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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 January, 2004, 10:17 GMT
Cover versions: Sarah Jones
All this week, BBC World Service's The World Today programme is looking at cover versions - songs re-recorded by another artist - to find what makes a great cover, and why.

Sarah Jones is a hip-hop poet and performance artist. Her updated, sexually provocative version of Gil Scott-Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - entitled Your Revolution - caused some controversy upon broadcast in the US, with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling it "indecent".

When I first heard The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, the fist thing I thought was, 'this is a poem, but it's also a lot like hip-hop rhymes.'

Sarah Jones (Pic: Stellla Maglorie)
Jones said her cover version was a tribute
It's obviously so brimming with all of the political passion of the time - it was a kind of post-civil rights-era. I think of the Black Panthers and all of the student organising movements, and all the people who were talking about civil rights and what was going on in the urban landscape in America.

Gil was saying we need to not accept the status quo: the revolution that everyone's talking about can't be co-opted, it can't be bought.

There's a lot of repetition in the song of this kind of concept - the revolution will not be televised - which is, by itself, a really unique phrase.

It's not just something that you hear and throw away, or that you listen to just because it's catchy.

There's a lot of meaning in that - the revolution is something real, in which we're all going to have to participate in.

So when I wrote my version, my tribute, I really had in mind the repetition of this idea. It's a potent idea - you want people to hear it. It bears repeating.

Gansta rap

There are some people who cringe just at the idea that women have something between their thighs that they might feel comfortable discussing anywhere.

There's kind of a boldness in the language, and I wanted people to know I was serious, and this was not something that was meant to titilate you or get you thinking about what's going on between a woman's thighs in a way that's just about objectifying her.

This is actually about a movement and talking about something powerful.

I attack materialism and misogyny, and the idea that women should be just treated as sex objects.

But I'm not specifically pointing the finger at so-called gangsta rap... my parodies were of songs that were really about the pop aspects of hip-hop. Not the kind of stuff that some of us who are more die-hard aficionadoes really love, but some of the lyrics that get so fluffy.


They're such bubblegum, and people who are actually marketing all of that don't know anything about all of that, because they're stiff, rich, white guys in boardrooms who own all the record labels, and who decide what gets promoted and what gets played on the radio.

I'm really more attacking the commercialisation and the corporate, new-fangled "hip-pop," as I call it, that is being manufactured and conveniently has all the strains of misogyny and gangsta-whatever.

I couldn't tell you exactly which button I managed to hit to get the FCC - my own government - so angry at me, but everybody who's aware of what this government is about would be proud of me for angering them.

I don't think that their views are really in line with anybody I can think of. Looking at what all of our communities are about - the diversity that's reflected in places like New York or places all over the US - there are lots of communities that have a lot to say and deserve to have their place at the table or at the microphone.


The FCC weren't clued in enough to realise that I'm not someone who they might characterise as a pornographic rapper.

I think they should have the right to censor anybody, but my song didn't have any of the seven "dirty words" that you're not allowed to say on American radio.

If taken in context, it's clearly an empowering song that took lyrics that were already freely playing on the radio and just turned them on their ear for fun - and also to add an alternative message that's empowering to girls and women, and the boys and men that respect them.

Clearly there's a feminist movement in American history, and I'm a feminist - I believe that women are equal to men. It was a frustrating thing to feel that my political beliefs were enough to encite this kind of maelstrom.

But I won - they were forced to back down, and now the song can be played freely once again.

So it's a good thing to stand up to the big bullies sometimes.

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Sarah Jones
"Gil was saying we need to not accept the status quo"

Listeners' poll
Laurence Pollard counts down World Today listeners' top 5 cover versions

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