By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine
Is Margaret on the Guillotine in David Cameron's playlist
David Cameron has criticised the BBC for playing rap music that encourages the carrying of guns and knives. But dip into the repertoires of some of his favourite artists, and it's far from peace, love and understanding.
It's one of the hoariest issues ever - does rap music make people violent?
As long as there have been turntables, rhyming and excessively baggy clothes, there have been politicians hammering hip hop's practitioners for inciting violence.
Conservative leader David Cameron became the latest in that long line, when he said: "I would say to Radio 1, do you realise that some of the stuff you play on Saturday nights encourages people to carry guns and knives."
At which point it's fair to assume he means the rap music played by DJ Tim Westwood, rather than the innocuous dance of Judge Jules.
It's certainly the case that there is a shocking level of violence in music. But keen-eyed Magazine reader Nick Rikker, from Barcelona, pointed out that the Conservative leader might have to look at his own record collection. Take these charming couplets.
"Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking when I said I'd like to smash every tooth in your head.
"Oh sweetness, sweetness, I was only joking when I said by rights you should be bludgeoned in your bed."
But this isn't a dangerous rapper straight off the streets of Compton, rather it is one of Mr Cameron's favourite artists, Morrissey, on the Smiths' Bigmouth Strikes Again.
But this is clearly OK because Morrissey is being ironic. He is a brainy sort and therefore this knowing reference to domestic violence is fine.
But Morrissey also sang: "The kind people have a wonderful dream, Margaret on the guillotine, cause people like you, make me feel so tired."
One might assume that musicians who seemed to advocate the execution of Conservative prime ministers might also present themselves as a target for Mr Cameron, though admittedly guillotines are some way down the ranks of street weapons.
All this is entirely apart from the unconfirmed allegations that Morrissey sent a wreath to the funeral of Ronnie Kray. If true, that would surely have been a moment of the most ironic irony.
Even peace-loving Bob Dylan mentioned violence
And then there is Mr Cameron's equally cherished Bob Dylan. Surely the peace-loving Dylan never sang anything that could be construed as violent.
And yet he did cover Little Sadie: "Went out last night to take a little round. I met my little Sadie and I brought her down. I ran right home and I went to bed with a forty-four smokeless under my head."
For anybody struggling to keep up, this means he shot his girlfriend.
But Mr Cameron is not alone in liking music with a violent underbelly.
President George Bush lost no time in paying tribute to country legend Johnny Cash after his recent death.
"Johnny Cash was a music legend and American icon whose career spanned decades and genres. His resonant voice and human compassion reached the hearts and souls of generations, and he will be missed."
But he must have known that Cash sang "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" in Folsom Prison Blues. And that he sang: "Early one mornin' while makin' the rounds I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down" in Cocaine Blues.
And for those who again want to play the "it's for dramatic effect" card, one can only suggest a listen to the Live at Folsom Prison album. The audience of bloodthirsty criminals whoop in a way that suggests they are not appreciating a wonderful slice of irony in these lines.
Johnny Cash did not shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die
Tony Blair has not joined Mr Cameron's explicit condemnation of rap, perhaps because he has previously suggested Robert Johnson's Crossroads Blues as one of his favourite songs.
The same Robert Johnson sang in another song: "I'm gonna shoot my pistol, gonna shoot my Gatlin gun... If she gets unruly, and thinks she don't want do, take my 32-20, and cut her half in two".
But you could go back even further and blame Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and its "sword and knife culture" for Ben Jonson's slaying of an actor.
And the bad news for Mr Cameron is that as the Blues is unquestioningly venerated and studied now, it's not a far-fetched possibility that rap music, some of it violent, will be thought of in the same way in 50 years time.
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
It's not even necessary to delve into the lyrics of Morrissey to find reference to violence. Just look at the cover of his album 'You Are the Quarry' and you'll find him holding a gun. There was outrage when adverts for 'Get Rich or Die Tryin' showed 50 Cent holding a gun but I can't recall such sensationalism for Morrissey's album cover. I find it very annoying that one genre of music should be sidelined for such criticism when references to violence can be found in most genres of music and all art forms.
Andrew Witham, Southampton
Frank Zappa said it best: "There are more love songs than anything else. If songs could make you do something we'd all love one another. I wrote a song about dental floss but did anyone's teeth get cleaner?"
Andrew Thomas, Stratford-upon-Avon
I think you're onto something. Even Benny Hill's 'Ernie', which Cameron included in his Desert Island Discs, ends in the death of the beloved milkman at the hands of a baker from Teddington. It sounds like gang warfare to me!
Jim, Basildon, UK
Oh blimey, there goes 'Bohemian Rhapsody' from radio playlists everywhere...
Stuart, West Midlands
I think that the article is missing a significant point here - Hip Hop music appeals to a particular section of society who are statistically more likely to be actively involved in knife crime than, say, the sort of people who listen to The Smiths or Johnny Cash
Thank you for revealing the hypocrisy in the mindless criticism of rap music for inciting violence. I am not a big fan of the music myself but it is should not be blamed for all our ills, it reflects them it doesn't create them.
Simon Alvey, Ipswich
I was present at David Cameron's speech and for the questions afterwards. Firstly, the context for his comments about Radio 1 was actually that kneejerk calls for legislation should be avoided but he pointed out that the flipside of this was that all parts of society had to accept they may be part of the problem and the solution and engage in the 'national
conversation'. He put his view - others (as they have)can oppose it.
In responding to DC's comments with arch and knowing analysis this and other correspondents ignore the problem. Educated people who live in safe environments hold up gangsta rap etc as an art-form - fine but it's not your children dying. Another black youngster has been stabbed to death in the last 24 hours - everyone will ask 'Why?' but then ignore the cultural context these kids are growing up in. If you espouse the values of Morrissey you risk boring everyone around you, if you grow up with 50 Cent as your role model the risks are very different.
Jane Ellison , London UK
Does the culture breed the music, or does the music breed the culture? The whole argument is a bit pointless really, although i did like the tongue in cheek feel of the article!
roadrunner_0, north east england
There's violence in all sorts of music. Take these lyrics from 'The Gates of Delirium' by Yes back in 1974: 'Our gods awake in thunderous roars and guide the leader's hands in paths of glory to the cause' 'Kill them! Give them as they give us! Slay them! Burn their childrens' laughter on to hell!'
Taken out of context, your first reaction is that there's a law against that sort of incitement these days. But the epic progressive rock piece these lyrics come from is the story of a war as seen through the eyes of one tribe, from the first perceived threat from another tribe right to the most important and best regarded part of the song, the regret in the aftermath of there ever having been a battle.
Ian W, Hemel Hempstead, Herts
The problem with Rap is that it isn't just some lines from a song or even a single singer. It is an entire culture in which one can submerge oneself. A culture of defensive violence to the exclusive of all else. A culture which feeds on the depression of poor adolescent males and the equally downtodden women who hang around them. Rap feeds of this failure while doing nothing to alleviate it. Through it a tiny group of media gangsters get obscenely rich while maintaining their own communities in a culture of violence and fear. If Idi Amin and Mobuto were alive today they wouldn't bother joining the army or staging coups. They'd just go straight to the recording studios. Rap - the parasite's first choice. If somebody wants to do some serious Rap they should rap about the evil of Rap.
Des, London, UK
I always thought "Mac the knife" was a little too gruesome for my tastes. Come to think of it, even Bernard Cribins old song "There I was digging this hole" describes the murder of an irritating official in a bowler hat.
I laughed like a proverbial drain when I heard what Cameron said. That statement will haunt him for years! I can't wait for the fall-out. Can that man really only be forty years old? Didn't he live through punk? Didn't he listen to stupid adults spouting that Grange Hill was the cause of bad behaviour in schools when it first hit our screens? The man needs to get a grip!
Angela Phinn, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex
Everyone knows: guns don't kill people; rappers do!
I'm sorry, but having to hear people blame violence on music is atrocious.....Music is about human experiences, pleasure, pain, we all have emotions and music touches them..thats the point, people like to relate to music. Its not music that should be under the spotlight, the bigger picture is that people like David Spameron fail to see, it is their parties and broken promises that drive people to crime....not music
hitesh patel, Bradford
Excellent article. Politicians do talk a load of rubbish.
Simon, Frederick MD / Leeds UK
What a poor piece of journalism. It's the context in which violent imagery sits that is the important factor. When you couple the lyrics with visually violent or provocative images in the videos alongside the attractive-to-some bling-glam lifestyle and you get a more volatile end product.
I wonder if the author is being purposely antagonistic in making reference to Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and the iconic Morrissey? If they sang song after song concerning death and violence then we may take his comments more seriously! The point is the rap artist constantly sing these types of songs, their song title are violently emotive, the cover of their albums are the same, they do not seem to be able to be taken seriously unless they have/had a drug problem, grew up in a drug buying area or have been shot at least twice. We had best not listen to Barry Manilow's Copa Cabana any longer either then as there is a gun fight in that isnt there?
Linda Beecroft, Uddingston
Is life imitating art? Or is art imitating life? I'd say that it's a combination of both but with a definite bias to the latter.
And remember that Goldie Lookin Chain have shown that hip-hop can be a vehicle for self-mocking when it comes to the preposterous posturing that David Cameron speaks of. I believe Mr Cameron to be taking a wildly simplistic and blinkered stance with his latest statement.
Wes W, Glasgow
People may be interested in doing a web search for the lyrics of one of the artists Radio 1 plays - Lil' Jon & the Eastside Boyz. In particular look at the song title which I can't write here - but the title is another term for a female dog - that should give you a clue.
I consider this incitement to violence against women. There is a big difference between this and Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash. I don't want my kids to listen to this. How can I instill decent values in them.
To suggest that today's lyrics do not influence any more than the lyrics of yesterday is complete nonsense.
In fact I would even go so far as to suggest that turning a blind eye to what is so obviously in front of you is what is making the situation worse still. Get real... please!
Whilst some lyrics may be distasteful or disrepectful (especially towards women) the argument that lyrics cause any sort of behaviour is false. As the late Frank Zappa said during similar debates in America during the mid '80's, 90% of lyrics are about love but we don't all go around in a loving and caring world.
Rob Taylor, Stourbridge UK
I think you are being rather foolish, perhaps knowingly, in your literal interpretation of Cameron's comments. If you think about the point properly it is easy to agree with Cameron - some of the music being broadcast is unacceptable both in terms of actual content and underlying sentiment. He is hardly saying the Radio 1 rap show should be banned - what he is suggesting is that, in light of the tragic events seen over recent weeks, everyone needs to play their part. The burgeoning 'knife culture' is the sum of many parts - this type of music is one of them.
Ben Allen, Thaxted, England
It is really quite tiresome to keep hearing politicians condemning a form of music they have no understanding of, and labelling it a 'negative influence' on society - in fact commenting as a rapper myself, hip-hop has done a lot of good in trying to get youngsters off the street and get them focussed on a career path - for example music.
But they wouldnt look any deeper than the lyrics they hear booming out of their kids' bedrooms - which unfortunatley is usually commercial artists which i deem as pop. It is also very difficult to understand how they pin-point a perceived black music form, rather than the miriad of music forms which contain lyrics that could be deemed as inciteful, violent etc, as the main contributor. Maybe they should have a closer look at their own deep seated prejudices, that it wouldnt surprise me, even themselves are unaware of.
I think 'Dave' Cameron is right to raise the issue of violent lyrics. Obviously you can pick holes in it, and censorship is a slippery slope (I'm not a misogynist, but does that mean I can't listen to Dylan & the Stones?). I hope/assume that DC is not advocating that the BBC plays no hip-hop, but rather that they exercise some judgement on those tracks that most obviously advocate and/or celebrate violence without any irony or regret.
I am not suggesting that all songs describing violence should be banned, but that some are worse than others, and that a line should be drawn somewhere. As a middle class thirtysomething brit, i might be missing the subtlety of the irony/regret of some hip-hop songs where I might more easily detect it in Dylan/Morrissey, but still, some judgement needs to be applied where violence is in danger of being celebrated.
Well this is a rather spurious rebuttal. It seems obvious to me that Cash, Morrisey and the like never advocated carrying guns or beating people to death, never made it something to aspire to, never made it seem 'cool'. Guilty conscience BBC?
Mark W, Preston, UK
I think there's a big difference between an artist having the odd song referencing guns, and an artist that's totally based around glorifying a culture of violence.
However, a lot of the heavy-metal music that I listen to would shock a lot of people, but I'm a level-headed law-abiding tax payer and wish no harm to anyone. So, I believe that people have to make their own choice in life.
James B, London, UK
I find it deplorable that Cameron can be so hyprocritical, and a lot of the media has backed him up. Hip Hop has more than the glamourised part you see in the public - something the industry created. What about the introspective side, the lyrical side etc. The above examples are just a few in a sea of references to murder and death.
I have 3 words for Cameron - Pot Kettle Black.
H Modha, Wellingborough, UK
I don't really see the comparisons in David Cameron's comments on rap music on Radio 1 and violence with regard to him having The Smiths in his record collection. Fans going to see The Smiths at Brixton Academy wouldn't have been found to carry guns and knives unlike some of those who go to Kanye West or the late lamented So Solid Crew. He has a point which relates to disaffected young black males in the UK looking up to and where hip hop comes from and the culture surrounding it; poor black America where violence, drugs and guns are a way out for some. That is unless you're a successful rap artist?
Matt, Bedale, England
We all suspected Mr Cameron just randomly picked The Smiths as a cool group to say he liked in order to be popular. When later questioned by journalists, his lack of knowledge of their works was apparent. He should keep his nose out of everything he does not understand (e.g popular culture) and concentrate on middle class middle aged things like pretending to be Green.
Dave Hawkins, Meidrim
This just proves how little attention some people pay to lyrics. You could also have had Mr Peace and Love himself John Lennon singing Happiness is a Warm Gun or "You better run for you life if you can little girl, If I catch you with another man its the end" (Run For Your Life -Beatles for Sale)or the Levi's ad soundtrack Boom Boom by John Lee Hooker, "...I'm gonna shoot you right down". Surely Cameron should have called for Westwood's absurd accent to be banned - that would be a sure vote winner!!
Dave Shufflebottom, Kent
It is silly to subbest that music is the cause of crime. Should the Beatles White Album be banned because of Charles Manson twistedly sited it as causing him to commit multiple murder? People fight, steal and kill of other reasons. Music is sometimes relfects the violence of life but once you start to say one genre is not acceptable, where do you stop.
Now if only Mr Cameron were critisising rap from a musical perspective, I would have to think about voting Conservative!
mojomike, midlands, United Kingdom
These kind of stories just confirm my suspicions that people who listen to pop 'music' merely identify (or not) with the psychology of the words. This is why the most popular songs are about aspects of love and why so few number one hits are instrumentals. If people like the 'music', why should that be?
When it comes dwon to it there are three types of song - love, anger and depression. Since all these emotions can cause people to hurt themselves or others I vote we ban all music.
Then we just need to target TV, games and books and we can have all have nice safe lives.
Rick, Didcot, UK
Although generally a fan of David Cameron I cannot understand why he likes the music of that whiny depressed and depressing arch lefty Morrissey
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