The funniest thing that happened at the September 12 Pennsylvania legislative hearings on House Bill 2982 wasn't rap-basher Playthell Benjamin's assertion, "I am the most widely-read writer on rap music in the world." The comedic high point came as C. Delores Tucker of the National Political Congress of Black Women finished-up her lengthy attack on Snoop Doggy Dogg. Tucker had brought along some visual aids for the Judiciary Committee, including a blow-up of some of Snoop's lyrics. After sputtering that men never use that kind of talk even in locker rooms, Tucker offered $100 to anyone in the hearing room who would be willing to come up and read them aloud. Randy Payton of Rock Out Censorship ran to the witness table and began to recite them in a strong, clear voice Snoop would have been proud of. The committee chair hushed Payton about a quarter of the way through and Tucker never paid up. So much for freedom of speech in the Liberty Bell's home state.

The end of freedom is exactly what H.B. 2982 is about. The bill will make it a crime to sell any music with a parental warning sticker to a minor and cause the minor to be arrested too. Any doubt that the censors would stop there was put to rest by a parade of witnesses who endorsed not just the bill, but everything from mandatory work camps for youth to suspension of the Constitution. Not one legislator, including the bill's author, TJ. Rooney, voiced any disagreement.

Witnesses opposed to the bill weren't allowed to testify until the media had gone home, which is too bad because Pennsylvanian's need to hear them.

Professor Michael Eric Dyson of the University Of North Carolina, who showed some serious rapping skills while at the mike, was also eloquent in describing gangsta rap as a natural outgrowth of the collapse of industrial society. He explained why his own experience leads him to blast "Fuck Tha Police" in his car, and invited Cheri Honkala and Diane Johnson to share the witness table with him. Honkala and Johnson, who held up pro-rap, anti censorship signs throughout C. Delores Tucker's testimony, are leaders of the takeovers of abandoned HUD houses in Philadelphia, actions that are currently polarizing that city along much the same lines as gangsta rap does. They weren't allowed to testify although Playthell Benjamin, a supporter of the bill, was allowed to interrupt and speak from the audience.

The women were at the hearings at the invitation of Rock Out Censorship, whose John Woods used his testimony to challenge the music industry to take the warning labels off the records and prepare for a fight to the death with censorship.

Paul Rusinoff of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) made it clear that wasn't likely to happen. When T.J. Rooney demanded to know how the music industry could endorse retailers' refusal to sell labeled music to minors and at the same time oppose H.B. 2982, Rusinoff could only stammer something about the importance of censorship being strictly "voluntary."

But the September 12 star chamber proceedings in Pennsylvania made it clear that censorship will soon be involuntary. The only way to stop it is to build on the potential alliance represented by the coming together in Harrisburg of Rock Out Censorship, Michael Eric Dyson, Cheri Honkala and Diane Johnson.

from Rock & Rap Confidential NO. 118/SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 1994

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