CAN RAP SURVIVE?

By: Lee Ballinger


Even as Detroit cops beat a man to death with flashlights, it has become impossible for rappers to tell the truth about the police on a major label. Tommy Boy Records dropped ALMIGHTY RSO and LIVE SQUAD for attacking police brutality on their records. Tommy Boy has also refused to put out PARIS's second album. Warners refused to distribute the new album by KOOL G RAP, while Elektra told the BOO-YAA TRIBE to delete a song about the police. A & M made INTELLIGENT HOODLUM take "Bullet" off his upcoming album, "Black Rage." DA LENCH MOB was forced to remove a song about the LA rebellion from "Guerillas in the Mist."

At retail, thousands of chain stores no longer carry rap at all. If they do, it's often hidden behind the counter or sold only to people over 18. In many stores, a buzzer goes off whenever someone tries to buy a rap album, and the manager has to OK the sale. Many chains are refusing to carry the new PUBLIC ENEMY 12" because it features a photograph of four lynched black men.

At mainstream radio, the censorship of rap is almost total. A multi-platinum artist as important as ICE CUBE was forced to stage a pirate radio broadcast in LA on October 30 to get airplay for his new album, "The Predator."

No songs about cops. No airplay. Lawsuits against artists like 2Pac. Severe restrictions at retail. And it's going to get worse. Every major label recently rejected a pro-choice compilation album featuring SALT-N-PEPA and M.C. LYTE. They claim that if they released a pro-choice record, they would be attacked in the stock market. In other words, the major labels are giving the religious right and police pension funds the power to veto what music gets recorded.

We have to take things into our own hands. Things like recordings, distribution, promotion, and airplay. This isn't just another business venture, since we will continue to be attacked by the government, the police, the religious right, and the music industry itself. How can we survive?

1. RECORD AND DISTRIBUTE YOURSELF. Share information on the best and cheapest ways to record, press, distribute, and promote product.

2. CREATE A RAP RADIO NETWORK. While most mainstream stations won't play rap, there are many college, community, and pirate stations that do. We need to link them into a network to guarantee exposure, especially for independently produced product.

3. READ. Support all publications--musical and political--that support rap music.

4. LINK UP WITH THE AUDIENCE. We are at war and we'll lose if we don't build the rap audience into an army. The Mau Mau Rhythm Collective are showing us how to do it. For example, last May 19, the Mau Mau called for a general strike in solidarity with the LA rebellion. A thousand people rallied in Lowell Park and then marched to City Hall and took it over. Several demands were presented, ranging from firing six brutal cops to an end to welfare cuts. The takeover resulted in 900 summer jobs for inner city youth.

5. MAKE ALLIES. Rap isn't the only form of music under attack. Heavy metal is right behind. We need a political alliance between rap and metal.

6. THINK INTERNATIONALLY. Rap is tremendously popular all over the world. In Germany, rap has been very important in building a movement to defend immigrants, many of them African, from assaults by neo-Nazis. We need to build commercial and political bridges overseas.


Editors Note: Lee Ballinger is the Associate Editor of ROCK & RAP CONFIDENTIAL, a monthly newsletter available from RRC, Box 341305, Los Angeles, CA 90034. Subscriptions are $27.00 per year.

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