Can a Hip-Hop Morality Clause Work?

Can a Hip-Hop Morality Clause Work?

Tolu Olorunda It’s the idea of one legendary black MC, who’s dedicated two decades to the fight against rap-related violence.


Tolu Olorunda

It’s the idea of one legendary black MC, who’s dedicated two decades to the fight against rap-related violence. Can a Hip-Hop Morality Clause Work?

Tolu Olorunda

September 1, 2009

A middle-aged female attorney calls for hip-hop artists to be held to a contractual obligation against violence. Must be elderly elitism wagging its ugly finger at a young, misunderstood generation.

But what if a respected, legendary black MC, who’s dedicated two decades to the fight against rap-related violence, like, say, KRS-One, proposed the same concept? Would the response be any different?

Most likely.

When news broke last week that New York attorney Lauren P. Raysor was seeking avenues through which record labels would be forced to include, in the contracts of all artists signed to their company, a “morality clause,” the hip-hop community was riled up with rage over the mere suggestion that it couldn’t police itself.

Attorney Raysor, who is former president of the Metropolitan Black Bar and, according to her bio, has worked on civil rights causes, was compelled to go public with her proposal after representing a client in a criminal lawsuit against popular female Bronx rapper Remy Ma.

The aim, she explained in a press release, was to demand that “all record companies” insert a “morality clause” in the contracts of their artists, which would promote better self-restraint, and hopefully make the urge and impulse to act in self-destructive ways less sexy.

Of course, the labels have since been mum about it. They know the importance of images. They’re aware of the power of suggestion. They understand how critical it is that the white suburban kids for whom rap represents “rebel” music continue to see it as the dangerous, crime-centered, volatile piece of art mainstream media insists it is.

The giant, but crippled, labels also probably wouldn’t like to make such concessions in light of recent reports that rap pioneer Dr. Roxanne Shanté’s education was attained all-expenses paid–courtesy of a clause in her contract, which Warner Music never expected would be utilized.

But think about it for a second: Jay-Z, Nas, Lil’ Wayne, Busta Rhymes, Diddy and just about every other megastar the hip-hop world has produced have been involved in criminal cases. They subsequently spent many months trying to clean up their reputations. Not until recently, when T.I. was sentenced to one year behind bars for federal gun charges, did it occur that hip-hop artists aren’t impenetrable when it comes to the law.

There’s another angle to this, however, which deserves just as much light. It’s intriguing that the criticism is centrally lobbed at young, black hip-hop stars. In many ways, I share some of the fear expressed by fans who contend it validates stereotypes about inner-city youth as criminal-minded. I would hate for this innocent suggestion to become fodder for racists or right-wing groups.

But, if this is what’s needed to curb the excessive violence taking place at random hip-hop concerts and events–too many to document–I could care less what plan prejudiced political opportunists have in mind.

Tolu Olorunda is a cultural critic who writes for and, among others.

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