It's the best head fake I've ever seen in a media debate.
Well aware that all the folks P.O.-ed by the tsunami of outrage that kneecapped Don Imus' career would soon turn to gangsta rap to settle the score, onetime rap impresario Russell Simmons came up with a public relations move that proves why he was always the slickest operator in hip hop.
Simmons' solution? Let's ban all the words that upset people -- from the clean versions of hip hop singles.
He's been talking to media outlets everywhere about his plan for deleting "ho," "bitch" and "nigger" from the already highly edited "clean" versions of rap records played on the radio. It's a great dodge for the hip hop industry for several reasons.
1) It focuses people on the specific words rather than the ideas behind the words. You don't have to debate how women are treated in rap lyrics if you boil it down to banning a few words from versions of songs that the vast majority of hip hop fans don't buy, anyway.
2) It takes responsiblity for the material from the artist who created the song to some nameless record company editor patching together a radio-friendly single. The artists -- who are still Simmons' main constituency -- don't have to change a thing.
3) It allows folks like Simmons to keep playing the philanthropist to the wider world without challenging rap artists to really adopt new messages or tell stories in a different way.
4) It allows gangsta rap artists to keep filling their albums and non-radio product with the same awful messages for fans, while cleaning up the product most likely to reach those who are criticizing hip hop -- the stuff played on the radio.
Like I said, masterful.
Unfortunately, this latest gambit isn't even a band-aid. Sooner or later, rap artists must learn how to preserve their creativity and vital spirit while chilling out on the more harmful messages. Once upon a time. gangsta rap opened the world's eyes to the desperae rhythms of impoverished neighborhoods the mainstream had forgotten; now it's a marketing tool that clocks millions for companies and artists which drench their product in violence and antisocial images.
That's what keeps some black folks -- even rap artists who have forsaken violent or misogynistic language themselves -- from criticizing gangsta rappers too harshly. In a debate with Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh on one side, with Russell Simmons and Snoop Dogg on the other, it's not hard to see which side most hip hop fans would find most comfortable.
In a better world, old heads like Simmons would be helping the young bloods figure this out, instead of trying to head fake the critics. But sometimes, it's hard to take the hustle out of a hardcore entrepreneur.