In the wake of radio host Don Imus' firing over racially insensitive comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team, many activists in the black community have turned their attention to rap's misogynistic lyrics and begun to question what steps the music industry should take to police itself. One of those activists is the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network Leader, Dr. Benjamin Chavis, who along with HSAN founder Russell Simmons, issued a statement last week recommending the recording and broadcast industries consistently censor the words "bitch," "ho" and the n-word on all clean album versions.

Billboard talked with the former civil rights fighter and got his thoughts on how Imus' remarks differ from rap lyrics, the effect of Oprah's two-part Town Hall Meeting, and how HSAN plans on making changes in hip-hop moving forward.

How do you think Oprah's panel was received? And, were you satisfied with it?
Well, you know it was a two-day show. The first shows were those that were raising opposition to hip-hop. And the second, it was those of us who were proponents of hip-hop culture. And, I felt that, first of all, we all realize the Oprah Winfrey show is a mainstream show, probably more than any other show on television, it epitomizes the complexity and diversity of American society. So, to have the opportunity to be on the Oprah show to discuss hip-hop I believe was a special blessing and opportunity. I thought Oprah was very even handed, and in her own words, a door was open. I think mainstream America got a chance to look into the heart and soul of hip-hop differently than it was ever done before.

A lot of people thought that Oprah took this opportunity because this was a negative point in hip-hop. And a lot of people feel she is against hip-hop. You don't think so?
It's not so much how I feel as much as it is what happened. The fact of the matter is the Oprah Winfrey show opened the door wider to hip-hop, even though some on the program were very critical and made some stereotypical statements, and rushed to judgment on hip-hop, I think at the end of the second day of the show, even our worst critics were better informed about some of the positive attributes of hip-hop. And for that, at the end of the day, it was much better to do this show. Millions of people have a much better insight into some of the positive attributes of hip-hop. The media is full of the negatives, but now a door has been opened.

So you were definitely satisfied and you don't think it hindered the dialogue in the urban community?
I think the Oprah show enhance the dialogue. I think people have a greater appetite for this dialogue. Even though we are proponents of hip-hop, sometimes we don't want to venture out of our own circles to discuss the culture, for fear of being misunderstood and misjudged. I think even after the don Imus thing, hardly no one said nothing. Russell and I were the only ones that issued a statement that said, look, you cannot escape hip-hop for what Don Imus did, cause what Don Imus did had nothing to do with hip-hop. Although people were trying to make the connection.

So how did you guys make everything come together? If it has nothing to do with hip-hop, how can him saying what he said make you guys want to keep rappers from saying certain words?
Because it's two different things. First of all, in the wake of Don Imus, Russell and I were the only ones in the whole recording industry that said anything. And basically what we said was it was a false analogy between what Don Imus did and what hip-hop does. The reason being, what Imus did was a racially motivated attack on female basketball players, unjustifyingly. It was derogatory, demeaning, it was racially motivated. Hip-hop while sometimes utilizing derogatory terms is never racially motivated. And so, our argument is that hip-hop transcends race. What Imus was trying to do was polarize race. Hip-hop has done more for race relations in America than any other cultural phenomenon.

What makes you feel so passionate about hip-hop, especially a man of your age and status?
First of all, my whole history is fighting for freedom. I'm a freedom fighter from the civil rights movement. When hip-hop first emerged I saw a direct connection between the urgency of hip-hop in its early days to what we were doing in the 60's. I made the association between Public Enemy and Run DMC and the Last Poets and Gill Scott Heron. To me the hip-hop generation just took the baton from the civil rights generation and kept running the race. But the race, it's not like running around the same lane in the track, they are adding more lanes now. Hip-hop has expanded the aspirations of millions of people, not just in America, but all over the world. Hip-hop is a global phenomenon and I admire the hip-hop generation and so I decided to emerge myself in it. I'm not just an observer of hip-hop, I'm a part of hip-hop. I'm in the studio, I'm in video locations, and the reason I can help argue hip-hop's point of view is because I have immersed myself into the culture and I can understand it better.

Some people argue you're preaching change in hip-hop but at the same time you're in Dipset videos. What do you say to that?
Oh yeah. And you're gonna see a transition in hip-hop videos and Dipset videos. Jim Jones is my man. He's doing more and more stuff that is more and more socially conscious. And with all of the artists evolving. Hip-hop itself is an evolutionary of cultural phenomenon. We're evolving, have a stronger world view. Artists get to travel to Africa or brazil and all of a sudden their views are not pegged to Harlem or south central LA. That's gonna start infusing how they use their language, how they do the music, and the video representation will become a lot more conscious. It's part, to use the terms of the south Africans, the consciencenizing process, where young people's conscience are raised out of aspiration and winds up being evident in their music.

So you definitely feel like you are a part of the reason why this is changing?
One of the contributors. There's no one. I'm just happy to have the opportunity to witness and to be a participant. I'm not just a witness, I'm a participant.

What do you say to those who claim this is a PR stunt to publicize Simmons' book and to bring attention to HSAN?
Well, you know, people will always be player haters, and I think though, at the end of the day, it's about improving the quality of life of communities, improving the quality of life of people. The truth of the matter is, hip-hop was born out of crucible of poverty and injustice in the south Bronx. Now there is poverty and injustice all over the world, that's why so many young people vibe with hip-hop cause they could relate to it's truth, they could relate to it's rawness, the could relate to its unadulterated form. And, that's what gives hip-hop its power to speak the truth. I think even the recommendations that Russ and I issued yesterday were to the industry about what is broadcasted over the airwaves, we're still strong supporters of the artist and their freedom of expression and freedom of artistic expression. The theme of the hip-hop summit is taking back responsibility so we believe with freedom comes responsibility for the music companies, artists, and for the society at large.

Have you reached out to anyone to start building these platforms so that it doesn't remain a witch-hunt?
Yeah, absolutely, we, away from the media, we've spend most of our time in communities with young people in elementary schools, middle schools, junior high schools, high schools, as well as colleges. A lot of times, unfortunately, it takes a controversy to shed light on what hip-hop is really doing. But the truth of the matter is there are many young people.. I'm encouraged as a senior citizen in hip-hop, I can say I'm encouraged by the new generation of artists that are coming up strong. They are coming up with creativity, with insight. I'm encouraged. Rather than less freedom fighters, I see more freedom fighters in their own cultural tradition.

You guys want to put together a coalition with radio, music and personalities?
It's gonna be to recommend, we need more dialogue, and I think our set of recommendations, similar to the Oprah show, we're stirring dialogue. Dialogue is always important so people could have a better understanding before they misjudge the situation or miscategorize the situation. Unfortunately, in the wake of Imus, a situation where there was a lot of rush to judgment, a lot of pointing fingers, even, trying to put hip-hop on trial, it was most unfortunate. Through the hip-hop summit action network we have a platform to speak out on these issues.

Who have you guys reached out to? Cohen? Iovine?
Oh yeah. We had a private meeting a week before, and all the heads of all the major record companies were involved, and those that couldn't be at Lyor's house were conferenced in. we had everybody involved. Everybody has been involved. The way we see it, every single head of every major label and music division were not only contacted but were involved in this discussion. Even face to face, telephone conference calls, emails, one group even went on a retreat cause stuff got so hot. So, it's all good. The more dialogue the better.

Moving forward, there's also the coalition and the banning of the words "Ho" "bitch" and "n-word"...
Well, it's not banning, it is deleting, beeping and removing those from clean versions, which the music industry is supposed to do anyway. What we find out there was no consistency, no uniform standard that everyone was applying. Even yesterday when I was coming to work I heard those 3 words on the radio. Sometimes dirty versions are still being played. Inadvertently, I'm not gonna say that people are deliberately doing it, but we needed to bring attention that this is something the industry needs to regulate before the government deters them. We don't want the government to violate their freedom of speech or artistic expression of the artists. But if everyone just stands by and not says anything, then you invite government intervention. What we did was make government intervention not necessary.

For more on the issue of hip-hop's responsibility to its lyrical content, see "Hip-Hop History Lesson" in the May 5 issue of Billboard, out today.