Top Eight Examples of Censorship in Rap
This week I was flabbergasted to learn that hip hop culture’s been banned on television in China. China’s main media regulator, The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China (SAPPRFT), insists that “programs should not feature actors with tattoos [or depict] hip hop culture, sub-culture (non-mainstream culture) and dispirited culture (decadent culture)”.
The ban comes less than a year after the launch of the popular reality TV show, The Rap of China, and has sparked a heated debate on social media. Some say the ban is ridiculous, others consider it a stand against cultural appropriation. Global Times, a state run newspaper responded by saying that “Hip-hop’s prospects in China seem dim after Chinese rappers removed from TV shows.”
Bans like these aren’t unheard in hip hop. In its 40 year history, the music form has seen its fair share of censorship, from N.W.A. having concerts being shut down to Nas being forced to change the name of his ‘Nigger’ album to ‘Untitled’.
Given the level of profanity of rap, it’s expected that certain groups or individuals will take offence to things they hear, particularly racial slurs or anti-establishment rhetoric.
But, where do you draw the line between freedom of speech and the sanitising of culture?
Here are eight examples of censorship in rap:
1. Big L – Devil Son
Big L’s Devil Son was reportedly banned for being too vicious, and, as a result, dropped from his debut album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous. It features such controversial lyrics as ‘I’m a stone villain, known for killin’ and rapin’ nuns’, concluding with a shout out to “all armed robbers, serial killers, psychos, lunatics,crackheads, mental patients [and] mental retards.”
2. 2 Live Crew controversy
In 1990, county officials took such a disliking to 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be album, that they actually fought to get it get classified as legally ‘obscene’. Not only were record store owners arrested for selling it, but the band members themselves were put in cuffs for performing it. The obscenity decision was eventually overturned in 1992.
3. Public Enemy – By The Time I Get To Arizona
This tune was written in reaction to the state of Arizona refusing to make a national holiday for Martin Luther King. It features on the album, Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Strikes Black, and, in the video depicts Public Enemy arriving in Copper State (Arizona), and murdering Governor Evan Meacham with a car bomb. MTV were quick to remove it from TV.
4. Ice T – Cop Killer
Ice T was always playing with fire with this one. Cop Killer may seem like a death threat towards feds, but it’s actually a commentary on racial profiling and police brutality. Naturally, it was misread. President George Bush H. W. Bush spoke out against it, as did Vice President Dan Quayle. Ice T’s rhetoric in the track was even compared to Hitler’s. The song was originally intended for Ice T’s Bound Count album, but instead was dropped and released as a stand-alone single.
5. Eminem cut from NFL commercial
The year 1997 saw Eminem’s My Name Is removed from an NFL commercial in which it featured as the backing track. The song contains such controversial lyrics as “’Cause I hung my original self from the top bunk with a belt / Got pissed off and ripped Pamela Lee’s tits off.”, and as soon as these were picked up on, there was no going back for the advert. Even a censored version of the track wouldn’t do.
6. Blurred Lines ban
Here in the UK, Edinburgh University banned all playing of the Robin Thicke song Blurred Lines on campus, including in its student bars and clubs. Other universities in the UK like Leeds and Derby have done the same on grounds that it “trivialises rape” and advocates sexism.
7. Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-a-lot
These days, Baby Got Back is a pretty tame party classic about big butts and guys who like big butts. However, when it first came out, it caused a storm of the controversy. Many spoke out about its treatment of women and the music video alone was banned on the MTV.
8. Drake, Eminem and Lil Wayne at the Grammys
Drake, Eminem and Lil Wayne were invited to deliver a closing segment at 2010’s Grammy Awards. The broadcasting channel CBS, however, had other ideas, and, rather than let the performance go ahead as scheduled, decided to silence their mics. You can imagine how pissed off the rappers were.