music are attended to.
If you try to stop it, just like a storm, it will take you with it.
I think that no one here will disagree with me when I say that
families with strong parental figures, quality education, caring
communities and real jobs is what is needed. These are some of the
solutions to the problems of violence in our society.
Insuring the existence of those factors in the lives of young peo-
ple involves some tough decisions at the governmental level and
some tough decisions at the personal level. We can't simply abdi-
cate our responsibilities as parents, legislators, or citizens by sin-
gling out a few TV programs, a few movies or a few musical record-
In closing, it would be fair to assume that there are some people
in this room here today who have already made their decision to
draw a conclusion about rap music and the artist. To those people,
I ask that you open your minds and use today as an opportunity
to take a closer look at the young people who are creating this
These young men and women are passionate about what they
feel. They are poetic. They are very innovative and creative in their
expression, but if nothing else, at this meeting you should be able
to come away with an awareness of the fears and frustrations that
they are so constantly expressing, that is so deeply rooted in their
spirits and in their lyrics.
How can rap continually be blamed for the increased violence in
our communities baffles me when the violence was here long before
rap music and much longer than the gangsta rap music has been
here. Rap artists verbalize their reality. They do not celebrate that
Our children, who are these rap artists, are angry and they ex-
press their anger in their Ijrrics. Many of the young men and
women who rap today are considered outsiders by the mainstream
of American society. Their reality and their world is one full of pov-
erty, violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, racism, homelessness, hope-
lessness, disrespect, just to name a few of the ills. They live in a
world that few in this room, if any, could even survive in.
I do not condone violence or the negative lyrics, but this is the
reality of our impoverished inner cities and it is the reality of the
Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
Mrs. Collins. Mr. Harleston.
STATEMENT OF DAVID HARLESTON
Mr. Harleston. Good morning, Madam Chairwoman. My name
is David Harleston and I am president of Rush Associated Labels,
or R.A.L., which has as its largest and most prolific division Def
Jam Recordings, Incorporated.
Def Jam recordings or Def Jam was founded in 1983 by Russell
Simmons who has been widely recognized as the individual who
brought hip hop to the cultural fore. Russell Simmons currently
serves as our chief executive officer.
R.A.L. is engaged primarily in the creation, marketing, pro-
motion, and distribution of the spectrum of music that is known as
hip hop. In 1993, hip hop music in all its forms accounted for ap-
proximately 7.8 percent of the estimated $10.2 billion of music in
the United States. Without question, hip hop has evolved into a
major contributor to the music industry.
This music and this culture have achieved a level of creative en-
ergy which justifies our corporate commitment to the genre. Hip
hop has provided an extraordinary avenue of artistic expression for
African-American youth and it has economically empowered a gen-
eration of artists, producers and others who have imported hip hop
culture and music into areas such as fashion, film, advertising,
comedy, television, and publishing.
Madam Chairwoman, I would be less than candid if I did not ac-
knowledge my concerns about this hearing. During the past year,
the hip hop community has been the subject of intense scrutiny
concerning the role of rap music in our culture. Some critics have
suggested, for example, that rap music glorifies violence, degrades
women, and erodes community values.
I do not question the sincerity of those who have expressed those
views. However, I strongly believe that those views are myopic.
Let's be clear. Like all artists, hip hop artists are Droducts of
their environment. Their environments have influenced who they
are and the kinds of music that they make. Accordingly, hip hop
artists frequently relate experiences which many find unsettling or
uncomfortable. That is precisely the point that certain artists are
trying to make.
However, it is increasingly apparent that certain opponents of
hip hop music are of the misguided view that if we do not hear
about the issues raised and addressed in the music, then those is-
sues will not exist.
In fact, one could argue that efforts to suppress hip hop artists
are efforts to ignore unpleasant realities that exist in America's
backyard. Such a view simply denies reality. Silencing the mes-
senger will not extinguish the problem.
While I am here today to discuss hip hop culture and the record-
ing industry, I hope that we can also begin a constructive conversa-
tion about the conditions to which some members of our society are
subjected, conditions which, in fact, make gangsterism appear to be
a reasonable life choice.
As a record company, Def Jam is essentially a manufacturer,
marketer, promoter, and distributor of recorded music to consum-
ers. Fundamentally, we discover, develop, and sell music. In so
doing, we work closely with artists, managers and producers, all of
whom have a direct and immediate interest in the success of a par-
When we make a decision to sign an artist, that decision fully
embraces the artist's vision. Our primary inquiry is whether the
artist is authentic and distinctive. In our view, the dominant con-
cern is that an artist write and rap from an important — ^from im-
portant experiences in that artist's life. Those experiences may not
be pretty or pleasant. They need only be real.
It is for these reasons, therefore, that we do not require an artist
to adhere to proscribed rules relating to lyrical content. Rather, in
deciding whether, in our judgment, the work of a particular artist
is of sufficient merit to warrant release, we ask only whether the
work is true to the artist's vision as we understood that vision at
the time we signed the artist.
We also acknowledge the significance of lyric S3rmbolism in our
artist's work. Like all recording artists, rap artists engage in meta-
phor and imagery in order to make their points. Curiously, rap art-
ists are rarely given credit for their use of metaphor. Rather, they
are all too often held unfairly to a literal standard which is not ap-
plied to creators and performers of other forms of art.
Some critics of hip hop music have also suggested that the lyrics
will bring about the very problems they address. Some have sug-
gested, for example, that the music contributes to a preponderance
of violence and misog5my in our communities. Of course, that sug-
gests and ignores both history and reason.
Violence and sexism in the African-American community and the
United States generally clearly predate the rise in popularity of rap
Moreover, tragic as it is, violence is something that many of our
urban youth must confront regularly and sexism remains a per-
nicious force throughout our society. As dimensions of our artist's
experiences, these themes will obviously and inevitably find their
way into the music.
One of our most important functions as a company is to amplify
the voices of African-American youth whose experiences have his-
torically been ignored by mainstream America. Those voices are, at
the moment, articulating bleak scenarios throughout urban Amer-
The issue, however, is not whether to suppress, regulate, restrict,
segregate, or otherwise curb the distribution of hip hop music.
Rather, the issue is whether we, as a communitv and a Nation, are
prepared to squarely address the very issues that have given rise
to the lyrics that some find so troubling.
That, Madam Chairwoman, is the challenge. Thank you.
STATEMENT OF YOLANDA «YO YO»* WHITAKER
Mrs. Collins. Yo Yo.
Ms. Whitaker. Hello, it is a pleasure to be here. Madam Chair-
woman, the subcommittee. My name is Yolanda Whitaker, I am
known as Yo Yo. I am on East West Records.
I am out of south central Los Angeles, bom and raised. I am very
involved in the music business. I have been for 5 years. Along with
that, I am involved in an organization entitled the Intelligent Black
Women's Coalition, which I have formed for many years now, 4
years, and we have 9 chapters in different States, which help boost
the self-esteem for young black teenagers. We also deal with vot-
ing, teenage pregnancy, and education.
We deal with non — this is a nonprofit organization. We do have
fund-raisers. We donate to black women, battered women shelters,
little league football teams that are brought up in the neighbor-
hoods. We donate to premature babies, mainly from Martin Luther
King Hospital, drug babies.
On behalf of the rappers, we ask, where does it end? We see and
hear violent acts every day, whether it may be through the eyes
of the media, movie producers, or businesses. There was violence
before rap and there will continue to be violence after rap.
For example, how many times do we see the Rodney King beat-
ing, the Lorena Bobbitt story, Tonya Harding, the Menendez trial?
I can go on and on, but where does it end? Violence permeates our
every day life.
I am here to help you understand that there is a thing called
context. When our lyrics are taken out of context, they take on a
whole new meaning that you interpret as violence. There is a lan-
guage difference from 20 years ago to now. Words change. We have
a totally different meaning for the language we speak.
That is why, if you don't understand, ask, and we will take the
time to explain. You take the time to listen to the whole story.
If you don't, our generation is lost. Those who block our music
and refuse to take the whole story will never understand. Saying
one is to respect our ancestors for what they have worked for is one
thing, but saying that rap causes violence is another.
People choose to point the fmger on us and censor our right to
freedom of speech, but is that constitutional?
Why is the so-called negative rap so popular? It is because nega-
tivity is what surrounds us. The true rap listeners are surrounded
by the negativity in the neighborhood and until you can help our
situation, don't criticize the way we feel.
Rap artists cannot be held accountable for why people are in jail.
These jails have been filled with our black males and females since
slavery, and yet, where does it end?
This is the time for more autonomy. This is a time for each indi-
vidual to take responsibility of their own actions. Rap cannot be
the scapegoat. If we fail as a whole to acknowledge the real prob-
lems that be face, then we will never resolve the problems. Jobs,
education, home discipline, teen pregnancy, AIDS, homelessness is
something that we all should focus on, not rap.
Being from the hood, neighborhood, I can tell you that violence
didn't start from a cassette tape that might have been popped into
a home or car stereo system. Whitney Houston sells more records
than any rapper. Why isn't that man's kids emulating her? Why is
it our fault? We are the product of America your generation cre-
ated. Don't shut us down. Hear us out.
Now, is the time to focus on real villains, not the rap artists. I
ask you. Madam Chairwoman, where does it end and when will it
Mrs. Collins. Mr. Singleton, there are many misconceptions
about how the recording industry works, and I would like for you
to explain to the members of our committee your relationship with
the artists from the time that he or she gets a contract until a final
recording is distributed, and specifically explain who makes the
In other words, who has the final say in what that recording will
contain if there are questions about a message. Mr. Singleton?
Mr. Singleton. OK, Madam Chairwoman, the process varies
from record company to record company. My relationship in dealing
with an artist and signing an artist to the label, we — if an artist
is brought in by a manager or if the artist in fact brings his own
product in, they share with us their music. They give us a sense
of their vision.
Oftentimes, there may be a demo tape in terms of their produc-
tion or their song quality or song style that they will present to us
to give you a sense of what their artistic direction is.
In giving us that artistic direction, they are not giving us the lay-
out in songs. At this present moment in working with artists on
the MCA label, artists present to us their songs or we solicit songs
from various producers and song writers.
Those songs are then submitted to the artist and artist's man-
ager, and again, I am stumbling a little bit here because I under-
stand we are talking about "gangsta rap."
Mr. Singleton. As I sit here, you make the point clear that we
do not have any "Gangsta rap on the MCA label." The artists I am
referring to are people like Patti LaBelle. In the case of Heavy D,
Heavy D goes in the studio and does his album in its entirety by
himself. He selects the material with his A&R director.
A&R people are people in the record companies who deal with
the artists, producers, song writers. A&R stands for artists and
In many cases, you will have an artist who will create the entire
body of work and bring it to you. There are artists who work with
producers to create that body of work and bring it to you. There
are instances where artists work with various A&R people to find
the music, songs, and production people to create the bodies of
work, so there is no one way it is done. It varies, depending on the
artists and creative people involved.
Mrs. Collins. Mr. Harleston, how is it done at your shop?
Mr. Harleston. It varies equally at Def-Jam. An artist, after
being signed, and perhaps I should back up, but we learn about our
artists through any number of sources. There is an A&R depart-
ment, as there is in most record companies, that stands for artists
and repertoire, and members of the A&R department are charged
with, among other things, visiting clubs to determine if there are
artists performing there live in whom we might have some interest.
They listen to demo tapes that are sent in, solicited and unsolic-
ited, to the company. They listen to other artists presently on the
label, who by virtue of work in the studio or elsewhere have their
ear to the ground and a sense of who might have qualities in which
we might be interested.
That artist is then presented to the chairman of the company,
Russell Simmons, who talks with, meets with, listens to the con-
cept underlying the perspective artist's work, and makes a rec-
ommendation as to whether or not the artist should be signed. The
signing process is in itself an extensive one.
It is one in which we negotiate heavily with the artist's rep-
resentatives or prospective artist's — at that point — representatives.
Those number typically two; the artist's counsel, his or her lawyer,
and the artist's manager, if the manager has yet been engaged at
The negotiation can take an3rwhere from 2 weeks to, in some
cases, 3 months. Once the negotiation is completed, the contract
has been drafted to reflect the points agreed upon in that negotia-
tion, and the artist signs on.
In its essential termination, that contract requires of the artist
the obligation that he or she deliver a prescribed number of record-
ings to us within a prescribed period of time, and in consideration
of that, we are required to pay what are considered advances
against royalty income that the artist would earn at such time as
the recordings are sold at retail.
I feel compelled to respond just briefly to a point that was made
in the prior panel. With respect to Def-Jam, never, ever does the
contract nor could the contract spell out, address, describe, define
the lyrical content of the artist's recordings. That simply never
happens, nor am I aware of it happening at any other record com-
Now, we have the artist signed, and it is time for the artist to
begin his or her work. The artist begins working with a producer.
That producer is an individual who sometimes comes with the art-
ist, if you will, when the artist is signed. The artist has already
identified an individual or a group of individuals with whom he or
she wants to work.
If the artist does not have a producer, our A&R staff makes rec-
ommendations. The artists meet with typically three, four or five,
and makes some decisions about whom they feel most comfortable
That producer and that artist then retire to the studio. Songs are
written, lyrics are written, beats are created, experimented with,
felt out. And after a period of time, typically demo recordings of the
proposed album are furnished to us, the record company.
The A&R department sits down with the artist and the producer
at that time, listens to what the artist proposes to record, listens
to those demo recordings, and makes comments on those demo re-
cordings. The comments typically are directed toward the extent to
which those recordings are consistent with the artist's vision, as we
understood that vision when we signed the artist. They are not
comments or views that are directed toward the sexual imagery,
the violent imagery, specifically. They are comments directed to the
body of work in its entirety.
The fundamental question in its simplest form is, is this good
music, is this good hip hop for this artist? And by "for this artist"
I mean, as we understood what this artist's vision, dream, mission
was when we signed the artist.
Those comments are then discussed with the artist. The artist re-
turns to the studio with the producer or the corps of producers, and
continues working on the project. It is an iterative process. The art-
ist rarely disappears and returns 3 months later, we are a finished
recording. It is a process in which the artist seeks comment, not
just from the record company, but typically from his or her col-
leagues, from other producers, from time to time, journalists in
order for that artist to develop a project that he or she can be
proud of and support during the period of time the project is being
Once the project is completed and delivered to us, the ball, if you
will, moves from A&R into the marketing and promotion dimen-
sions of the company. In those dimensions, employees meet with
the artist to confirm their understanding of the artist's vision as
the artist had defined it in both the music and at the time we
The department comes up with plans and strategies for market-
ing and promoting the record, plans and strategies which are
unique to each record. These are, as I said, discussed with the art-
ist, and a marketing plan is devised.
At that point, the record is released, presumably the marketing
plan is followed, unless we feel a need in the course of the sale of
the record to alter that plan, because it is not having either the ef-
fect or not reaching a demographic that we had anticipated, and
over a period of 3 to 6, in a very successful case in hip hop, 9 or
12 months, the record is selling. The artist is promoting it, and
when that is over we are hopeful the artist returns to the studio
to start it again.
Mrs. Collins. There seems to be a great deal of effort put into
the whole project. I was taking some notes as you went along,
about the song being written and the beats being filled out, and
whether a recording is good hip hop for the artist. You talked about
a marketing strategy being devised, and the release of the record
and you talked about the demographics to which it is to be mar-
keted, but I didn't hear you at one time say who made the final
decision about the lyrics.
Mr. Singleton. May I respond to that first?
Mrs. Collins. I want Mr. Harleston to respond to that, then I
will get back to you.
Mr. Harleston. It is a deliberative decision, and it is not a deci-
sion about the Ijn-ics, per se. Part of what I am trying to convey
and I think Mr. Singleton was conveying previously, is that this is
not an inquiry or even a process that is unidimensional. We look
at the entire body of the work. And it is not amenable to looking
at lyrics and saying, these are no good or these are good. Now let's
look at the music.
Like all other art that I am aware of, we really must look at the
body of work, the piece of art as a whole. It is a collaborative proc-
ess. There may be a comment raised by a member of the A&R de-
partment — this song doesn't seem right to me, this artist doesn't
seem comfortable with this particular beat, why don't we try some-
thing else. The artist hears it and says, "Gee, I wasn't comfortable
with it", the producer thought this — it is a collaborative process.
And it is unfortunately one simply not susceptible to the kind of
segmentation that the prior, frankly, panel suggested, and that I
have seen in written reports criticizing the way we do our work.
Mrs. Collins. Mr. Singleton?
Mr. Singleton. Madam Chairwoman, I think from record com-
pany to record company, the answer to that might be a little bit
different. At MCA, maybe over the last — since we began putting
the parental advisory label on records, we began to realize that in
order to avoid slippage in not knowing when a record merits a
sticker versus when it didn't, that we had to redefine how we func-
tioned internally within the record company. So there is a commit-
tee of people, that includes even our Business Affairs Department,
that reviews the lyrics once the songs are done and recorded and
completed, and then the artist or producers turn in those songs, the
tapes, as well as the Ijnncs.
And we review those lyrics, and in reviewing those lyrics, that
is what helps us to make the determination as to whether or not
the parental advisory logo should be put on the record. And once
that decision is made, we converse then with the artist and the art-
ist's manager to make them aware that the parental advisory stick-
er will be going on the record, and quite often artists have a tend-
ency to hit the ceiling because that label is being put on the record
because retailers have a different reaction and — some retailers
have a different response as to whether a record that has the PA
logo, the parental advisory logo or not.
So at MCA, we actually review the lyrics of every album that is
Mrs. Collins. This is for both you and Mr. Harleston.
Do you ever say, "There is a standard here and there are some
limits beyond which we will not go?" Do you ever get to that point
if there is something written that you find just — that you just don't
think should be recorded, words or deeds being portrayed that you
just don't think should be recorded, do you ever say, "Well, we just
can't do that?"
Mr. Singleton. In our case, yes. There are points where we will
see or feel that the lyrics or the song doesn't work or it doesn't com-
plement what we choose to put out as a company, and we would
make the decision or have a discussion with the artist. And often-
times the artist will be willing to go in and make adjustments
Mrs. Collins. Mr. Harleston?
Mr. Harleston. We have certainly come across songs we found
just artistically deficient, and we have refused to release songs on
that basis, and indeed, as most record companies, don't release
records that we don't like.
Mrs. Collins. If the lyrics are extremely offensive to the vast
majority of people who might be listening to them, the vast major-
ity, not just a small segmented group or those that buy the record-
ings, but extremely offensive to most people in our society, would
you then say that you have a standard which you will not go be-
Mr. Harleston. I guess I can only speak on our practice to date,
and the cases or matters that have come before us in terms of
songs or recordings. We have not made that judgment. Whether
that would happen in the future, whether one could conceive of or
concoct lyrics, songs that would cause us to make that judgment,
I just don't know.
Mrs. Collins. In your testimony, Mr. Harleston, you state that
at Def-Jam recordings, when you make a decision to sign an artist,
your dominant concern is that the artist write and rap from impor-