No Curse Words Limiting the Voices Heard on LASR

Posted on Nov 5 2013 - 12:59am by Guest Writer

By Nate Schoen, Guest Writer

Lute Air Student Radio has a policy of only playing songs without obscenities in the lyrics. The general rule of thumb is “pretend that President Krise is listening to your radio show.” While this policy is seemingly good, especially for those listeners with sensitive ears, it disproportionately limits what genres of music can be played, namely hip-hop.

Every week I sit down in the beanbag chair in my room with a pot of tea to create my playlist for my LASR radio show. I pride myself on having an eclectic mix of songs, ranging from Palestrina to Israeli shoegaze, in order to make a goodhearted effort at playing artists from all different genres.

Yet, week after week, I have noticed that hip-hop and rap music is always absent from the week’s set list. I have no problem finding folk, garage rock and post-rock songs that are absent of curse words, but every hip-hop song I would like to play on my show has obscenities in its lyrics.

While I am aware that I could always just play the censored versions of the songs, there is something about removing words from lyrics that distorts the piece of art a song is. LASR DJs should be able to play songs without having to resort to messing with the integrity of the lyrics that the artist intended.

If curse words happen to be a part of a song, then the artist put them there for a particular effect, and to simply remove or “bleep” them out can drastically affect dynamic the artist vision for that particular song. There is a reason why works like Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” remain unmodified, despite countless efforts to edit some of the more racially charged language.

But back to hip-hop more specifically, the language policy is limiting a particular voice from being heard. Many hip-hop songs express a viewpoint from urban voices that come from lower socioeconomic group.

An example is Nas’s song, “N.Y. State of Mind” off of his debut album “Illmatic,” which takes the listener through some of the life experiences of an inner-city youth caught up in the struggles of crime and drug-use that surround him.

Earl Sweatshirt is another hip-hop artist I would love to be able to share with my listeners, but cannot due to some cursing in his lyrics. Sweatshirt’s songs have some of the most poetic lines in any song I have heard. Like in his song “Chum” from his most recent album, he expresses his struggle with growing up without a father: “it’s probably been twelve years since my father left, left me fatherless/And I used to say that I hate him with dishonest jest.”

Inner-city youth already a limited voice within society. We should not be working to lessen those voices further. The stories and life experiences that are expressed through these different hip-hop songs are just as deserving to be heard as any Taylor Swift song.

I can understand why LASR has the policy about obscenities in songs — to ensure that a wide audience can feel welcome listening to the online station. Yet I still find it problematic when a policy unfairly affects a particular genre over another, whether that was the intended goal or not.

It comes down to whether it is more important to ensure a listener will not be offended or if it is more important to allow a broader spectrum of voices to be heard.