From grassroots churches and politicians trying to thwart Marilyn Manson's tour efforts in recent years to public outrage at the Beatles and the Rolling Stones of the '70s, rock music has always faced a large bulk of media censorship from all sides.
However this month, the government censors have given the rock rebellion a break and set their sights on a much more dangerous foe: the hip-hop community.
On June 12, members of the United States Congress and a handful of big name rap artists were both part of a summit in New York which, under the banner of a constructive look at regulation of hip-hop music, amounted to a very not-so-subtle message of the possible consequences to the music industry: shape up or we'll ship you out.
From the criticism of the lacklustre efforts of the industry's "parental advisory" stickers to blatant threats of actively shutting hip-hop artists down completely--Representative Bennie Thompson was quoted as saying "Washington can regulate you out of business if you do not have your act together"--the atmosphere of the conference and of hip-hop's opponents in general is a conflict waiting to explode.
The issue at hand, as many people can see without government experts and bureaucrats, is the questionable if not sometimes completely offensive content of some rap lyrics. Granted, some of these lyrics do indeed fly past the line of political correctness. At the same time, however, these lyrics are protected by free speech laws and driven by the public's consumer dollars. Not only do artists have a right to publish this material, the listening public has a right to hear it.
Washington is at the moment giving the industry some time to clean itself up before big brother adds in a Jerry Springer-esque beep over half of Eminem's latest album. However, with talk of shutting the industry down and exercising their iron fist approach to censorship, it's very hard to tell what will please the censors--if anything at all.
This action by the US Congress, which as we know can sometimes spark similar reaction in bordering countries, should be seen as dangerous to even rap's most vocal critics. This isn't a question of whether or not Eminem should be criticized for songs like "Kill Kim" (and there are certainly good arguments to be made in that respect), but whether Eminem should be able to produce this at all.
The first-music-then-free-speech arguments thrown around in recent years may seem extreme, but as the walls of expressive freedom close in, one wonders how long it will be before some Canadian government censor tries to stop artists like Eminem from even entering our country.
Oh wait. That's already happened.