Russell Simmons Calls For Ban on Popular Rap Words

Rap impresario Russell Simmons has called for a ban on the words “bitch,” “ho” and “nigger” in over-the-air rap.

Russell Simmons Photo Russell Simmons smiles in his office in New York, in this file photo from April 16, 2002. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons said Monday that the recording and broadcast industries should consistently ban three racial and sexist epithets from all so-called clean versions of rap songs and the airwaves.(AP Photo/Shawn Baldwin,file) Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons said Monday that the recording and broadcast industries should consistently ban three racial and sexist epithets from all so-called clean versions of rap songs and the airwaves. Currently such epithets are banned from most clean versions, but record companies sometimes “arbitrarily” decide which offensive words to exclude and there’s no uniform standard for deleting such words, Simmons said.

The recommendations drew mixed reaction and come two weeks after some began carping anew about rap lyrics after radio personality Don Imus was fired by CBS Radio and NBC for referring to the players on the Rutgers university women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”

Expressing concern about the “growing public outrage” over the use of such words in rap lyrics, Simmons said the words “bitch,” “ho” and “nigger” should be considered “extreme curse words.” “We recommend (they’re) always out,” Simmons, the pioneering entrepreneur who made millions of dollars as he helped shape hip-hop culture, said in an interview Monday. “This is a first step. It’s a clear message and a consistency that we want the industry to accept for more corporate social responsibility.”

I’m not sure how rap could survive without the use of three quarters of its vocabulary.

Otherwise, however, I’m torn on Simmons’ proposal. I’m no fan of speech bans and all those words have their place in legitimate social commentary and the entertainment industry. And, frankly, if you’re letting your kids listen to hip-hop, I’m not sure their hearing the word “ho” is among your chief problems.

Still, until quite recently, that kind of language was simply not heard on the public airwaves until well after 10 pm. I’m hard pressed to argue that the culture has been improved by the change.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Well at least they aren’t talking about getting rid of muthaf*cka

  2. Derrick says:


    Hip-hop has 30+ year history in this country and most of it historically hasn’t carried any of those words until recently. Unfortunately in its current state, it is a bunch of money-grubbing young men egged on by record companies, throwing around curse words and talking about the basest of instincts, but it hasn’t always been that way. I understand why many who don’t have an understanding of the genre can’t see the difference, but there is one.

    I liken it to movies in the late 80’s where at glance it appeared that movies were only produced to show Rambo or Conan killing someone as creatively as possible. Just because of the sudden jump in violence and lack of creativity in the industry, we weren’t so quick to dismiss movies as pure violent fare. There are others who haven’t succumbed in the hip-hop industry to the misogynistic and violent themes that are so at its core. I’m personally hoping that some sanity is brought to an industry which was, whether people like it or not, nothing more than an evolution of rock-n-roll in its portrait of life for a part of the population that didn’t have much of a voice. Unfortunately it transformed itself into something much worse, but I’m hoping that most extreme themes can again be pushed to the sidelines.

  3. legion says:

    Russell Simmons camapigning against the use of derogatory, misogynistic slang?

    Isn’t that a bit like Scrooge McDuck campaigning against money?

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Speech bans are wrong. The culture must change from within and learn the boundaries. Knowing that these words hurt your own people and cultural identity should be enough for these performers to shy away from the words and imagery. Unfortunately money talks and people buy the stuff.

  5. Triumph says:

    Unfortunately money talks and people buy the stuff.

    More specifically–suburban white teenage males buy the stuff.

    What often goes unmentioned in discussions of rap and hip hop is the fact that whites are most numerous consumers. The AP did a poll of Black Americans two months ago that found over half of the respondents thought that Rap is a negative force in the black community.

  6. DC Loser says:

    Wanna make the kids stop buying this crap? Just have the parents join in and tell them how “cool” this stuff is. Guaranteed instant drop in sales.

  7. G.A.Phillips says:

    DC Loser. hehe, good point, and triumph I think from experience the the biggest consumers of this garbage are kids that think it’s cool to be stupid, rap mostly come down to someone talking sh-t to a mindless and tasteless beet, sorta like if James would install an audio track of someone beating on pots and pans while we type or posts.

  8. With 10 and 17 year-old daughters, I can attest to the fact that no amount of parental control can prevent my daughters from hearing this material on the radio in the car, at the friends houses, walking down the hallway at school, on CDs burned by their friends, in the mall, etc. I frown upon it and try to criticize it intelligently and carefully whenever I happen to hear it in their presence, but there is no way I can prevent them from hearing the worst hip-hop has to offer. Even many of the “clean” versions that would pass Mr. Simmons’ filters are rather despicable. The best criticism I can usually offer is to start to dance to it myself, especially in public, therby hopefully making a socially painful mental association with the songs in their mind.

    I mention this in passing, only because of the casual shot you took at parents like me who “allow” their children to listen to hip-hop. No doubt I have bigger problems, but I can only assume you do not have teenage children.

  9. DAVID MARTIN says:

    i am in a real old school singing group, we sing classic soul. we still try do do music that up-lifts and edifies men and women, songs with moral content and promotes positive life styles. we agree that the music industry needs a positive shot in the arm. if you would like to HEAR what we do ,please contact us by e-mail at im***********@co*****.net (WE WANT TO HELP)