Los Angeles musician Ice-T defended rap--the best-selling but controversial wing of contemporary black music--as a force to help alleviate gang violence rather than promote it.
“I got banned in Detroit. They said my music is favored by drug dealers and gang members,” Ice-T said Thursday during an often heated panel discussion on rap and radio at the Registry Hotel in Universal City.
“But they get a gang problem there and who do they fly in to talk to the kids? Ice-T--because I’m the one the kids are listening to. If I’m listened to by these kids, then maybe I’m the best chance you’ve got to get through to them.”
During the two-hour panel, part of the 12th annual convention sponsored by the Los Angeles-based trade publication Black Radio Exclusive, Ice-T argued that many rap records contain responsible social messages--just couched in a language that kids understand.
“You can’t say to kids on the street, ‘Don’t do crack because a mind is a terrible thing to waste.’ It doesn’t work,” said Ice-T, who wrote and recorded the title song for “Colors,” the Dennis Hopper film about L.A. street gangs.
Though urban-spawned rap records have become a major commercial force in contemporary pop, thanks to the success of artists like Run-D.M.C. and L.L. Cool J, many radio stations around the country remain reluctant to play them--citing uneasiness over the often explicit lyric content.
While the panel was dominated by rap proponents, there was a discordant voice. Ray Richardson, who manages the novelty act the Rappin’ Grandmamas, said, “We have a mission to get some of the ‘X’ out of rap. The kids are listening. We need to put more positive messages in there.”
Even a representative of Los Angeles radio station KDAY, which has a heavy rap emphasis, expressed reservations about some rap lyrics.
Lisa Canning, music director and disc jockey at the station, said that KDAY--which has a strong teen listenership--frequently edits rap records before putting them on the air.
“We have to be very careful about the (sex and) violence,” she said. “We have to be careful because of the gang situation and because we have a big influence on the kids listening to us. We’ve got to consider our audience--and also our (FCC) license.”
Hank Shocklee, a record producer who works with the politically minded New York rap group Public Enemy, suggested that the reluctance of black-music stations to play rap is a sign that they are out of touch with their listeners.
"(Black music) used to deal with the kids on the street,” he argued. "(Mainstream black music) doesn’t deal with the kids on the street anymore. It’s now being made for people who drive Mercedes, not people who ride the buses.”
Several panelists noted that an increasing number of pop and rock radio stations are playing some rap records ahead of stations specializing in black music.
Benny Medina, Warner Bros. Records’ vice president of artists and repertoire, said that this trend is part of a larger problem. “I would suggest that sometimes in the radio community--or in the black community, period--we are grossly negligent in our ability to recognize our own art forms,” he maintained.
Panel moderator Bill Stephney, Def Jam Records’ vice president of operations, agreed. He linked black radio’s anti-rap stance with its general reluctance to play blues artists from Big Mama Thornton to Robert Cray, reggae stars like Ziggy Marley, and even Aretha Franklin’s early classics.
“If these records are going to be ignored by our own media, then we should replace the so-called brothers and sisters who are holding progressive Afro-American music back,” he said.
Stephney closed the panel with this warning: “Black radio: Turn your back on the music of your people and it won’t be long before you’ll be providing janitorial services for a white pop radio station.”
Sidney Miller, publisher of Black Radio Exclusive and organizer of the conference, said the six-day event, which ends Sunday, attracted more than 2,700 radio and record executives. Rap star L.L. Cool J was among the 18 acts scheduled to appear at a concert-awards show Friday night at the Universal Amphitheatre.