I was in a cab the other day when Obie Trice's The Set-up with Nate Dog came over the radio. The driver was listening to FLOW 93.5. It went something like this:
"He used to pay this (dead air) / Give her lots of (dead air) / (dead air) wrong with that (dead air) man?/ He used to bring her through the 'hood / Treat the (dead air) to (dead air) good."
The actual deleted words are, in order: bitch, shit, fuck's (as in "what the fuck is?"), nigga, bitch and fuckin'.
"Why are they even playing it if they have to cut half of it out?" the driver wondered. I'm wondering the same thing, since according to the CRTC there are no words you can't say on the radio. So you can say whatever the fuck you want. Apparently, it's up to stations to police themselves.
And does it serve any purpose to bleep the words if the sentiment remains? If you are offended by derogatory references to women and black people or the use of words that refer to excrement and copulation in Obie Trice's The Set-up, does their removal placate you?
Wayne Williams, program director at FLOW and host of Flow Factor, explains that most times the songs will arrive with the disagreeable words already removed.
"There are two levels to what record labels produce, a radio edit and then a 'squeaky clean' edit," he says. "Sometimes on the regular radio edit, depending on the context of the song, words like 'ass' might get by. It depends on what they think programs will play, depending on what demographic the station caters to."
I love it. Record labels trying to figure out what they can get away with and still get airplay in the face of an entirely undefined moral radar.
For Trice's Canadian distributor, Universal, even pot references are too risqué.
Chris Garcia, national promotion coordinator at Universal, tells me, "We'll cut anything that might be a reason not to play it on the radio. We had an IRS track recently in which 'hydro ces' was mentioned. Hydro I guess could be water, but we took that out."
Another example Garcia offers is Hawksley Workman's We Will Still Need A Song. "The lyrics were 'Fuck you, you're drunk and acting tough.' and it was changed to 'Baby, you're drunk. '"
If California congressman Doug Ose has his way, the line on potty words in the U.S. will soon be a little clearer. He's drafted a bill that would ban "the seven dirty words" - fuck, shit, piss, motherfucker, cocksucker, cunt and asshole - from radio and TV. Both "asshole" and "ass hole" are on Ose's list, to make it crystal clear.
Lord only knows where one decides to draw the line. Note that neither "nigger" or "nigga" is on the list. Maybe that's because it's OK when black people say it?
Neither is "bitch," which could qualify when used as "a pejorative term for a female." Thank goodness "fisting" is not on the list, which last time I checked has only one meaning.
"Cunt" is an interesting one. It sure as shit sends women all over the place into fits of indignation. Well, ladies, the joke is on you. One possible origin of the word, according to Diane Ackerman's A Natural History Of Love, is "quaint," meaning "a many-layered and enfolded mystery." Another is that it came from the Hindu goddess Kali, the life-giver, who was also called Kunti or Kunda. The generally accepted Latin term "vagina" literally means "sheath," as in "for a man's sword." Now which word do you like better?
Ron Cohen, chair of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which reviews complaints against private broadcasters, doesn't think a similar bill would fly in Canada.
"I don't think that a bill of that nature is one that would bear any relevance to standards in private broadcasting. It's too non-contextual. It's as though every word that is anticipated in the bill, the way the bill is framed, is inherently problematic. While we would share some of the concerns for some of the words, they too, depend on context."
Back at FLOW, Williams says, "It's a theatre of the mind, if you will. Knowing what the sentiment is and actually hearing (the words) are two different things. There are certain records we won't play if they have references to killing women or if they're offensive to a race or gender, be it male or female. We just won't play them."
Williams adds, "With hiphop the music is brilliant, and the lyrics. Despite the cussin' and swearing, the magic around those lyrics, how creative they are with the English language, is unbelievable."
So if you're going to play them at all, you might as well play them in their entirety. Then people can really make up their mind whether they want to listen.
You can bleep out all the "bitches" and "hos" and "niggas" you want - but underneath it all the meaning is still there.