Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cultural Industries, Creative Industries, Hip Hop and Public Policy

‘Cultural achievements reflect the discipline, devotion and intelligence of individuals and also the most basic values of the society…that is why…free expression could not develop or thrive in an authoritarian society’ (Vogel, 2004, p.438).

There has been a shift in the 20th century from so-called ‘high culture’, which refers to the ‘high arts’ that had their main appeal within the ‘higher’ (wealthier and more educated) social groups, to more open, accessible and cultural displays and art forms, particularly new and emerging ‘popular’ art forms that are being driven by cultural entrepreneurs (O’Regan, 2001). Much ‘popular culture’ is targeted towards the teenage and young adult market, often due to their propensity to spend money on the ‘experience economy’ (Ahuja, 2006), before the responsibilities of work, family and home ownership take priority in their lives.

The term ‘youth cultures’ appeared from the 1950s onwards, in youth cultures, distinctive dress styles combined with particular tastes for creative and cultural products would help to carve identities for those, who no longer wanted to have to wear the same clothes, or listen to the same music as their parents (British Style Genius, 2008). Typical examples of youth cultures that have emerged since the 1950s are, teddy boys, skinheads, mods, punks, rockers, casuals, b-boys, ravers and chavs. Youth culture typically involved an element of rebellion, after all the ‘youth’ market, being predominantly teenagers and young adults, are at a stage in their life when freedom, choice and decision making becomes something that they can exercise more liberally as they out-grow the constraints of parent and home, and become an age when legally they have more entitlements (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004).

‘The culture industry with its capacity for the delivery of messages to mass audiences, was considered the principal agent of control and social conditioning’ (Lewis, 2008, p.66). The recognition (and fear) of the power of culture goes as far back as the first books being mass produced, which combined with a rise in literacy, presented challenges to religious and political authority as potentially ‘radical’ thoughts were spread (O’Connor, 2007). From the mid twentieth century onwards, the power of the media was harnessed, and so-called ‘public information’ broadcasts were used by governments to try and ‘sell’ ideals to their populations, today there is a well established advertising industry that does just the same.

Many consumers use art and cultural products to help shape their own identity (O’Regan, 2001), so the rebellious and ‘non-conformist’ element of particular art forms, which may have an influence upon shaping the identity of the youth market, has been of concern to parents, authorities, governments and invariably policy makers for decades – especially as the current youth can / will change the future of society as we currently know it. This is an example of a culture gap, which is ‘a difference in values, behaviour, or customs between two cultures or groups of people, esp. as a hindrance to mutual understanding and communication’ (OED, 2008).

Culture is recognised as being of vital importance socially, culturally and economically, and decisions around cultural policy should not be left to cultural policy making institutions alone (O’Regan, 2001). How to effectively ‘deal’ with the more controversial artists and their products, (that may be perceived to ‘damage’ young impressionable minds) in a way that is not commercially damaging, or over-zealous in terms of censorship, yet at the same time is seen to be ‘responsible’ is a challenge that policy makers and other stakeholders face.

Cultural policy now includes ‘intellectual property, administrative and international law, political science, public policy, economics, sociology, art history, strategic management and international relations, gender studies, leisure sport and recreation studies, tourism and town planning’ (O’Regan, 2001, p.30). Cultural policy has resulted in new legislation and legislative changes in response to controversy over artistic, creative and cultural output. In addition to this, various creative and cultural industry bodies have adopted codes of practice that serve similar regulatory purposes to enforced legislation.

This extended blog post will set out to define what is meant by the terms ‘creative industry’ and ‘cultural industry’ putting into context the relationship between the two areas. It will then focus upon hip hop artists within the music industry in the 1980s and 1990s where cultural policy impacted upon freedom of speech and the recorded music supply chain, the effects of which will be analysed. Finally, challenges to policy due to the emergence of the internet, and ‘new’ media will offer an insight towards the future for policy makers in these areas.

The Origins of Culture and Creativity

When looking into culture and creativity, the question of what came first, the chicken or the egg? Is quite apt metaphorically, in the sense that did culture exist before creativity, or vice versa? It is accepted by anthropologists that humankind’s earliest ancestors came from Southern Africa around 200,000 years ago (Walking With Cavemen, 2003), but did a very primitive culture exist in humankind’s ancestors before creativity as a mental process was developed and harnessed? At some level man must have been creative in order to survive, in the sense that the creation of basic tools for hunting required creativity, but did the communality of groups of man’s ancestors mean that there was already a basic culture of shared understandings, norms and values to create a very early society? Man’s tendency to live collectively in tribes would suggest so.

Man’s ancestors would have bore witness to fire, most likely caused by a lightning strike. It may have taken thousands more years, but eventually at some point in pre-history, man began to understand how fire worked so that it’s power could be harnessed and used for warmth, light, cooking, security and entertainment. Some anthropologists believe that the mesmeric dance of flames captivated those who would huddle around fires in the darkness, molding man’s early thinking skills and helping to develop imagination (Walking With Cavemen, 2003). At some point in pre-history, and fired by imagination the story-teller was born, both verbally in spoken language and song, and visually painted onto the walls of caves. Stories may have been about everyday life and routine occurrences, but the firing of the imagination would certainly have helped to create exaggerations, and from these fictitious accounts, legends were born.


An industry is a ‘systematic work or labour; habitual employment in some useful work, now esp. in the productive arts or manufactures’ (OED, 2008). The word ‘industry’ describes a specific group of companies or businesses (Investopedia, 2008). Internally an industry involves inputs (finance, raw materials, human capital), processes (production, packaging, marketing) and outputs (primary, secondary and tertiary products that are both tangible and intangible) (Kotler et al, 2008). Markets and environmental influences (both micro and macro) can shape and influence the way by which an industry develops (Johnson, Scholes and Whittington, 2007), examples being laws, rules and regulations which industries are required to adhere to.

The Cultural Industries

The word ‘culture’ first appeared in the English language in the 15th century, where it’s Anglo-Norman origins were associated with the tillage of the land – later to become known as agriculture (OED, 2008). Even in these ancient origins there is a strong element of creativity within culture, crops are created from the sowing of seeds, meat products are created from the nurturing of animals, and wood products are created from the management of trees. Many of these (often ancient) creative agricultural techniques are still practiced today, and known as ‘country crafts’. Today the word ‘culture’ has a number of meanings, apart from its agricultural origins, culture can relate to the values, norms and beliefs of societal segments, it can relate specifically to the performing and creative arts (Bennett 2001 in O’Regan, 2001), and combining both of the above, in its broadest sense, culture can relate to the lives of past and present generations incorporating play, recreation, arts, sports, festivals, religion, gastronomy, architecture, health, language, traditions, travel and tourism (Ryan, 2001; Torkildsen, 2005).

From an artistic perspective, the word cultural, meaning ‘of or relating to intellectual and artistic pursuits’ (OED, 2008) first appeared in the English language in the mid to late 19th century. However, the recognition of the socio-economic importance of artists and their markets as a cultural industry was not formally recognised until 1947 by Adorno and Horkheimer (O’Connor, 2007). Today, according to Hesmondhalgh (2007, pp.12-13) from a sectoral perspective, the cultural industries include: broadcasting; film industries; internet content; music industries; print and electronic publishing; video and computer games; and advertising and marketing. This is a more narrow view than what is expressed by other theorists including Ryan (2001), Throsby (2001) and Torkildsen (2005) who all include heritage services (museums, galleries, libraries and visitor attractions based around preserved or recreated historic entities) as an aspect of culture. The very notion of what culture actually is, has changed, O’Regan (2001, p.2) describes this as ‘culture leaking beyond its previously restricted domain’ where the edges are becoming increasingly blurred.

Cultural products have been created for the commercial market for centuries, but it is only in the last century that the production of cultural commodities has accelerated with the development of technologies of reproduction (O’Connor, 2007). An example of this is theatre, once the domain of the ‘high-brow’ and ‘elite’, but which can now be viewed upon cinema screens, and in the home through the medium of television (O’Regan, 2001).

Cultural institutions such as museums, theatres, and art galleries often showcase creative products, and in doing so provide a spectrum of core products to their customers, which are often a distraction from their own lives (Moss, 2009). At the ‘light’ end of the spectrum is stimulation without reflection, ‘providing distraction at the expense of thought’ (O’Connor, 2007) an example being variety or comedy theatre. At the opposite ‘dark’ end of the spectrum are thought provoking and deeply reflective institutions and products, which may demonstrate but not celebrate aspects of a particular culture, an example being the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, which is now an open air museum, and UNESCO world heritage site. Cultural tourism to such locations was recognised as a growth area a decade ago (Leask and Yeoman, 1999) and still today is seen to be growing faster than more ‘mainstream’ tourism, in the European Union alone cultural tourism’s contribution to ‘GDP is estimated to be around 11 percent and it provides employment to more than 12 percent of the labour force (24 million jobs)’ (New Europe, 2008). This is an example of the importance to government that the economic function of culture has, which is seldom far from policy maker’s minds, and the commercialisation of selected cultural products to match the requirements of populations with particular lifestyles is a net result of this (O’Regan, 2001).

The Creative Industries

The creative industries are those industries that are based on individual creativity, skill and talent. They are also those that have the potential to create wealth and jobs through developing intellectual property (DCMS, 2008).

Creative as an adjective comes from the verb ‘create’ which is ‘to make, form, constitute, or bring into legal existence (an institution, condition, action, mental product, or form, not existing before)’ (OED, 2008). The definition of ‘creative’ as an adjective given by the same source is ‘having the quality of creating, given to creating; of pertaining to creation; or originative’. Therefore, the creative industries can be thought of as the collective of individuals, companies and businesses that are responsible for the production of original creative output. ‘The creative industries are the key new growth sector of the economy, both nationally and globally’ (Hesmondhalgh, 2007, p.145). According to the DCMS (2008) the creative industries include: advertising; architecture; art and antiques markets; computer and video games; crafts; design; designer fashion; film and video; music; performing arts; publishing; software; and television and radio. This view differs slightly from UNESCO’s, who state that the creative industries are: primarily crafts, design, publishing, cinema and music (UNESCO, 2008b). Those who create original creative products, are often referred to as ‘artists’, so the creative industries are primarily concerned with the production of original artistic output.

In the UK, the 1990s saw a period of national celebration, a part of governmental strategies to exploit the kudos associated with British creative products, such as those (mainly white guitar bands) labelled ‘Brit-Pop’ and ‘Cool Britannia’ which encompassed music, fashion and other contemporary art forms (O’Regan, 2001). The term creative industries first appeared in Governmental policy in the UK in 1997 by the newly elected Labour government (Hesmondhalgh, 2007, p.145), although creativity, and products that would nowadays be deemed to be creative products have origins at least 35,000 years ago (Seewald, 2007). The shaping of UK policy around ‘creative industries’, was influenced by the entrepreneurial nature of creative products, and the resulting economic benefits of such activities (Burns, 2006).

According to Vogel (2004, Pp.435-436) creative products: ‘face periods of uncertain demand as market reaction can vary greatly; are created by a passionate and committed workforce; require diverse specialist skills in their production; are infinite in number with only subtle differences between many; are reliant on time in their production as they involve numerous co-ordinated activities; and generate royalty payments in small lump sums over a long period of time’. Lieberman and Esgate (2002, p.3) concur that creative products require creative ideas as well as a talented workforce, but ‘can be perishable due to changes in consumer tastes and trends’. This is therefore a fragile industry, where creative products are subject to growth and decline in demand as part of their popularity or ‘fashionability’ lifecycle.

Creative products, may be tangible such as a sculpture, or painting, or intangible such as a song, or other written piece. In order to protect the creative rights of artists, creative products are protected by copyright laws, including laws governing the protection of intellectual property (Hesmondhalgh, 2007), which means that unauthorised reproduction of creative products can result in punishments being issued such as imprisonment, fines, or seizures of reproductive equipment – that said each nation state has its own set of rules and regulations to cover this.

Cultural and Creative Industry Interaction

As has been highlighted previously, both cultural and creative industries, share commonalities, yet also have their own traits. There are a number of ways by which the cultural and creative industries may be seen to co-exist and interact, with theorists having varying opinions, this is demonstrated below.

Figure 1: Creative industries as a sub-set of the cultural industries.

This model takes the view that the creative industries are a part of the larger cultural industries, and favours the view expressed by Ryan (2001) and Torkildsen (2005) that culture encompasses the arts. It also favours the view of Throsby (2001) that at the core of the cultural industries are creative arts, and Hesmondhalgh (2007) who lists a number of industry sectors as being the key components of the cultural industries, many of which may also be deemed to be creative in nature. From the perspective of policy makers, this is also the favoured model, in the sense that the remit of cultural policy typically covers creative as well as cultural industries, indeed the term ‘creative policy’ is rarely used. This is most likely due to the comparative contemporary nature of the term ‘creative industries’ compared to the now established term ‘cultural industries’, although UNCTAD (2008) acknowledge the term ‘creative policy’ but at the same time state that cultural policy is expanding to cover creative policy. Hesmondhalgh (2007) also states that creative industries are increasingly referred to within cultural policies. It is entirely plausible that over time, as creative industries gain a more established identity that the above model will ‘morph’ into Figure 2 (below). Indeed Miege’s view on the subject is somewhere in-between the two, on the one hand Miege clearly distinguishes creation from reproduction, but on the other considers culture to encompass creativity (O’Connor, 2007). To concur, O’Regan (2001) maintains that arts have traditionally been at the centre of culture, however O’Regan acknowledges that arts are not the area with the greatest economic impact, and therefore from an industry perspective this questions their positioning at the centre of culture.

Figure 2: Creativity as a contributor to culture.

In this model both industries have their own distinct features as well as some commonality. In both the DCMS (2008) and UNESCO (2008b) definitions of creative industries there is commonality in crafts, design, cinema, music and publishing, but there are also differences. The DCMS definition includes architecture, advertising, antique markets and software in their definition of creative which UNESCO do not.

The smaller creative industries contribute towards the larger cultural industries, in the sense that creative outputs help to give an identity to culture by the production of iconic products that are a representative ‘snap shot’ of the society from which they have come from. An example of this, can be found in art galleries and certain types of museums, which are cultural institutions that curate and display creative products for the attention of visitors to them. Art galleries themselves are not creative institutions, but they do showcase creative output. This model is also representative of the reproduction of original creative output, which with the onset of technology rose sharply in the twentieth century (O’Connor, 2007). The economic importance of original creative products being commodified for commercial markets is what has helped to give the creative industries prominence with government (DCMS, 2008).

From a supply-chain perspective, creative products are typically made by artistic individuals or groups within the creative industries, however their reproduction for mass commercial markets, as well as the key business processes of marketing and distributing creative products, takes place in the larger more hi-tech cultural industries. An actual example of this in practice, can be found in the music industry. Songwriters produce original creative output, which is performed by artists in recording studios, then modified and produced by engineers, and then reproduced, marketed and distributed by record labels, this is demonstrated in figure 3 below.

Figure 3: The relationship between creative and cultural industries in the recorded music supply chain.

The above figure is an example of how both the creative and cultural industries co-exist, interact and share commonality to turn an original product created by an artist, into something which is mass-produced and commercially available through various distribution channels.

Cultural Policy

Cultural policy is concerned with a number of areas (highlighted in the Introduction), however the core elements of cultural policy, are driven by the following:
· economic growth;
· copyright and protection of unauthorised reproduction;
· education and widening participation;
· and citizenship including maintaining a national identity.
(Hesmondhalgh, 2007; O’Connor, 2007; O’Regan, 2001)

In terms of economic growth, the economic importance of culture and the entrepreneurial nature of creativity has already been mentioned in this paper. As such cultural ‘boosterism’ (Boyle, 1997) has been evident amongst policy makers for some time, as they seek to exploit the commercial potential that cultural products have to offer (Hesmondhalgh, 2007). There has also been a shift in cultural policy making, to interweave it with regional development, thus making it of great economic importance. Cultural bodies who used to be responsible for regulation, are finding increased involvement by government due to this (O’Regan, 2001). Growth through entrepreneurialism is encouraged and there becomes a push for commercialism to exploit this effect, which can lead to the dilution of culture to something more mainstream that may have greater economic benefits (Ibid).

The creation of new cultural products by artists, and the subsequent commercial reproduction of these products is key to the continued growth of the cultural industries. Artists very often rely on the long term payment of royalties as recompense for their work from those who are licensed to reproduce it (Vogel, 2004). Royalties are typically based upon a small percentage of the fee charged for a product from the distributor to the retailer, or directly to the customer if the distributor is also the retailer, the percentage owed is usually low, in the experience of the author of this paper, as low as 5%. Therefore, for artists to reap the financial rewards of the commercial reproduction of their work, high sales volumes are necessary. Unauthorised reproduction of original artistic work effects this, and can have a damaging impact upon volumes sold, and subsequent royalties earned, as well as knock-on economic effects for authorised distributors. It is estimated that up to 10% of world-trade is in illicit goods (Global Underworld, 2008), therefore if artists are not rewarded for their work, they may be less inclined to make it, which could ultimately cause the cultural and creative industries to decline. On a global scale the economic importance of creativity lead to the 1967 establishment of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), which is a department of the United Nations that is concerned with promoting the protection of intellectual property throughout the world, in order to encourage creative activity (WIPO, 2008).

The relative ease by which artistic products can now be illegally reproduced and distributed is obviously a major concern for policy makers, who are aware of the potential damage to the economy that could result from copyright infringement. Whilst the EU has been very proactive in their approach to copyright infringement (Hesmondhalgh, 2007), other world regions have not, this is particularly evident in less industrialised countries (particularly, Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South America and Asia), where illegal reproduction and sale of such products is rife (BSA, 2008). There is also of the internet, file sharing and illegal downloads, all of which have a significant impact upon the sale of ‘official’ or authorised products.

In terms of culture and citizenship, social conditioning and education through the media is nothing new. The recognition of particularly ‘edutainment’ as a facilitator to a more informed, better educated, and more inclusive society, is something which has and continues to be the concern of policy makers, an example of this in the UK, was the 2001 scrapping of charges to enter Britain’s National Museums. Admission charges were seen as a barrier to entry for those in the ‘lower’ socio-economic groups, where crime, social deprivation, and unemployment are higher than they are amongst those in more affluent socio-economic groups (DoJC, 2008), in this example culture was being used as a tool to help educate a population, in the hope of improving the nation.

Other ways by which culture has been utilised under the remit of citizenship (and economics), is around the preservation of heritage, with tradition, demonstration, commemoration, and celebration all being a part of this. Every nation has something which is unique to it, and novel to those who are from elsewhere. This can form fascination amongst visitors (particularly tourists), and have a positive economic impact through increased inbound visitors who want to witness a particular cultural spectacle. An actual example of this is the changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, which has happened for centuries, and was never intended to be a spectacle for tourists, but is now enshrined in the marketing of London to inbound visitors. This type of unique cultural demonstration, also promotes a sense of what makes up a ‘national identity’.

The protection of national identity has also been a determinant of cultural policy, particularly in terms of globalisation and ‘cultural erosion’ by more dominant cultures ‘from the West’. This has lead to trade barriers, in an effort to reduce West to East cultural flow, an example being the French ‘cultural exception’, where French culture was promoted by the French government and given tax-breaks, whilst incoming (particularly US culture) was ‘not encouraged’ (Morrison, 2007).

There is of course the issue of new and emergent artistic cultures from within a society, in particular youth cultures. Policy makers perceptions of new cultural forms that they may not understand have lead to: song lyrics being censored or banned from being broadcast (Blecha, 2004); retailers being banned from selling certain products (Shuker, 2001); and certain types of cultural consumption being made illegal, such as the introduction of new legislation to ban ‘raves’ in the UK. This happened after the introduction of the 1994 Public Order Act, Section five of the act banned trespass and nuisance on land that included ‘repetitive beats’ (Brewster & Broughton, 2006), effectively making illegal the entire rave scene at the time, which was largely operated on an ‘unofficial’ basis, and therefore unregulated.

Censorship of music that may be seen as being ‘in conflict’ with national identity, pre-dates the on-set of post World War Two youth cultures. Indeed almost two decades before, in National Socialist (Nazi) Germany, Adolf Hitler banned certain types of music (particularly Jazz) which he deemed to be too ‘black’ in nature, referring to Jazz as ‘negro swamp music’ (Parker, 2007), and against the ideals of his Arian state. Blecha (2004, p.v) describes such censorship of music as being ‘founded in ignorance, denial, and opportunism’.

Case Study: Music Censorship and Hip Hop Artists

Hip Hop music began in New York’s Bronx district in the 1970s with DJs looping beats from 1960s and 1970s funk records across two turntables so that the same portion of a particular track would be played over and over. As such the DJ became a performer, and was soon joined by vocalists called MCs who would speak in rhyme over the looped beats, this would later become known as ‘rapping’ (The Hip Hop Years, 1999). Hip hop lyrics have often courted controversy, due to their explicit nature and no-holds-barred approach to telling stories about ‘life on the street’. In the late 1970s and early 1980s hip hop records were largely not featured in the US Billboard Charts or on MTV, which were both dominated by white rock bands (Jet, 2006).

Before the term ‘Gangsta Rap’ was ever coined, lyrics by artists such as Boogie Down Productions, Schooly D, and Just Ice spoke of murder, guns, sex and gang membership. Against this was a backdrop of real life ‘black-on-black’ crime, which prompted a change in approach by artists, who wanted to use their music to try and halt the cycle of violence, rather than make records about it. The Stop The Violence Movement (STVM) was formed from a number of already established hip hop artists and released the 1989 hit ‘Self Destruction’. The STVM consisted of a number of hip hop artists who had previously been involved in creating records about life on the street, or about squabbles with other recording artists (glamourised as the New York rap wars), this galvanising of New York hip hop artists, signalled an end to this for a period and spread a message of positivity and pride amongst black youth (STVM, 2008).

At the same time a rise in politically conscious hip hop promoting black-power, black pride, and Afro-centricity lead by artists such as Public Enemy, Stetsasonic, and KRS-One were gaining increased commercial success. There was a trend for hip hop records from New York and the East Coast of the US to highlight past and present injustices to black people globally, from the slave trade, to the apartheid struggle and imprisonment of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and by doing so were drawing parallels to injustices served against African Americans in the USA (Chang, 2005). Hip hop lyrics would often draw references to leaders associated with civil rights and the black power movement, including Dr Martin Luther King, Joanne Chesimard, Malcolm X, The Black Panther Movement, Elijah Muhammad, The Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan, as highlighted by Public Enemy (2008). The radical ideals of many of these, were often highly critical of, and in direct contradiction to the ‘ideals’ purveyed by the American government, and as a consequence, hip hop struggled to find mainstream acceptance through a lack of positive media exposure.

Hip hop lyrics were becoming increasingly militant, with anti-authority political values that were intended to strengthen their message; stand out; have appeal amongst rebellious youth; and generate headlines (Shuker, 2001). However, the message from the West Coast, particularly Los Angeles was very different, a creative cluster of hip hop artists emerged from South Central Los Angeles in the mid 1980s, in an area where a significant rise in gang activity meant for many young men, that if they didn’t join a gang that they were putting themselves in danger (Gangland, 2008).

Ice-T is one such hip hop artist, who often painted a gritty and realistic image of life where he lived in South Central Los Angeles, where gang violence, drugs, prostitution and murder were the everyday realities of life. As such his lyrics as a gangland storyteller proved to be controversial, Ice-T’s first album ‘Rhyme Pays’ released in 1987, was the first hip hop album to carry a parental advisory warning about explicit lyrics (Ice-T and Sigmund, 1995). This was before the right-wing Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) turned their attentions to hip hop, and at the time were more concerned with explicit lyrics in more mainstream commercial rock songs (Deflem, 1993).

‘Songs also reflect the difficulties of adolescence helping young people cope with emotional and sexual problems. They reflect the need to experience life directly’ (Walton, 2008, p.145)

The PMRC was formed by an influential group of women known as ‘The Washington Wives’ who’s husbands were predominantly US political figures. The PMRC were outraged at the easy availability of explicit song lyrics without any prior warning on the record itself (Grossberg, 1992; Deflem, 1993). The PMRC pressured the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to adopt a voluntary standard warning on the front of records that contained explicit lyrics, that parental advisory ought to be sought before listening. The RIAA at first declined to do this, however pressure from the PMRC, lead to the direct involvement of their husbands, the politicians, who at the time were reviewing home-taping and piracy legislation (in the days before the internet, downloads and CD-R existed). The RIAA feared that if they did not adopt the PMRC warning label, that the recording industry may suffer from anti-piracy legislation being delayed, or weakened (Deflem, 1993). In the end the RIAA adopted the ‘Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics’ label, highlighted in figure 4 (below), as a business decision in the face of this pressure. The PMRC wanted to go even further with an age rating classification system similar to the one in place for movies, although this was never implemented (Nuzum, 2001).

Figure 4: The PMRC warning label (source: UoM, 2007)

Amongst the South Central Los Angeles hip hop sect were a group who called themselves ‘Niggaz With Attitudes’ (NWA), who decided to up the ante with the PMRC by releasing their 1988 album ‘Straight Outta Compton’. The album contained an unprecedented number of venomously delivered sexual swear words and included tracks such as ‘Fuck tha police’, ‘Gangsta Gangsta’ and ‘A Bitch is a Bitch’ (NWA, 1988). Sexually explicit lyrics, murder, violence, drug taking, ‘gang-banging’ (gang membership) and the hatred of authorities (particularly the police) were contained in an album that went double platinum within four years of release (Rap Central, 2006), and shaped the future of ‘gangsta rap’ for many imitators to follow (Henderson, 2008). Massive controversy followed, MTV refused to play NWA videos, the band were arrested on stage for performing ‘Fuck tha Police’, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wrote to the band’s record label - Ruthless Records, informing them that they did not take kindly to that same track (Rap Central, 2006).

Quinn (2005) argues that gangsta rap reflects and reinforces the decline in black protest culture and the great rise in individualist and entrepreneurial thinking that took place in the black community from the 1980s. In the USA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) outright banned radio stations from playing songs that contained swear words, and in the UK many stockists refused to sell ‘Straight Outta Compton’ fearing prosecution under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act (Shuker, 2001), although this never actually happened.

Enshrined in the Constitution of the United States of America is the first amendment, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances’, this dates back to 1789 (U.S. Constitution, 2008). Hip hop artists were keen to promote their feelings of anger about perceived censorship by the US authorities, this included Ice-T who was told what he could and could not say by the authorities before he took the stage in Columbus, Georgia, as well as being told he could not touch himself provocatively (Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley also came up against this in Columbus) (Ice-T and Sigmund, 1995). In 1989 Ice-T released the album ‘The Iceberg / Freedom of Speech….Just Watch What You Say’ which included a rap / rock collaboration featuring Jello Biafra (formerly of The Dead Kennedys) entitled ‘Freedom of Speech’, a track which highlighted music being censored and challenged, the PMRC, the US Government, the FCC, and the authorities in Columbus, Georgia (Ice-T, 1989). Alongside this, hip hop was making steady inroads in terms of mainstream commercial success, including a vastly increased white audience.

‘Ban me, try it, you might cause a riot, what the radio wont play the underground will supply it’
(Ice-T, 1988)

In 1991 the police brutality which many hip hop artists rapped about came to the forefront with the video taped beating by police officers of an arrested black motorist in Los Angeles – Rodney King. The beating was captured on video tape by a bystander and subsequently broadcast around the world, the officers responsible were tried in a Los Angeles court and subsequently found ‘not guilty’. Within minutes of this being broadcast South Central Los Angeles erupted, and riots spread which engulfed much of the city for the following six days leaving 53 people dead (Crogan, 2002). This was quickly followed by Ice-T’s newly formed thrash metal band ‘Body Count’ releasing their self-titled debut album, which featured the title track ‘Cop Killer’, that told the story of a young man that was fed up with police brutality, shooting dead a police officer, which was described by Shuker (2001) as a revenge fantasy of the disempowered.

This immediately provoked outrage from politicians and police officers, with the Police Enforcement Texas Association of Regional Departments and the Police Investigators Group beginning a campaign to pressure Warner Brothers Records from removing the track from the album (Osgerby, 2004). This pressure was initially resisted, however one of Warner Brother’s more high profile celebrities, gave the campaign to remove ‘Cop Killer’ a more public face – Charlton Heston, who also happened to be the President of the right wing National Rifle Association. Heston was also a Time Warner Shareholder, and turned up to a full board meeting and read out the lyrics to ‘Cop Killer’, after which the song was withdrawn and Ice-T was fired from Sire / Warner Brothers Records (Newsmax, 2008). Ice-T went on to form his own independent label ‘Rhyme Syndicate’, and continues to this day to release politically motivated tracks.

‘You can always count on the censors among us to divert attention from themselves, and the actual causes of our social ills, and point the finger of blame towards popular music (Blecha, 1994,

NWA’s follow up album to ‘Straight Outta Compton’ was released in 1991, entitled ‘Niggaz4life’, upon release it went straight to number one in the US Billboard charts, selling one million copies during its first week of release (Shuker, 2001). It sparked outcry from the PMRC due to the ‘obscene’ nature of the lyrics (Borgmeyer and Lang, 2006), and in the UK, the headquarters of Polygram who distributed Niggaz4life were raided by the police, who seized 12,000 copies of the album under the Obscene Publications Act (Shuker, 2001). A prosecution followed at which the defence argued that the content of the album was no more obscene than the content of pornographic top shelf magazines, defence attorney’s proceeded to read out stories and show images from such magazines in the court room as a comparison. The case was immediately dismissed and the album went straight back on sale to critical acclaim (Cloonan and Garofalo, 1995).

Record labels took note of the growing popularity of gangsta rap, negative media coverage amounted to free publicity, and gangsta rap was fast becoming the most lucrative form of hip hop (Quinn, 2005). The major labels wanted to commercially exploit this art form, but in doing so did not want to come into conflict with the authorities. Their strategy was to invest large sums of money into artistic production, and in doing so manipulate the ‘gangsta’ image, raising it to a level that was ‘higher’ than the street and beyond the dreams of many of those who were buying into it (Ibid). New stars from the 1990s including Snoop Dogg, Warren G, and Puff Daddy, were appearing in music videos that portrayed them in mansions, covered in gold, surrounded by luxury items, fast cars and beautiful girls. The transformation in image was from street level thug to ‘godfather’ status, and with this came an expansion in merchandising and products away from the music itself.

Commercialisation lead to increased popularity, and more mainstream acceptance of artists, who’s songs also lost their edginess (Watkins, 2006). Even the term ‘gangsta rap’ declined in usage towards the end of the 1990s with a rise in the term ‘RnB’, which was softer focussed than hip hop, often included collaborations with singers, and more importantly from a commercial standpoint, had greater appeal amongst the female market than what hip hop had done previously (Peddie, 2006). By throwing money at gangsta rappers, the major labels had turned them into global megastars, recognisable in mainstream popular culture, beyond music into film and television, and in the end, this corporate takeover of hip hop is what tamed the beast (Watkins, 2006).

The Impact of Technology

The above case study is largely based on a period from the late 1970s up to the early 1990s, this is before the advance in technology that brought about recordable CDs, MP3s and the internet. In this era, the predominant commercially available formats were vinyl, CDs and cassettes, unauthorised copying of artistic products was largely down to home taping. Since then, technological advancements have seen media formats shrink in physical size and rise in capacity, this is an example of creative destruction where new media formats signal the end of older ones, as outlined by Nelson and Nelson (2002). ‘Compact disc piracy became a global problem in the 1990’s because the technology of duplicating CDs developed rapidly, making CDs a quicker, easier, and cheaper product to duplicate than most other forms of sound recording’ (Computer DJ Summit, 2008).

This accelerated even further from 1995 onwards when Microsoft released the Windows 1995 browser, which came supplied with Internet Explorer, allowing users to browse the internet and download files from web servers. However it wasn’t until a combination of factors from the late 1990s onwards: the development of broadband internet; the onset of flat rate internet access call originator (FRIACO); the development of MP3 technology; the rise in file sharing software; the development of MP3 playing software; and the development of portable MP3 players that this took off on a mass scale. This culmination of factors meant that music could be distributed, copied, and passed on for a tiny fraction of the cost of purchasing a CD. Portable MP3 players were also very popular due to their vast superiority to CD players in terms of capacity and features (Rowan, 2002).

Barriers placed upon trade could now be overcome, one state banning an album due to perceived obscenity, as what happened to ‘Niggaz4life’ is largely ineffectual in the face of online file sharing and peer to peer networks, O’Regan (2001) noted that regional barriers are now being eroded due to the internet. The banned Bodycount track ‘Copkiller’ is widely available to download using file sharing programmes such as Limewire, eMule and Bearshare, so banning the sale of it by withdrawing it, is simply fuelling the unofficial distribution of it to an audience who want to hear it. It is also now extremely easy for artists to record an audio file they have created as an MP3 and upload it onto their own website so that it can be accessed by anybody. If a politically motivated artist wished to use music or other forms of audio (or video) as a medium by which to deliver their message to an audience of listeners, they can now do so without any help from record labels, and are no longer reliant on them for production or distribution. It is widely publicised that the internet has already been exploited by sympathisers of Islamic extremists and Jihad to showcase audio (as well as video and text) in favour of holy war and terrorist activities (Carr, 2007). The nature of the internet is potentially going to prove very challenging indeed for policy makers who want to control the nature of creative output that we can access through it.

There is a growing a shift in terms of responsibility from record labels to internet service providers (ISPs) to ‘police’ creative output, so that what is not acceptable by government can be removed physically from web servers, or blocked in search engine results. The latest album by Guns and Roses called Chinese Democracy has already been banned in China, and as such internet service providers are being pressured not to allow it to show in Chinese search engine results (Moore, 2008). In the UK ISPs have signed up to an agreement to inform persistent file sharers that what they are doing is entirely traceable, and that copyright owners will be informed of their activities which can lead to prosecution (Wray, 2008). However, all of the time that this is happening, new technologies that can aid file sharing activities to remain anonymous are continually being developed in a never ending and increasingly global ‘game of cat and mouse’.


There is currently no globally accepted consensus of what exactly constitutes both the cultural and creative industries, and whilst recognition of the creative industries is growing, it is likely that in the short-term, policy makers will continue to use the terms interchangeably until global agreement can be reached. The continued future growth of the internet, will increase the shift in delivery mechanisms for a number of creative outputs from physical media to online formats, and with this the term creative industries and it’s technological connotations will grow in strength, giving it a more globally recognised and agreed identity. The cultural industries will in future be regarded as those that are predominantly physical or tangible in nature. There will continue to be cross-over between the two industries, but there will be a more even match between them in terms of perceived size and value as the output of physical media declines in favour of online content. This will lead to a rise in the term ‘creative policy’ as its economic significance and impact is recognised, and consequently protected by governments.

Artistic freedom will continue to present challenges to policy makers in terms of what is acceptable and what is not, and it is entirely likely that at some point in the future that there will be a spread in the use of software programmes being utilised by ISPs to ‘filter out’ undesirable elements from their networks, and effectively censor through blocking access. This will occur in the face of a combination of economic and legal pressure from governments that are keen to bolster their economy, and preserve their own set of moral values amongst their population. Whilst this may effectively hinder access to the masses, there will always be those who stay ‘one step ahead’ and find new ways to ‘get around’ such barriers. The anarchic-democratic nature of the internet will continually present policy makers with numerous challenges in the face of this.


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