Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

The Hip-Hop Hearings Part 2 (2007 Version) :: Lisa Fager’s Testimony Shuts Em Down

Here we go again. It’s part 2 of The Hip-Hop Hearings, this round led by another Chicagoland congressperson, Bobby Rush. This time, the chair took great pains to say that the hearings weren’t meant to be “anti-hip-hop. I am a fan of hip-hop.” And he brought in a number of label execs to face the fire.

As usual, Davey D was in the house and on point speaking about how label execs responded :

It was comical watching them scurry around all the questions and downplay the important role rap music plays in making them rich. In fact at one point Morris who heads up Universal which includes Interscope and Def Jam made the outlandish statement that rap is only a ‘small part’ of what they sell.

At another point Morris claimed that he doesn’t censor his artists and they can put out what they want. That statement was later contradicted by David Banner who is on Universal. Too bad no one in Congress knew enough to ask Morris why Young Buck wasn’t allowed to put out his anti-police song.

What Broffman and Morris wound up doing was trying to flip the script and lobby for more protection from piracy on the Internet. They started crying about how all their music is being stolen. I guess they were hoping that somehow we would blame the Internet for any questionable material they release. Luckily the Congressman Weiner from New York stepped in and shut that argument down.

He seemed annoyed that Morris wasn’t following all the hearings Congress has had on Internet piracy. He pointed them out and looked at the label executives as if he wanted to say “Damn we held these hearings to help y’all dumb asses out-why don’t you know about them?’ He even told Morris if you wanna have a discussion about the Internet and whether or not music is really being stolen he can come back next week for a whole other hearing.

I guess when you’re the CEO of a big record label it’s hard to keep up on the political happenings that your record label spends lots of money lobbying Congress to do.

Davey also has the audio of testimony from the execs and from Michael Eric Dyson, David Banner and Master P. (Part 2, the interrogation, is here.) Huge props to Banner for as profound a defense I’ve ever heard of art, period, let alone hip-hop:

“Change the situation in my neighborhood and maybe I’ll get better. If by some stroke of the pen hip-hop was silenced, the issues would still be present in our communities. Drugs, violence, sexism and the criminal element were around long before hip-hop existed…Hip-hop is sick because America is sick.”

But perhaps most important was the presence of the brilliant Lisa Fager of Industry Ears. Lisa broke down the science behind Banner’s “Play” record, and basically put the industry on blast while reaffirming her love for hip-hop.

Davey has posted the powerful testimony that Lisa submitted to the Congressional Record. She didn’t actually present this (imagine if she had), but it reflects her larger thinking.

Here are large heaping excerpts of that brilliant piece. It’s a must-read, really a classic of hip-hop activism. I can only wonder that if Lisa had been on the stand instead of C. Delores Tucker back in 1994, history might have taken a whole ‘nother turn:

The now-infamous “Imus Incident” is intriguing in that it has created strange bedfellows: it has unified both conservative and liberal media in invoking Hip Hop music as the veritable poster child of all that is wrong with society. That is, a popular argument made in the throes of Imus’ oft-repeated “nappy-headed hoes ” comment is that such language pales in comparison to the content of most commercialized Hip Hop music. The idea is that if radio stations and Viacom music channels can play the “bitch, ho, nigga” content of gangsta rappers, then what is so bad about Imus’ comment? If the Black community apparently accepts such language from its own, then why get upset when Don Imus says it?

It is easy for me to understand why Black folk would be in an uproar over a White man referring to young Black women as “nappy headed hoes” on a nationally syndicated radio show, as a Black woman, that part should be intuitive. However, what appears to be more difficult to understand – especially to our friends in the news media – is that there exists a large cadre of individuals and organizations that represent communities of color that also are in an uproar when media permits content that is degrading to women and people of color to be broadcast. Note that, unlike the conservative and liberal media hypes, our concern is not simplistically directed at the artists who produce such material; our concern is also directed towards the record labels, radio stations, and music video channels (i.e., the corporations) that are profiting from allowing such material to air.

This is the fact that often gets overlooked in the mainstream media. Not all Black people and not all lovers of Hip Hop endorse the materialism, violence, and misogyny that characterize commercial rap music. Organizations and campaigns such as Industry Ears, Enough is Enough, Social Action Coalition, Youth Media Council, Third World Majority, Woman’s Coalition for Decency and Dignity, REACHip Hop, Free Mix Radio and many individuals have been challenging such content for years, but their visibility has been blocked by the mainstream media.

For example, during the week in which Imus was suspended and subsequently fired by CBS, I was called by three national news outlets to speak about the hip hop music issue. However, each outlet only wanted me to defend the commercialized Hip Hop industry; no one was interested in the fact that I also agreed that “bad” content applies across the board and should also be dealt with. The message is clear: If you do not fit the “role” media has created for ratings you lose your opportunity to be heard.

It is time to wake up and see the real issue – that media conglomerates are the gatekeepers of content and in essence control what opinions receive airtime. The deletion of the Fairness Doctrine and passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act helped to create incredibly powerful, big media corporations by eliminating the requirement that balanced viewpoints be presented, and by relaxing rules placing limits on how much media a single corporation could own.

Further, by repealing the tax certificate program, which successfully – if temporarily – increased ownership of media outlets by people of color, we have ensured that these big media corporations do not represent the diversity of society. Then, with control of so much media concentrated in the hands of the very few, we are at the mercy of big media and rely on companies to serve in the best interest of the public while also serving their bottom line.

As might seem obvious, what best serves the public, and what best serves the bottom line are not always the same…

All over the country you have identical playlists from station to station no matter what the radio format and it’s no coincidence. Payola is no longer the local DJ receiving a couple dollars for airplay; it is now an organized corporate crime that supports the lack of balanced content and demeaning imagery with no consequences. Broadcaster claims that this is what listeners want to hear is not honest. Radio stations only research the songs that are currently being played on the radio (i.e. songs that are paid for). New artists with new songs do not get tested. This explains the identical playlists and the exclusion of local and regional artist airplay on radio stations.

Stereotypes and degrading images in both radio and television disproportionately impact the African American community.

…It is important to note, that African American children listen and watch more radio and television than any other demographic. Although Top 40 and Hip Hop radio stations claim to target the 18-34 demographic their largest audience share are the 12-17 year old segment. Recording companies, radio stations and Viacom networks are aware of their audience but have chosen to put the bottom line above the welfare of their audiences.

Bravo, Lisa.

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