Is it time for the record industry to Just Say No?
That's the message from Geffen Records, which said that it won't distribute a new album by the Geto Boys, a raunchy Houston-based rap group signed to Def-American Records, a Geffen-distributed label. Few industry leaders have taken issue with Geffen's decision to keep its distance from a foul-mouthed group that, as a Geffen statement succinctly put it, "glamorizes and possibly endorses violence, racism and misogyny."
But some industry execs, especially ones in the rap community, are critical of Geffen's sudden attack of conscience. After all, this is the same label that released "The Day the Laughter Died," a raunchy double-album by comic Andrew Dice Clay devoted to similar expressions of violence against women, racism and misogyny.
Geffen also distributes rock superstars Guns N' Roses, whose song "One in a Million" contained lyrics with ugly epithets about blacks and gays. Geffen president Eddie Rosenblatt says: "I don't think you can equate a comedy record to the Geto Boys. Andrew Dice Clay may not be everybody's cup of tea, but he's dealing with situations that scare--or offend--people in a humorous light. The Geto Boys record isn't funny. It's violent and misogynist and there's already too much violence in the world without us adding to it."
The debate revolves around two key questions: Where does a record label draw the line on potentially offensive material? And is Geffen operating on a double standard, profiting from an offensive album by a white comic, but axing an offensive record by a black rap group? Here are some reactions:
* "Presented with the same opportunity, we wouldn't put the Geto Boys out either," said Monica Lynch, chief of rap label Tommy Boy Records. "I think record labels need to show some sense of social responsibility. It's naive to think the Geto Boys' lyrics aren't going to have a negative impact on 12- or 13-year-old kids. But it's a real contradiction for Geffen to put out the Dice album and not handle the Geto Boys. Clearly there's a double standard, or some sort of racism, being exercised."
Lynch revealed that Tommy Boy recently refused to release a song, titled "Sicker Than AIDS," which was recorded by one of its artists. "The content of the song wasn't derogatory, but we thought it might be construed that way," said Lynch, who wouldn't name the artist involved. "So we asked them to reconsider the title and as it turned out, they decided not to put out the song at all."
* "I think the way Geffen summed up what makes the Geto Boys offensive is accurate," said Bill Adler, a veteran rap activist and marketing wiz who runs Rhyme & Reason Communications. "But I find it odd to see Geffen expressing a new-found morality here. This is the same label which backed Dice and Guns N' Roses without any hesitation, even when there was a big flap. You have to wonder if this inconsistency borders on racism."
* "I have a lot of sympathy for Geffen because this is a classic judgment call," says Atlantic Records chief Doug Morris, distributor of the controversial 2 Live Crew "Banned in the USA" album, which recently passed the 700,000 sales mark. "I have less trouble with allegedly obscene language, which is street talk you hear every day, than with lyrics promoting violence, which is something I'd be less inclined to promote."
Still, Morris said he's meeting with Def-American head Rick Rubin, who had brought the Geto Boys to Geffen. Morris said he wants to hear the record before making a decision. "It's not fair to judge the record before I've heard it," he said. "I'm a big admirer of Rick's talents, but if the record is violent to the point of upsetting me, I wouldn't want to put it out."
* "I think when you censor a group like 2 Live Crew, you're seeing an attack on black culture," says Russell Simmons, a pioneering force in rap and head of Def-Jam Records and RAL Inc., a new joint venture with CBS Records. "But groups like the Geto Boys or N.W.A. are different--they're scarier. They're like horror movies. 2 Live Crew and Dice are party things. But I still think if Geffen is willing to put out an album by Slayer--a real scary group--then they should be able to put out anything in the world, including the Geto Boys."
Simmons is now testing CBS Records' willingness to take the heat for offensive lyrics. One of his new RAL-affiliated labels, No Face Records, has two new albums: one by the all-girl rap group Bitches With Problems, whose new song is titled "Two Minute (expletive)," and No Face, which has recorded a variety of outrageous rap anthems, including "We Want to (Expletive), Wake Your Daughter Up."
Simmons insists CBS has approved the albums' contents. "They've been very supportive so far," he said. "I don't think (CBS top execs) Walter Yetnikoff, Tommy Mottola and Donny Ienner are the kind of people who are going to censor anything. That doesn't mean I'm going to put out any record. If I heard a record that offended me, I wouldn't release it. But I haven't heard one yet."