MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
In just a few minutes, a look at the upcoming Supreme Court session that begins today, and a visit with a descendant of Dred Scott, the slave who sued for his freedom and lost. That's coming up.
But first, the B word, the N word, the H word. We've all heard those words on the street, but now those terms have made it to the halls of Congress. Last week, the House Commerce Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee held a hearing to examine the use of what some consider stereotypes and degrading images in popular culture. Rappers, advocates and entertainment industry executives testified before the subcommittee about why certain images and themes seem so prevalent in entertainment today. But what did all that accomplish?
Here to talk about all of this is Congressman Cliff Staerns of Florida. He is the ranking Republican member on the subcommittee that held the hearing. We're also joined by Percy Miller. He is better known as Master P. He's a rapper and founder and CEO of No Limit Enterprises, at one time one of the most dominant forces in rap. He testified at the hearing. Gentlemen, thank you both so much for speaking with us.
Representative CLIFF STEARNS (Republican, Florida): Michel, glad to be here.
MASTER P (Rapper; CEO, No Limit Enterprises): Nice to be here, Michel.
MARTIN: And I just want to offer a quick warning to our listeners that this conversation may include references to some of the offensive words and question. And that being said, Congressman Stearns, why this hearing? Why now?
Rep. STEARNS: Well, the hearing was titled "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degradation." And, of course, we all know what happened with Imus and how he was fired. And we had three panels, Michel.
The first panel was CEOs of the recording industry, namely Viacom, Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group. We also had a minority radio station. Lastly, we had a CEO of an interactive software company that did "Grand Theft Auto" videogames. And the third, of course, the second panel was Master P and David Banner, and then a doctor, a Ph.D. from Georgetown to talk about rap - hip-hop music. And the third panel was academia talking about the effects it has on our culture.
And I think the hearing was very enlightening, and I think for both the members of Congress as well as the participants, and I think it was very useful.
MARTIN: Was it something that had - this issue, something that had engaged you, or was it something more you were just - you were there to learn?
Rep. STEARNS: Well, I was there to learn. I'm in the minority. Mr. Rush - who is the chairman of the subcommittee from Chicago - earlier in this year, the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation asked him and the committee to hold a hearing on, quote, "racist and sexist language and images that occur continually," in their opinion, "in the entertainment industry." And so they were the impetus for this hearing.
MARTIN: Okay. Well, at some point, I want to hear from you what was most interesting to you. But I want to turn to Master P. Master P, you are a very successful entertainer. At one point, you were on the Forbes list of highest paid entertainers in the country, and so-called gangster rap was your bread and butter. But now, you're saying something has to change. You even apologized to women during the course of the hearing. Why the change of heart?
MASTER P: Yeah, well, you know, sometimes you grow up and you understand about life, and I'm just being responsible for what I did and I know where we need to be at. And I also realize that I have kids and I want my kids to be better than me. So I think that's the most important thing with me. It's about a lack of education. And now that you - now think that if we could give these elements to our kids, we definitely would have a greater society, and we definitely can take care of so many social issues.
I also wanted to let people know that music do put you in the mood. I mean, I listen to a song, Ice-T, Colors. I am a nightmare stalking, psychopath walking. That song there put me in the mood when I was in the ghetto just to continuously make music like that.
And I say, you know what? Now that I understand that and I'm grown up, you know, somebody have to take a stand and tell these kids where we need to be at.
And I really feel I have to play daddy to these kids, because they don't want to see the right way. And they don't understand that you can make it and do something positive.
MARTIN: And when you say that to some of the young guys coming up, what do they say?
MASTER P: Well, you know what? Everybody kind of like on their own path right now, where they think that they have to be freedom of speech act and understand people who they are and who they're not. And my thing is saying, you know what? If we just think about the things we're doing in life, and the ones - most of these guys are young, but they have kids. My thing is saying, you know what? If you're going to raise your kid to be a gangster, we're going to lose. If you're going to raise your kid to be educated and be successful, you know, we going to all right. We're going to be able to preserve hip-hop. And I also - what I did, was I say, you know what? Look at my son. I was able to raise him to be more than me and be better than me. My son going to college. He understand, I mean, I've been raised…
MARTIN: You mean, Romeo? You're talking about Romeo?
MASTER P: Yeah, Romeo.
MARTIN: Because you have like, seven kids.
MASTER P: Yeah, Romeo, and all the rest of my kids. But the thing about it is, though, I also wanted to do something different. I put out a book called "Guarantee Success: When You Never Give Up." Because I wanted to give that lack of knowledge back to my communities and other communities and say, you know what? Master P is not only doing music, but now he's grown up and he's mature. And I want to get the hood to read. So that's - I put this book I called "Guarantee Success: When You Never Give Up" so that our kids are going to say, you know what? Even though I come from hip-hop, look at the other things I'm doing.
And I also - at the hearing, I came up with a solution. I said, you know what? I watched David Banner talk. I mean, David Banner is an educated brother, but it's the thing called a lack of knowledge. You could be educated and have no knowledge - applied knowledge. And he was just driving on, you know, about getting his money.
My thing was to say, you know what, brother? You have to realize that we have kids and - actually, we did not apologize to the women and children because nobody is thinking about our future. And if we don't understand that we have to clean our act up so these kids, I mean, think about it, I…
MARTIN: Okay. Hold on a second, Master P, I want to play something about David Banner. David Banner also testified at the hearing, and he had very different perspective than you did. He argued that the - a lot of people have made the argument that the N word is a word that many people need to reclaim. He also made an argument that this is - that some of these words are central to the message that the artists are trying to get across. Let's hear a clip from his testimony.
Mr. DAVID BANNER (Rapper): The abuse accompanied by the label nigger was forced and internalized. We had to internalize it. This made the situation easier to digest. Our generation has since assumed ownership of the word. And now that we capitalizing on the word, now they want to censor it.
MARTIN: Congressman, he did raise the word censorship. And then his argument is that this - some of this imagery, some of this language is reflective of realities as the artist experience it, and if you try to keep them from expressing these thoughts, then you're cutting off necessary - and frankly, constitutionally protected activities. So, Congressman, what would you say to that?
Rep. STEARNS: Well, I think in this respect, I think majority of the members of Congress felt that we could not impede free speech if a person wanted to use the N-word or the S-word. In fact, there's explicit sexual language in these songs. These types of words are sometimes dubbed out if they're putting through FCC communication, but you can buy them in the store. They can - they do come through satellite radio. But all the executives felt that these artists could say any word they want.
In fact, Mr. Morris, from Universal Music, indicated that he does not believe there's one word that should be censored. I think the majority of people feel -in Congress - that this is one of labeling, providing information to the consumer so that the consumer can decide when they buy this product, the language that the rappers are using, and that is not the role of Congress to step in and to censor them.
MARTIN: But, forgive me, Congressman, that labeling has been in use for years, and yet it doesn't appear that the use of these terms has diminished in any way.
Rep. STEARNS: Well…
MARTIN: (Unintelligible) for sales of these records are falling off quite a bit. I know that that's the point that Alfred Liggins of Radio One made - that the sales are falling off, but…
MASTER P.: Yeah.
MARTIN: …the labeling doesn't seem to have changed anything in terms of the use of these words and the work itself.
Rep. STEARNS: Well, we had a hearing dealing with video games in which we also made a point that we would be willing to have a bill to indicate that more stringent labeling requirements and that instituted in the recording industry and the video game industry rather a better system for labeling these products, like "Grand Theft Auto."
Rep. STEARNS: And so the long and short of it is I think if we felt the labeling was weak, Congress would step in with the bill.
MARTIN: Master P., I wanted to ask you, you know, you're as we said before, you did very well in the business with certain kinds of language. I remember from "Ghetto Postage," there was, you know, you were kind of going double for nothing, it was, B I like, you know, that Anne(ph) got a B I like…
MASTER P.: Yes.
MARTIN: …is the refrain. Do any of the young guys say, you know, you and some of the other sort of more senior members of the industry now that you're older and you've kind of had your success that you're now sort of pointing the finger at them.
MASTER P.: Well, I mean, they can't say that about me because I have my son. And ever since I've been making that music, I never raised my son and let him make that type of music. So my only thing is to these guys is: We have to be responsible for what we are doing. And I'm raising my son and say, you know what? He started out, he even sold 10 million records, and he started out clean, and he is going all the way clean. So people care and say, yeah, well you know what, P., you're changed now because you're doing something else. I'm doing something else because I understand that we have to grow up, but I also know it's my responsibility to make sure the kids of the next generation understand that we can put some balance out there. Now some kids…
MARTIN: And finally, Master P., I wanted to ask you, we're down to our last minute. What about the argument that people who make more positive messages don't sell? What would you say to that?
MASTER P.: Me?
MASTER P.: Well, I think that don't make sense because look at Romeo. He sold 10 million records. So also I just think that we have to - I think what it is, these kids are panicking. Once they start losing money, they started then venturing off to other things because fame do go away. So my thing is I came up with - we need a union. So I'm doing a thing for hip-hop, it will be a union that we are set up so these kids have benefits, retirement plans, and I think then we'll stop panicking. We could be like the NBA. The NBA fine their players, they also boost their players up and pat them on their back when they do something positive. So I think right now, we don't want to be role models. We think that we have to live this gangster role life. And my thing is we're not - I want to preserve hip-hop and other hip-hop, we got to start thinking bigger.
MARTIN: All right.
MASTER P.: And…
MARTIN: Oh, all right, I appreciate you joining us. Thank you so much. Rapper and producer Master P. joined us from NPR West in Culver City. We're also joined by U.S. Congressman Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, ranking minority party member of the House Commerce Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee. He joined us from Washington. Gentlemen, thank you both so much for speaking with us.
MASTER P.: Oh, thank you.
Rep. STEARNS: Thank you, Michel.