Since when did bail become a legitimate record company expense? When musical artists started shooting at cops, that’s when. Rapper artist Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s bail was set at $150,000 following his arrest on charges of attempted murder of a police officer. What is so sad is that a generation of music fans out there will actually think this guy is some kind of hero. What a way to get publicity — you don’t have to kill a cop; just shoot at one and your record sales will hit the roof.
And since when did freedom of speech include advocating or even hint at advocating the shooting of cops, or shooting anybody for that matter? I have the right to say anything I want, right? I can call my mother names. I can join the Ku Klux Klan and express myself through fire. I can pick up a gun and make the ultimate statement, because I also have the right to bear arms. But there are rights, and there are abuses of rights.
Terrorism is not freedom of speech. Terrorism is not a form of artistic expression.
Let me tell you, Ol’ Dirty Bastard — a.k.a. ODB — is not looking too good here. He was arrested in November for threatening to kill an ex-girlfriend. In September he was arrested for threatening to kill security officers at a nightclub. There are three warrants out for his arrest in Virginia for failing to appear in court on charges of shoplifting a $50 pair of tennis shoes.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard maintains his innocence. If ODB can prove cops shot first, or shot for no reason, then I am assured the legal system in the country will react vehemently. If this is a case of white cops beating on blacks, then I’ll be the first to speak out against such racist activity. But you know what? I don’t think the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or fighting police brutality is what ODB had on his mind when he allegedly pulled the trigger on a couple of cops on the streets of Brooklyn.
In rap, not only are the lyrics violent, but so too are many of the people who write them. Tupac Shakur paid the ultimate price; he was shot four times while sitting in a car in Las Vegas. Prior to his death, Shakur was convicted in 1992 for assault. He was arrested in Atlanta after two off-duty cops were shot, but the charges were dropped. In New York, he was charged with sodomy, sexual abuse and weapons offenses. He was sentenced for up to four and a half years. The night before he was sentenced, three gunmen robbed him of $30,000 in jewelry and shot him four times.
Snoop Doggy Dogg, N.W.A., Dr. Dre, Ice-T and a host of other lesser known rappers have similar backgrounds.
Ice-T, founding member of gangsta rap, managed to infuriate the entire Bush administration with his 1992 release of “Cop Killer.”
Snoop Doggy Dogg was charged in a 1993 murder, and at the time, his bail was $1 million. His bodyguard shot a rival gang member in self-defense and Snoop was acquitted of all charges. While all this was happening, he was already out on $10,000 bail for gun possession charges.
Dr. Dre did five months in the Pasadena City Jail for parole violation, after breaking a record producer’s jaw. Other offenses include assaulting a TV host and hitting a cop. Dre’s former Death Row Records partner Suge Knight was sentenced in 1997 to nine years for probation violation; he attacked a man just hours before Tupac Shakur was killed riding in Knight’s car.
Last year a Senate subcommittee launched a probe into the impact of violent lyrics on children, a concern initiated back in the mid-80s by the Parents Music Resource Center. Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, spoke out against the use of violent lyrics, as did Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. RIAA officials don’t feel the government should interfere with music industry regulation, and, with RIAA’s Parental Advisory Program, think the industry is capable of monitoring itself.
The recording industry certainly needs to fight censorship in the name of basic First Amendment freedoms, but parents have the right to protect their children, and everyone else has the right to protect themselves from artists who feel freedom of speech includes advocating violence.
In 1956, famous TV entertainment host Ed Sullivan deemed Elvis Presley unfit for a family audience. The Rolling Stones, the Beatles and dozens of other acts of the ’60s were considered a major threat to the moral fiber of America. The hedonistic lifestyle of the disco generation and the advent of hip hop and rap through the ’80s continued the tradition of rebellion. But now, like a vision out of Thunderdome, rebellion has turned to outright violence, where the more violent an artist is, the more famous they become.
It’s good that artists can express whatever they want in lyrics. It’s good that the Parental Advisory Program can put labels on recorded products. But I wonder about artists themselves. I wonder about this blatant attack on cops as a symbol of white rule. I don’t see a dead cop; I see a grieving family. What I’d like to see is rappers turning their attentions to other people in this world who are suffering equally with — if not more than — the oppression rappers so hypocritically claim to be the cause of their rage.
Critics and artists alike claim rap is a voice against the machine; it is a right and freedom of artistic expression in the name of the game. They say it is an outlet that kids and their rapper heroes can turn to instead of the streets. And if a cop gets shot, or if a rapper hero dies in battle, it’s all for the cause.
I’m not hearing any social message. I’m not being told something I already know about racism. I’m definitely not denying police brutality. And I don’t see rap as a vindication of the oppressed, not when criminals become heroes and artists increase their sales by hurting others.
Clearly rap has a voice. According to RIAA statistics, not only have many rap CDs and cassettes gone multi-platinum, but soundtracks for films have experienced substantial increases and even the sale of vinyl LPs is up due to the influx of rap DJs. But 40 percent of the more than $31 billion music industry is because of world sales. This means many other voices are out there trying to be heard, but are being silenced by the thunder of gun fire and foul-mouthed artists who really aren’t trying to say anything at all.
Maybe rappers can rise above the street hell that bore their roots, and now, with a place firmly in the annals of music history, can really set upon a course to do some social good. Maybe they can start thinking about the welfare of others instead of bitching about how bad things are. Maybe they can direct some of that violent energy towards solutions in Kosovo, or the Middle East, or even feeding the desperate of hurricane-devastated Honduras and Nicaragua. If that’s too much to ask, how about just keeping yourself out of jail?
Jerry Flattum is the Daily’s opinions editor. His column appears every Friday.