the rapper whose lyrics are misquoted in the title of this post.

Useful for: ENA1 – Language & Representation

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