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June 28, 2017

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Rap lyrics to shift after Wayne, Ross mishaps?

NEW YORK--Since it began, rap has found ways to offend. Whether for political content, sexual imagery, misogyny, violence or coarse humor, rappers have found themselves having to defend their words on a regular basis, no matter how innocuous — or extreme.

Those defenses have typically been defiant. So it was a bit startling when both Lil Wayne and Rick Ross — under intense fire over rhymes deemed offensive — gave mea culpas for their words amid threats of boycotts and a loss of major endorsements.

Their contrition, and the success of their detractors in getting them dropped by major corporations, raises the question: Could the close attention paid to lyrics today — mainly because of the digital age and social media — find some rappers toning down their words, or compromising artistry, to satisfy others?

Ebro Darden, the program director of New York's Hot 97 radio station, thinks rappers may become more mindful, but isn't convinced this is a tipping point in the genre.

"I think they'll be more cautious about the disrespect they show toward a specific situation," he said. "I think hip-hop is a culture of people speaking what they feel and see. ... I think it does get out of balance sometimes and I think that's the main issue people have with hip-hop."

Others see Lil Wayne and Ross' situations as blips that won't shake up how rap stars approach their music.

"Folks in hip-hop are going to use freedom of expression," said Cori Murray, the entertainment director at Essence. "I don't see them self-editing themselves."

There are still plenty of examples of vulgarities dominating in rap, including pop hits such as Kendrick Lamar's "(Expletive), Don't Kill My Vibe" and A$AP Rocky's "(Expletive) Problems." The use of gay slurs has been toned down, though rappers like Tyler, the Creator still say them regularly.

Lyrics from rap icons like Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. were sometimes raw and vulgar, but they didn't have contracts with major companies like rappers do today. Hip-hop performers have become the faces for many top brands: Nicki Minaj has a contract with PepsiCo; Snoop Dogg has had endorsements with Hot Pockets and Monster Energy; and Jay-Z, rap's ultimate businessman, has had a plethora of partnerships, including Duracell, Reebok and Samsung to debut his album, "Magna Carta Holy Grail," released this week.

"When these companies go into business with artists, they know what they're getting into. It's not a surprise what kind of record Lil Wayne makes. He's Lil Wayne," said Rick Rubin, who has worked with the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Run D.M.C. and dozens of other rock and rap icons. "There's a reason they want to be associated with him: because of the kind of records he makes."

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