Two Perspectives on Ice-T: "Can't Touch Me": Musical Messages and Incitement Law
Guns! The very word strikes terror even in corporate hearts -- or perhaps embarrassment or anger. Gangsta rappers have felt the heat of corporate displeasure and of the law. Nonrappers have taken corporate hits, as well. For instance, Sheryl Crow, a Grammy winner, felt the brunt of Wal-Mart's wrath in the fall of 1996 when the chain refused to sell her album containing the song Love Is a Good Thing." Maybe love is a good thing, but these lyrics were a bad thing, according to Wal-Mart. The lyrics said children were killing each other with guns from Wal-Mart.1
Wal-Mart thought the lyrics were unfair because the chain stopped selling handguns in stores in 1994 after being sued by relatives of a couple killed by their son. He purchased his gun at Wal-Mart, even though the federal form he filled out indicated he had received treatment for mental problems. (Handguns are still available through Wal-Mart's catalogs.) Because Wal-Mart is the only outlet for music in many small communities, the refusal to sell Crow's albums resulted in an estimated loss of 400,000 sales.2
Crow did not advocate violence. Quite the contrary. But Rap stars Ice-T and the late Tupac Shakur produce music that arguably glorifies violence. The question is whether it incites violence. Incitement could even result in court judicial intervention, but the First Amendment places a high hurdle for the government if it is to meet the U.S. Supreme Court's incitement standards. The First Amendment, however, cannot protect musicians from economic suppression.
Powerful companies such as Time-Warner are major players in the struggle for creative freedom for rappers. Time-Warner and Ice-T present an interesting case