Hip-Hop Mogul Launches Lyric Crusade. Any Takers?

By Gabriel Sanders

Published April 27, 2007, issue of April 27, 2007.

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons moved the Don Imus debate forward this week, with a call to the recording and broadcasting industries to “remove/bleep/delete” the words “bitch,” “ho” and “nigger.”

The Shmooze caught up with Simmons to see if he is hoping to enlist Jewish groups in his new campaign. His initial response was enthusiastic.

“Do for others what you expect for yourself,” said Simmons, who has appeared in public service announcements condemning antisemitism. “I don’t think this is a racial issue. It’s about loving everyone and wanting to lift everyone up.”

The music producer, however, was short on specifics regarding what he’d like to see from Jewish communal figures, saying he was reluctant to put words in other people’s mouths.

Rap lyrics present a thorny issue for Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, traditionally both defenders of free expression and crusaders against bigoted speech. Both lauded the Imus firing, with the ADL going so far as to say that the story should serve as a warning not only to other disc jockeys but to their “corporate underwriters.”

But will Jewish groups hold the music industry — and its numerous Jewish executives — to the same standard when it comes to rap? Maybe, maybe not.

“It’s good to see that the Imus situation has provoked renewed discussion in the African-American community about the rap artists,” AJCommittee spokesman Kenneth Bandler said. “But that’s something that their leadership needs to take the initiative on.”

Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, emphasized that his group is no newcomer to the rap world, particularly when it comes to antisemitic lyrics. But asked if the ADL is prepared to tackle the issue of rap head-on, Foxman expressed reluctance. “If circumstances present themselves for us to participate in coalitions, we will,” he said. “First and foremost, African Americans have to come to grips with it.”



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