The banter between hip-hop artist David Banner and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., heated up this afternoon during a hearing on Capitol Hill about hip-hop and rap lyrics. Markey kept trying to get a commitment from Banner to start conveying a "sense of optimism" in his music, but Banner would only say that he could get better if the situation gets better.

"There's nothing that you can hear in my music that doesn't exist in my community," Banner said. "Instead of listening to the curse words, listen to the fact that we're asking for help."

Thirteen witnesses came to testify about hip-hop music before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, entitled "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degrading Images." Subcommittee chairman Bobby Rush, D-Ill., tried to set a positive tone by noting that it was not a "head-hunting" hearing.

"I am a fan of hip-hop," Rush said. "I admire and respect hip-hop artists who have created an artwork, an industry and an environment where they can employ thousands of people that might not receive employment opportunity be it not for them. I respect the First Amendment. Great art is always controversial, but we must also take responsibility in our freedom of expression."

Banner, born Levell Crump, was part of the second group of witnesses with Percy "Master P" Miller and Georgetown University's Michael Eric Dyson.

Banner testified that he grew up in Jackson, Miss., one of the most violent American cities. Rap music actually kept him out of trouble, he said. "Statistics will never show the positive side of rap because statistics don't reflect what you don't do," he added. "When I would feel angry and would think about getting revenge, I would listen to Tupac. His anger in a song was a replacement for my anger. I lived vicariously through his music."

Master P, whose brother and a dozen friends were murdered, said he has grown
up since he first rapped angry lyrics. "I want to apologize to all the women," he said. "I was wrong and accept full responsibility."

He suggested that the hip-hop community form a type of union to change how
their music can affect others, similar to a union formed by the NBA that talks about what happens on and off the basketball court. "I used to be part of the problem" he said. "I want to be part of the solution."

More than a dozen representatives were present for the standing-room-only crowd when the all-day hearing began this morning with five executives as witnesses: Philippe Dauman, president/CEO of Viacom International; Edgar Bronfman Jr., chairman/CEO of Warner Music Group; Doug Morris, chairman/CEO of Universal Music Group; Alfred Liggins III, president/CEO of Radio One, the largest broadcaster that targets the African-American community; and
Strauss Zelnick, chairman of Take Two Interactive Software, which produces
video games like "Grand Theft Auto."

Bronfman and Morris testified that hip-hop is a small part of the music they release. Still, neither would censor an artist because of the words used in the lyrics, they said.

"Sensibilities are individual by their very nature," Bronfman said. He explained the all music is reviewed before it's released, stickered with parental advisories if explicit, and edited versions made available to the public.

"Artists' words are not my words," Morris said. "I didn't live their lives, didn't grow up in their homes or their neighborhoods. I don't want to control their words." He said he has a compact with every artist -- that he will support their art and their right to express themselves. But he also noted that the compact extends to the public and will sticker with parental advisories product that may not be suitable for all audiences.

Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-Tex., asked the executives if the issue was really about the First Amendment or if it was really about making money.

Morris first replied that music reflects the world, but with the focus on money, he then said, "I'm particularly angry that the music business is the only one that is being destroyed by criminal behavior... Our work is being deteriorated by criminals... We used to have 12,000 employees, now we have 6,000 and hundreds of Tower stores have closed... I'm amazed this committee hasn't looked into the LimeWire situation."

The hearing was intended to begin the discussion about hip-hop music. When
asked what Universal would do to be part of a solution to some of the offensive music, Morris responded, "This was a good opening to starting a communication, and I like the way it's been done, in a respectful and fair manner," he said. "I intend to respond. You'll hear from us. It all starts somewhere."

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