"What is offensive is any attempt by the government to deny the expression of words and lyrics that emerge out of a culture that has become the soul of America."
——Russell Simmons, as part of his testimony to the Senate Governmental AffairsCommittee


Actual Testimony From An Actual Senate Committee Courtesy of Russell Simmons
Def Jam Records founder Russell Simmons was an uninvited guest at the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee entertainment hearing on Wednesday. Sen. Joseph Lieberman told him that the witness list was full, but Simmons sat through the hearing, then stood up and asked to speak.

Here’s what he said:

My name is Russell Simmons and I am submitting this statement on behalf of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network and its Executive Director, Minister Benjamin Muhammad. I am Chairman of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network and I have worked in the music and entertainment industry for more than 25 years. Minister Benjamin is the former Executive Director and CEO of the NAACP and has over 35 years of experience in civil and human rights.

The Hip Hop Summit Action Network is the broadest national coalition of Hip Hop artists, entertainment industry executives, civil rights and community leaders. Established this year, the mission of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network is to support hip-hop and freedom, justice, equality and empowerment for all based on the principles of freedom of speech, music and art creativity, and the universality of humanity.

I regret that, despite our request to the Committee, there was neither space nor time for me to testify today. Not simply because I, both individually and on behalf of the hip-hop generation have some important things to say about these issues, but also because many of us feel that these hearings are really about us, and it would be better in our view to hear from us and speak to us directly before you pass judgment and deny our fundamental rights.

But let me start with something positive. The hip-hop community has decided to take a leadership position toward the evolution of our artistic destiny and responsibility. We convened an historic summit last month in New York and we are planning others in Los Angeles and Miami in August to explore questions related to violence in our own communities, racial profiling, police brutality, representation of women, and the profanity of poverty…and how we can work from within our industry to expand and elevate the artistic presentation of our culture and experience.

Although we know that the harsh underlying social realities that some of our music exposes have not changed much in our communities, we are committed to speaking the truth.

We believe that we must continue to tell the truth about the street if that is what we know and we must continue to tell the truth about God if that is who we have found. Part of telling the truth is making sure that you know, and talk more about what you know than to speak or do music to appease those who are in power. Hip-hop represents truth telling, speaking the truth to ourselves and speaking the truth to power out of the context and condition of our community.

The Congress of the United States should not censor free speech nor artistic expression. It is unconstitutional for government intrusion or dictation concerning "labeling of music" or "rating of music" that has the effect of denying free speech.

What is offensive is any attempt by the government to deny the expression of words and lyrics that emerge out of a culture that has become the soul of America. In fact hip-hop has now grown to become a global cultural and artistic phenomena.

Congress should not attempt to legislate preferences in music, art and culture.

My final point is that this is often largely about race. And it makes some of us very concerned that few will publicly admit that this effort to censure hip-hop has deep-seated racial overtones. Hip-hop emerged out of the African-American experience. Eminem is a successful white hip-hop artist who, power to him, has excelled and profited from the genre of black music. He stands on the shoulders of other originators of hip-hop.

The Federal Trade Commission’s report on explicit content disproportionately focused on black hip-hop artists. This report is flawed scientifically as well as morally and culturally and should not, therefore, be used as a basis for constructing a system of "ratings" in regard to music and other forms of entertainment.

Simply put, we conclude by appealing to the Senate Committee on Government Affairs to refrain from censoring, labeling, or rating our music and culture in the absence of understanding and appreciation of our artistic work which represents the genius of our culture and talent of our youth, in fact all youth of today…black, white, Latino, Asian and all others.

Thank you.

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