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Industry Rejects Rating System for Rap Lyrics

May 5, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The recording industry rejected a rating system for rap lyrics, saying Thursday that a voluntary advisory label already alerts parents to lyrics that emphasize sex, violence or drugs.

″While a voluntary ratings system may be appropriate for motion pictures, its application to sound recordings would be both inappropriate and impractical,″ Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, told a House panel.

Rosen said the industry has taken seriously its parental advisory program, under which record companies voluntarily put the warning label on new recordings with explicit violence, sex or drug abuse in the lyrics.

″Virtually every recording that has been the target of public controversy ... has a voluntary parental advisory on its cover,″ she said, adding that the program ″balances the rights of free expression with the desires for social responsibility.″

There has been increased debate recently about the significance of rap’s often vulgar and violent lyrics. Community activists, academics, police officers and recording industry executives speak of youthful alienation and whether music or society in general is responsible.

Rep. Cardiss Collins, D-Ill., told a hearing before her Energy and Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection that the violent, anti-woman theme of many rap recordings ″dehumanizes relationships and sensitizes us to further assaults on human dignity.″

Like violence on television and in video games, ″gangsta″ rap is blamed for influencing young people to be violent.

Lawmakers have said they don’t want to censor rap, but they question whether the warning label recording companies voluntarily put on albums with explicit lyrics is sufficient. The black-and-white label reads, ″Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics.″

Thursday’s hearing was the second on the subject by the House panel. Collins said that since the first hearing, in February, the recording industry has expressed a willingness to help and more women are expressing their dislike of derogatory references to women in rap lyrics.

In addition, she said, female rappers ″are fighting back with messages defying their one-dimensional, subservient role″ and some male rappers such as Doug E. Fresh are expressing their concern.

However, Collins said, much rap is ″commercially motivated and ... some record producers operate without standards - they just produce music that sells.″

Melanie Glickson, 17, a New York City high school student who is co-host of a national public television program for youth, said she found the portrayal of women in many rap lyrics and videos offensive and dangerous.

″I know I speak for many young females when I express the unmitigated outrage that I experience when listening to such degradations,″ she testified. ″The portrayal of women by many rap artists creates the false idea in the minds of males that women are merely objects and sources of sexuality. ... This portrayal is more dangerous than many people realize.″

Paris Eley, executive vice president of Motown Records, said he opposed any proposal that would encroach on recording artists’ First Amendment rights. However, he added, ″misogyny has no more right to hide behind artistry than does bigotry, indeed it is bigotry. We must exercise greater vigilance to avoid aiding and abetting the spread of either.″

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