The Racially Charged Censorship Of Modern Radio

Flickr / Cory Doctorow
Flickr / Cory Doctorow

Last week I was in a particularly masochistic mood and decided to subject myself to the local “cock rock” radio station (Limp Bizkit, Godsmack, Papa Roach, etc). Instead of making me want to drive into oncoming traffic my cock rock experience was a startling reminder that post-racial America has never existed.

The catalyst for this racial realization was the sentimentally sweet poetry from one of cock rock’s latest hits, Theory of a Deadman’s “Bitch Came Back.”

Within seconds I knew the song’s title was “Bitch Came Back” because the frog-throated lead singer gurgled the charming phrase no less than 27 times. Between lines like, “I like her so much better when she’s down on her knees,” and “The problem with girls is that they are all the same,” I certainly earned an honorary Gender and Women’s Studies degree just for listening.

The blatant misogyny and lazy prepubescent language choices were not particularly startling though. Such topics embody the ideology of the station’s target audience, high school football players.

Rather, what makes the uncensored “Bitch Came Back” stand out is the heavily censored song currently playing on Top 40 and R&B stations nationwide – Usher’s “I Don’t Mind.”

“I Don’t Mind” is Usher’s semi-sincere love paean to a stripper who Usher claims he will love no matter how much society looks down on her occupation. Yet, such sentiment was deemed entirely too offensive by the powers that be.

The song’s chorus of “Shawty I don’t mind, if you dance on the pole, that don’t make you a ho,” was ENTIRELY removed, leaving four 15 second long portions of jarring silence.

The chorus’ censorship is remarkably puzzling considering that if songwriters could not mention strippers, Motley Crue (“Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Hell on High Heels,” every other song) could not be played on the radio.

Everyone’s favorite feminist heroes, Theory of a Deadman, were allowed the line, “She likes to shake her ass, she grinds it to the beat,” on their nauseating “Bad Girlfriend.” But Usher can’t employ a similar, toned down, summation of a stripper’s occupation?

Also censored from Usher’s song was the quasi-progressive line, “I’m proud to call you my bitch.” Out of context this line’s censorship makes complete sense. After all our society cannot afford to let singers throw “bitch” around willy nilly in front of unsuspecting children and immature adults.

However, a quick juxtaposition between Usher’s deleted line and the astonishing lack of censorship on “Bitch Came Back” reveals a simple incongruity in how music censorship occurs.

Usher’s use of “bitch” is caring and about as uplifting as “bitch” can sound from a male voice. On the other hand, Theory of a Deadman’s “bitch” is utterly degrading, crass, brutish and reminiscent of a conversation that would offend most high school locker rooms.

But, of course, it’s okay because Theory of a Deadman’s lead singer Tyler Connolly is white and Usher is not. Radio has a long, open, not-so-secret history of allowing white artists to artistically express themselves, especially with the word “bitch,” while black uses of “bitch” are bleeped out regardless of context or pathos.

Take Elton John’s classic rock radio staple “Bitch is Back,” where he yells “bitch” 39 times. Or Nazareth’s lug-headed “classic” “Hair of the Dog,” which contains 33 unedited salvos of “son of a bitch.”

Fast forward to Busta Rhymes’ 2006 hip-hop single “I Love My Bitch” (containing a mere 27 “bitch” references), which was deemed so offensive Busta changed it to “I Love My Chick” to get any radio airplay. While perhaps not family friendly, Busta’s chorus of, “I love my lady, yup, yup, I love my bitch,” is definitely a tad (if just a tad) more nuanced than “Bitch Came Back” or “Hair of the Dog.”

More puzzling than the censorship of “I Love My Bitch” is the lack of censorship for two (white) rock songs released around the same time. Buckcherry’s “Crazy Bitch” (11 instances) and Jet’s “Cold Hard Bitch (8 instances) reek of males sexually dominating women and portray women as nothing but objects of pleasure.

But this is America and in America, (white) ARTISTS should be allowed unlimited free expression.

Such freedom does not apply to Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad,” a 2012 song which expressly attacked the derogatory use of “bitch” towards women. However, Lupe’s track, boasting the refreshing chorus of, “Bitch bad, woman good, lady better, they misunderstood,” was too much for radio to handle.

Not so for Godsmack’s uplifting anthem “Crying Like a Bitch” (11 times), which pushed the progressive idea that men who cry are weak like women, blah, blah, blah.

This is not a gender specific racial bias either. Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” is fine, but Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” or Missy Elliott’s “She’s a Bitch” are not. Nicki Minaj cannot even shout-out to her friend M.I.A. (“A bad bitch that came from Sri Lanka”) in “Monster.” One black use of “bitch” would simply destroy the nation.

The racial disparity in censorship does not end at “bitch” either, and in fact becomes undeniable in respect to drug and gun references.

A damning example is Three 6 Mafia’s 2005 hit “Stay High.” For radio consumption the chorus was edited down to the nonsensical “I gotta stay…” This forced Three 6 Mafia to re-style the song as “Stay Fly.”

Fast forward to lil’ white Tove Lov’s 2014 smash hit “Habits (Stay High),” which contains the identical, unedited, chorus of “I gotta stay high.”

Steven Tyler can growl “Standin’ in the front just shakin’ your ass,” (“Sweet Emotion”) and Andy Grammer can coo “I got her, and she got me, and you’ve got that ass” (“Honey I’m Good”). But thank Jehovah the censors stopped Cee-Lo’s vile line, “I really hate your ass right now” (“Fuck You”).

Puddle of Mudd can grumble, “I love the way you smack my ass” while Juvenile’s “Back That Ass Up” is bleeped. Even Big Sean’s completely non-threatening “ass” puns (“ass-quake,” “ass-tate,” “ass-tray”) are bleeped out in “Mercy.” Not so for Kid Rock’s equally harmlessly singing “American Bad Ass.”

Firearms do not escape the blemish of barely concealed racist censorship either. Nas’ “Got Yourself a Gun” has the very word “gun” edited out, leaving the pointless chorus of “Got yourself a…got yourself a…” Censors left Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun” entirely intact though.

Whether you believe “bitch,” “gun” and “ass” are offensive, or merely innocuous words, it seems obvious that there should be consistency. Either “bitch” is allowed or it isn’t, either “gun” sits right alongside “love” and “baby” for every artist, or no one gets to say it.

In an era of rampant police racism, racially inflated prison rates and a puzzlingly divisive argument over a factually pro-slavery flag, perhaps radio censorship seems trivial. Maybe our nation should tackle the big issues first with police body cameras and reformed prison sentencing and ignore the racist minutiae of life.

But how can a society hope to achieve any semblance of equality while silently agreeing “bitch” is more offensive from Busta Rhymes than Elton John? From this nonchalant compliance stems the indignation towards Black Lives Matter protestors who would DARE disrupt a Bernie Sanders political rally or the Minnesota State Fair.

Meanwhile the white-led Occupy Movement was perfectly fine and heroic to the same liberals.

To act like the misogyny of classic (white) rock’s Aerosmith, AC/DC, Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, etc. is any different from that of Busta Rhymes, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and 2Pac places unequal blame on two equal partners in music’s continual misogyny.

Which makes racial censorship even more troubling. For such censorship is a voluntary choice by whitewashed corporate radio between two indistinguishable “sins.” As long as the FCC okays radio edits (which it clearly has if they are being played) stations are able decide what they want to play.

Therefore, the decades long acceptance of Elton John’s “Bitch is Back” and explicit denial of Busta Rhymes’ “I Love My Bitch” is a voluntary, multi-national corporation spanning agreement. Not an aberration of one local, racist radio jock, but rather a communal understanding that hip-hop’s (black) “bitch” is worse than rock’s (white) “bitch.”

The institutionalized racism of music radio is but another in a series of recent revelations that the post-racial world never existed and that many of life’s most basic elements are inherently racist.

In the radio friendly words of Nas’ third track on Illmatic, “Life’s a…” TC mark

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