NEW YORK – In the wake of Don Imus' firing for his on-air slur about the Rutgers women's basketball team, a high-powered group of music-industry executives met privately Wednesday to discuss sexist and misogynistic rap lyrics.
During the furor that led to Imus' fall last week from his talk-radio perch, many of his critics carped as well about offensive language in rap music.
The meeting, called by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, was held at the New York home of Lyor Cohen, chairman and chief executive of U.S. music at Warner Music Group. The summit, which lasted several hours, did not result in any specific initiative.
Organizers billed the gathering as a forum to "discuss issues challenging the industry in the wake of controversy surrounding hip-hop and the First Amendment." Afterward, they planned to hold a news conference at a Manhattan hotel to discuss "initiatives agreed upon at the meeting." But by early afternoon, the news conference was postponed, because the meeting was still going on.
After the meeting ended, it was unclear whether there would be another one. Simmons' publicist released a short statement that described the topic as a "complex issue that involves gender, race, culture and artistic expression. Everyone assembled today takes this issue very seriously."
Although no recommendations emerged, the gathering was significant for its who's-who list of powerful music executives.
According to a roster released by Simmons on Wednesday, attendees included: Kevin Liles, executive vice president, Warner Music; L.A. Reid, chairman of Island Def Jam Music Group; Sylvia Rhone, president of Motown Records and executive vice president of Universal Music Group; Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America; and Damon Dash, Jay-Z's former Roc-A-Fella Records partner. Top-selling rapper T.I. also attended, organizers said.
Simmons declined to comment through a spokeswoman. But he appeared this week with others at a two-day town hall meeting on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to discuss the issue. While Simmons, Liles and the rapper Common agreed "there is a problem," Simmons cautioned against trying to limit rappers' free-speech rights.
He said that "poets" always come under fire for their unsanitized descriptions of the world.
"We're talking about a lot of these artists who come from the most extreme cases of poverty and ignorance ... And when they write a song, and they write it from their heart, and they're not educated, and they don't believe there's opportunity, they have a right, they have a right to say what's on their mind," he said.
"Whether it's our sexism, our racism, our homophobia or our violence, the hip-hop community sometimes can be a good mirror of our dirt and sometimes the dirt that we try to cover up," Simmons said. "Pointing at the conditions that create these words from the rappers ... should be our No. 1 concern."
Common said criticism of rappers and their music should come with love. "When I talk to the cats, regardless of rap, when I talk to cats on the street, they don't wanna be in that situation," the rapper said. "We don't wanna be in this painful situation. We want it to heal. And we are apologizing for ... the disrespect that does come from the mouths of men to women whatever color."
Meanwhile, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who said he planned to challenge the recording industry on denigrating lyrics, announced he had suspended plans to honor Def Jam's L.A. Reid during this week's convention of his National Action Network in New York. Sharpton was among Imus' most vocal critics and demanded his firing.
Several rappers under Reid's label frequently use racial and sexual epithets.
Imus was fired last week by CBS, which owned his radio show, and MSNBC, which produced the TV simulcast, for having referred to the Rutgers players as "nappy-headed hos."