Filthy Lucre

If it hadn't been for the riots in Los Angeles, most middle-class Americans might never have known much about rap music. But rap groups were quick to step forward and take credit for predicting the riots. Maybe even for inciting them, with their lyrics about shooting and killing. But after the initial rush of public attention, these same rap groups are discovering that the lime light can be pretty hot. With the public eye upon her, Sister Souljah is squirming for her infamous line urging black thugs to stop killing other blacks and to start killing whites instead. And rapper Ice-T is on the hot seat for his song about pulling on his black gloves and ski mask to stalk and shoot police officers. No wonder this stuff has been dubbed "gangster rap." It's good to see decent Americans calling the rappers to account. They should not be allowed to fill the minds of young fans with suggestive language of murder and mayhem. But there's someone else who should be called to account as well. I'm talking about the companies who make money producing albums that suggest murder and mayhem. After all, Sister Souljah and Ice-T could sit in their rooms all day and spill their violent lyrics onto paper with absolutely no effect--if it weren't for corporate businessmen willing to make a fast buck marketing their verbal garbage. These businessmen ought to be called on the carpet right alongside the rap artists they're supporting. Perhaps they warrant even harsher judgement. After all, many young black artists grew up on the streets. They've watched friends get shot in drug wars; they've seen family members go to prison. Here at Prison Fellowship, we work with prisoners and we know their stories first hand. There's no question the rappers go too far with their rough lyrics, but their songs are often rooted in the desperation of personal experience. But what is utterly reprehensible is the business world's willingness to make money off that desperation. Well-heeled white businessmen in their panelled board rooms are quite happy to let young people rant about murder and revenge--as long as it makes money. It wasn't so long ago, in a gutsier America, that corporate executives would have taken one look at lyrics filled with such hatred and thrown the album in the trash. They might even have taken these young artists by the shoulder, looked deep into their eyes, and said, You were made for something better than this. But our business community has imbibed the ethic of secularism: Anything goes, as long as it sells. Large companies no longer even raise an eyebrow over songs that say, Let's go shotgun the cops. Well, several police organizations and civic groups are raising their eyebrows--and their voices, too. They're organizing a boycott against Time Warner, the multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that markets Ice T's vicious song "Cop Killer." Sixty members of Congress have signed a letter expressing outrage against Time Warner for refusing to withdraw the album from sale. These are practical strategies Christians can support. It's time to let corporate executives know they can't hide behind the rappers whose products they market. They've got to come forward and take the rap themselves.


Chuck Colson


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