WASHINGTON -- Escalating their attack on “gangsta music,” anti-rap crusaders C. DeLores Tucker and William Bennett called on major record labels Thursday to sever their relationship with artists whose songs contain explicit sexual and violent lyrics.
“Music conglomerates [are] putting money before the overall welfare of our children and the community,” said Tucker, chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women. “These companies have the blood of our children on their hands.”
Tucker and Bennett, a co-director of Empower America, launched an anti-rap campaign last year that pressured Time Warner to dump Westwood-based Interscope Records, which now releases controversial music by such Death Row artists as Tupac Shakur and Tha Dogg Pound through alternative distribution channels.
Describing the press conference as “Round 2" in the anti-rap war, Bennett encouraged Time Warner, Sony, Thorn EMI, PolyGram and Bertelsmann to dump 20 recording groups that they say are responsible for the most offensive lyrics.
Tucker and Bennett played and distributed lyrics containing graphic depictions of violent and sexual acts, each from a musical act representing the five labels. Bennett said music by Wu-Tang Clan, Geto Boys, Tupac Shakur, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and dozens of other artists contained offensive language. In addition to the rap acts, two heavy metal bands also were cited: Cannibal Corpse and Lords of Acid.
MCA Music Entertainment, which recently purchased half of Interscope, was the only major record conglomerate not targeted as an offender.
Bennett said that MCA, “while far from perfect,” was not targeted because it has taken steps in the right direction with its new contract with Interscope, which allows MCA to refuse to distribute any album they deem to be offensive. Interscope’s album by Tupac Shakur, for example, is distributed by PolyGram.
Artists and record executives interviewed on Thursday were critical of Bennett and Tucker, whom many view as little more than political opportunists. Some observers questioned the timing of the renewed campaign, since many of the albums cited Thursday were available months ago when Tucker and Bennett launched their protest against Time Warner.
Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, said that all the albums singled out by Bennett are already stickered with a standard advisory notice that reads: “PARENTAL ADVISORY, EXPLICIT LYRICS.”
“Do these people seriously believe that music is the cause of this country’s problems?” said Rosen, whose trade group accounts for 95% of the music released in the United States. “Do they think banning these albums would suddenly make all the crime and corruption clear up?”
Acknowledging the difficulty in eliminating violent rap music, Bennett said the campaign’s goal is to draw a line between respectable society and “the red-light district.” “These companies normalize . . . and give them respectability.”
Bennett and Tucker unveiled a series of radio ads designed to pressure the targeted labels to dump music acts they consider offensive. Empower America has purchased $25,000 worth of radio time starting today on conservative talk shows to encourage people to call a petition hotline where supporters’ comments will be collected and forwarded to the labels.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who also attended the conference, said this is the “revolt of the revolted,” and warned parents that their children might have “CDs or cassettes in their room right now that contain lyrics that promote rap, murder, racism, drug abuse and violence against women and children.”
“The willingness of major, reputable record companies to profit from them are a cultural and moral barometer,” he continued. “They are an indication of how low our standards are sinking, how far some in our society will go to make money.”
Lieberman’s colleague Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) has also given his support to the campaign. He did not attend the press conference but issued a written statement.
Bennett and other rap critics rejoiced eight months ago when Time Warner Inc. dumped Interscope, proclaiming it as a victory in their crusade to ban violent and sexually degrading music in the United States.
But rap supporters contend that the upshot of last year’s criticism of rap is negligible. It enriched the owners of Interscope, which signed a $200-million deal with MCA, pocketing nearly $100 million in the change of ownership from Time Warner. And while Time Warner severed ties with Interscope, its labels still include hard-core rappers such as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Junior M.A.F.I.A. and RBX.
Industry observers believe that Bennett’s radio ads will have little impact on forcing companies to drop potentially offensive rap and heavy metal artists. Unlike Time Warner, the corporations targeted are foreign-owned and unaccountable to American stockholders. In addition, they own no cable holdings, as does Time Warner, so are not as susceptible to political pressure.
Since forcing Time Warner to sell its interest in Interscope, Bennett has shifted his criticism of pop culture from rap to TV talk shows, and has spent most of the past few months on the lecture circuit.
Tucker, whose credibility as a rap critic has been challenged by accusations that she profited from ownership of slum properties in Philadelphia, has spent much of the past few months defending herself against a civil lawsuit filed by Interscope. The suit suggests she had an economic motive for criticizing rap music.
Rosen said that the Recording Industry Assn. of America initiated a program last year in which retailers are provided with posters alerting parents and children that some recordings may include graphic language.
The press conference was attended by about a dozen Rock the Vote protesters wearing “Censorship is Un-American” T-shirts. Mark Strama, program director for the organization, said: “If you turn off the music, the problem of the inner city won’t go away.”
* Salem-Fitzgerald reported from Washington, Philips from Los Angeles.