Shaun Ho / The Collegian
All eyes were on Mackee Mason as he stood before a microphone. An audience of about 200 people sat quietly behind him while five pairs of eyes stared back at him from behind a table.
No, it wasnâ€™t an audition for American Idol.
Mason, 21, was one of many who participated in a question and answer session following a Sept.17 panel discussion on urban musicâ€”focusing on â€œgangster rapâ€â€”and its effects on society.
The discussion was a part of Fresno Stateâ€™s Constitution Day which was held in observance of the 220th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.
Topics ranging from censorship of rap lyrics, to the degradation of women were all addressed during the two-hour event titled â€œUrban Music: A form of expression or hate speech?â€
Those in favor of censoring controversial lyricsâ€”because of the negative impact itâ€™s believed to have on how society views women and how people are encouraged to act out violentlyâ€”were Dan Payne, a member of the Fresno County Republican Committee, and Dr. Julius Bailey, a professor in the Africana and American Indian Studies Program.
Shaun Ho / The Collegian
â€œWe need to clear the body count, ladies and gentlemen,â€ Bailey said. â€œWe need to have an open and very honest conversation about the very bodies that are dying slowly in cities, in communities, across the country in part because of the language and the actions followed by this theme called â€˜gangster rapâ€™.â€
On the other hand, Michael Becker, Ph. D., a professor in the political science department, and Michael Risher, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, fully supported the idea that everybody has the right to voice their opinions, no matter how hate-filled or racist those comments may be.
â€œThe ultimate constitutional question is whether [rap music] will result in lawless action, imminently,â€ Becker said. â€œIf you donâ€™t like rap music â€¦ make some speech of your own. You have every right to do that.â€
A key aspect of the discussion was the question of whether the vulgar lyrics could actually be seen as the root of societyâ€™s problems, such as domestic abuse, the unfair treatment of women, murder and other relevant issues.
Both sides of the issue offered stimulating arguments.
Bailey said women have been turned into â€œproverbial objectsâ€ to be â€œflipped and turned and beat and spanked and prodded and hit and all that kind of stuff that men in hip-hop culture refer to.â€
However, Becker said that nobody can truly know the intent of the lyrics and whether or not urban music is the cause of such issues plaguing society, namely the African-American community.
Risher said the Constitution, as it is written today, protects everyone and their opinions, including rappers. All forms of music are going to, at some point, raise questions of morality. But the law is more concerned with allowing people to freely express their opinions.
Jeffrey Cummins, Ph. D., a professor in the political science department who helped coordinate the dayâ€™s events, felt that the topic of urban music had stirred up enough controversy in the media to where students could be interested in how it related to the Constitution.
â€œItâ€™s an issue thatâ€™s been in the news for the last year or so,â€ Cummins said. â€œI hope that [students]â€¦saw two different perspectives on it.â€
While censorship of speech has yet to happen, there are only two options society can choose from for now: You can either ignore it, or speak up and send your own message.