An attempt by Nevada Regent Stavros Anthony to ban rap music from Lawlor Events Center and other higher education locations around the state didn’t receive a friendly response Friday.
Anthony put an item on last week’s regents meeting agenda for discussion of whether the state higher education system should police the content of “commercial entertainment events” allowed to perform on public property devoted to higher education.
Anthony was jumping on a bandwagon started by Clark County Sheriff Bill Young, who wrote a letter calling for curbing rap acts in casino showrooms, and the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which posted a notice on its Web page that seemed to threaten gambling licensees with some kind of official action if disruptions occur after gangster rap groups perform. However, Anthony said he had wanted a ban before those events.
“I want to frame this, particularly since I didn’t just pull it out of my pocket,” he told his fellow regents and a crowd of about a hundred students, faculty, campus officials and others.
“It would actually take me about eight hours, and if I could, I would be as graphic as I could,” he said, though his subsequent 10-minute presentation seemed to hold little back. He made it clear his complaint about rap is content-based by reciting a series of lyrics with terms and phrases that offend him—”Catch ’em in the club get wrecked/With the bottle/The silencer behind his neck,” “Put a shot in your melon,” “Man, I got your number from Heather/She said you sell guns.”
Anthony also had visual material related to 50 Cent that appeared to have been pulled from the artist’s Web site (www.50Cent.com), narrating as items flashed on the screen—”There he is pointing a sawed off shotgun at you. There he is cutting up some cocaine.”
After reading dozens of lyrics, Anthony said, “I don’t think that should be on university property.”
50 Cent (Curtis Jackson III) seems to be a particular irritant to Anthony. He kept returning to the singer’s songs, lyrics, and publicity material time and again. “He’s kind of the premier gangster rapper right now,” Anthony said before describing the singer’s stabbing by rapper Ja Rule at a Manhattan recording studio on March 24, 2000. The two had a notorious feud for many years before working out a truce.
Anthony didn’t offer a process for deciding which perfomers would fall under his proposal. He said UNLV President Carol Harter and UNR President Joe Crowley could be asked to come up with one.
Nor did Anthony provide a linkage between cause and effect. He cited numerous “rap-related crimes,” as he described them, but he offered only a single quote from one researcher to substantiate the theory that the music is a cause instead of another effect of other factors.
There were a half dozen people prepared to testify against Anthony’s proposal, but it was almost unnecessary. The university’s lawyer and Anthony’s fellow regents dealt his proposal some hard blows.
Brooke Nielsen, a special counsel to the regents and former chief deputy attorney general, said she’d been assigned the job of figuring out if it would be legal for the regents to do what Anthony proposed.
“The answer is, no,” she said simply. In the legal world created by the U.S. Constitution, Nielsen said, “Freedom of speech fills the room. … The freedom to restrict it occupies just a small corner.”
Nevada higher education chancellor James Rogers said adoption of the Anthony proposal would send a message across the nation “that the University of Nevada is right out of the 12th century.”
Regent and board chair Bret Whipple, who co-sponsored the agenda item, seemed to back away from it.
Regent Doug Hill, noting that an American Civil Liberties Union representative was waiting to speak on the proposal, said it was the first time he had ever agreed with the ACLU on a matter before the Board of Regents. After expressing his admiration for Anthony, Hill nevertheless said he disagreed. Drawing on Anthony’s first name, Hill said a Greek lyric poet named Stavros wrote, “I speak with puffs of air, yet they are good to hear.”
Words on campuses should cause distress, Hill said. “They walk up and down in the hearts of men. … They’ll march up and down in the hearts of our students as long as they live. And some of them are good, and some of them are evil.” But it is not for the regents to decide which words are good and which are evil before they are even spoken, he said.
Hill also quoted a lyric—”Let the black boy spin while the white folks die”—that could easily have come from a rap song. It came from “Lynching Song,” a 1936 poem by Langston Hughes.
“We’re not talking about political speech,” Anthony said. Political messages enjoy greater protection under the law. But Anthony will likely have a difficult time making a convincing case that the music is nonpolitical. Rap is shot through with messages, many of them aimed at law enforcement. The Rap News Network last year ran a story about “the notion, increasingly discussed, that hip-hop has become a new mainstream medium for political discourse, activism and change.” Some groups or artists, such as Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Public Enemy, specialize in political hip hop. (Disposable Heroes, which broke up in 1993, once recorded a song with lyrics about California Gov. Pete Wilson.)
In New York City, a Hip Hop Summit mobilized people against a school’s budget cut and forced Mayor Michael Bloomberg to roll it back.
In “Mosh,” Eminem is heard to sing, “Strap him with an AK-47/Let him go fight his own war/Let him impress daddy that way/No more blood for oil/We got our battles to fight on our own soil.” The singer also uses anti-women and gay-bashing lyrics.
In a paper titled “Abortion and Rap Music” on the Life Issues Web page, Jeff Koloze wrote, “Clearly, the intent of the rappers discussed here is to attack abortion which disenfranchises the many entities which it affects. Jesse Jackson is dissed; abortionists are dissed. … If there is one idea that can be learned from this study, it is that right-to-lifers can find a strong contemporary cultural ally in rap music; rap has dissed abortion.”
Rappers were credited with boosting voter registration in the 2004 election. There is a second biennial National Hip Hop Political Convention being held in Chicago in July.
In fact, Anthony’s call for a ban on rap could easily be considered a political response to political criticism that often targets police and police violence. When Anthony isn’t being a regent, he is a Las Vegas vice police officer.