NEW YORK — The Reverend Al Sharpton led a demonstration across Manhattan Thursday evening (May 3) that saw him and a throng of supporters march to three of the four major record companies, calling for more "decency" in hip-hop lyrics.
The march was in part a response to comments made by fired shock jock Don Imus, who claimed if his controversial remarks were made by a rapper it'd result in a hit song. Sharpton confronted Imus over his remarks on his own radio program, "The Sharpton Show," and vowed he would also challenge the hip-hop industry to clean up its act as well (see "Hip-Hop On The Defensive After Imus Incident; Sharpton Calls For 'Dialogue' With MCs").
"It appears people are more enraged and outraged than even we thought," Sharpton said through a bullhorn to a gathered crowd of hundreds. "How many of y'all are ready to keep building and keep going after record companies?
"We'll deal with them one by one," he continued from atop a New York Police Department flatbed truck at the rally's final destination, at the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle. "We'll also be dealing with the media companies. HBO is owned by Time Warner. When we finish with the record companies, we will go across the board. We're not asking for censorship. But there is a standard in this business. They have a standard. They had a standard that said Ice-T can't rap against police. They had a standard that said you can't rap against gays, and you shouldn't. They had a standard against Michael Jackson saying something anti-Semitic. Where is the standard against 'n-----,' 'ho' and 'b---h'?"
Sharpton told the group of supporters that he is not on a mission to censor rappers but is urging labels to protect the image of blacks. He cited past instances in which companies have pulled records that were overtly violent toward police or culturally insensitive to other ethnic groups.
The Harlem activist also said members of the black community are taking companies to task over how hip-hop is perceived, which Sharpton called a notable feat in itself.
Rally organizer Tamika Mallory, director of the Decency Initiative for the National Action Network, and Brooklyn City Councilwoman Darlene Mealy joined Sharpton and rap legend Kurtis Blow for the march.
Sharpton, dressed casually and traveling with a police-escorted motorcade, arrived to meet the group shortly after 6 p.m. in front of the Sony Music offices on the corner of 55th Street and Madison Avenue. He walked arm in arm with fellow demonstrators as they also stopped by the Warner Music Group headquarters in Rockefeller Plaza and the Universal Music Group building on 8th Avenue and 50th Street.
Chants of "Stop the dirty lyrics" and "Decency now" echoed throughout the march.
The rally came 12 years after a similar outreach was initiated by Time Warner music executives to develop standards for offensive lyrics. At that time, however, Sharpton met with the executives and defended rappers' rights to use harsh language reflecting their impoverished upbringings.
"What do you expect them to sing, 'Hello, Dolly'?" Sharpton was quoted as telling New York's Daily News in 1995. "I don't want to see Time Warner cave to criticisms from the right." Sharpton warned the company it would have him and other prominent black figures to deal with if it were to bow to pressure asserted by then-Republican Senator Bob Dole and others.
The reverend has changed his tune post-Imus-gate and has since joined Oprah and Russell Simmons in attempting to clamp down on rap music through various means.
"It can't hurt," Kurtis Blow told reporters as he flanked Sharpton. "It can only help."