ALBUM LABELING CRIMINALIZES MUSIC

The Source Raps Billboard


To the editor of Billboard:

Et tu, Brute? Your recent editorial condemning ICE CUBE's album saddened me. Not only because the piece was irresponsible in its calls for censorship, but also because it betrays a disregard for young Black life and expression. Since I have spent my entire adult life living under the stench of the Reagan/Bush era, I have come to expect this type of knee-jerk patronizing attitude from those who claim to be politicians or teachers, but I never thought that the music industry would turn its back on young Blacks.

No matter how much you wring your hands ("The music industry has made a forceful case for the protection of First Amendment rights...It is a terrible thing to ban the thoughts of anyone..."), you were calling for censorship. Censorship is an ugly word, bringing to mind images of gags, dark prison cells and flaming books. But true censorship is more insidious: when artists are blocked from access to their marketplace of ideas, thereby making them unable to reach their potential audience, those artists are being censored. So, when you called for "protest by retailers, record companies and others in the industry," what protest did you have in mind? Certainly, you weren't simply talking about honest disagreement or discussion. Nor were you talking about an individual consumer's right to not purchase his album. No, by calling on the industry (and not consumers) to decide "whether or not Ice-Cube's album is fit to sell or purchase," (my emphasis) that's more than a mere "protest": it's using the industry's power to bully and shut Ice-Cube up. By pushing such veiled threats and then trying to deny that you are advocating censorship, you have passed Reaganesque heights of Orwellian doublespeak.

You certainly picked a hell of a time to get all hot & bothered about violence. When you wrote that "his unabashed espousal of violence against Koreans, Jews and other whites crosses the line that divides art from the advocacy of crime," what line is that? You didn't write and editorial when NRA talked about "taking niggas out in a flurry of buckshot" or when Boogie Down Productions' KRS-One rapped about his 9-millimeter going bang. Oh, killing niggers is "art" but violent fantasies (these are fantasies, after all) against Koreans, Jews and other whites is criminal?" You don't even express concern over the fact that Ice-Cube goes into great detail about lynching and burning N.W.A. leader Easy-E at the album's end. But that's not criminal, because Easy-E is too Black. But to talk about non-Blacks, whoa, now these darkies have gone too far for you, huh? Just like the police, who acted like the drug and gang violence problems were not problematic until they left the inner-cities, you are hypocrites to start becoming concerned only when "Jews, Koreans and other non-whites" are threatened.

Yes, Ice-Cube is very angry and he expresses that anger in harsh, blunt and unmistakable terms. But the source of this rage is very real. Many in the Black community, particularly in L.A., Cube's home, feel as if it's open season on Blacks with the Rodney King assault and the recent murder of a young Black girl by a Korean merchant, who only received five years probation even though she shot the girl in cold blood in the back of the head. The anger and rage is legitimate, and nothing that Ice-Cube says is news to a wide range of Blacks, from professionals and ministers, to the young and unemployed (and the middle-aged unemployed). Ice-Cube is sounding an alarm, but instead of listening, you want him to be more polite because you are too dainty and thinskinned to hear--just to hear about it--the anger and rage and frustration that many people are forced to deal with everyday. Chastising Ice-Cube for stridency is analogous to inviting a homeless, starving child to dinner and then lecturing him on table manners when he eats with his hands or doesn't chew his food 32 times before swallowing. You miss the point. Where are the BILLBOARD editorials or the music industry outcries against the outrages that go on daily in Ice-Cube's neighborhood? Where are your editorials encouraging Jews and Blacks to engage in constructive dialogue? When are you going to discourage Korean merchants to invest in the communities in which they make their money? Until you get the courage to take a real stand, stop taking the easy way out by branding Ice-Cube irresponsible.

Who's really being irresponsible? As a young Black male only 4 years older than Cube, I feel as if you're telling me, my brothers and sisters that you care more about other people's lives and polite language rather than our lives and our pain. And, in fact, that you will even refuse to listen to us unless we use your preapproved, polite language. These are not polite times and we desperately need more discussion rather than less. You did not rise to the occasion.

Sincerely yours,

James Bernard, Senior Editor
THE SOURCE

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