While the idea of a banning an entire genre of music in the digital era may seem laughable, it’s important to remember that the success of a ban isn’t measured by whether or not the thing being banned can reach its audience, but rather by whether the people trying to sell it can stay in business.
Africa Beatz Deejays – Tarraxo Sem Respeito
For an example of when this has been tried before, one need look no further than North America’s neighbor to the south, Puerto Rico. You may remember from earlier this month our discussion of the origin of that island’s most recent contribution to dance music, Reggaeton. In the mid-90’s when reggaeton mixtapes were beginning to gain traction among Puerto Rico’s youth, a politician named Velda González became the island’s version of Tipper Gore when she championed the cause of protecting it from the musics’s supposed social ills.
The Constitution says we all got a right to speak
Say what we want Tip, your argument is weak
—Ice T – Freedom
Unlike the courts here in the States, the Puerto Rican authorities succeeded in establishing that reggaeton qualified as illegal pornography. To be fair, there was a visual element to the genre that was largely inspired by North American artists’ depictions of hip hop’s subject matter. And the Puerto Rican version stretched the limits of tastelessness to perhaps an even greater extent. (I’ll spare you the details, but if you peruse the video search results for Ranking Stone, you’ll get the idea.)
DJ Playero – 39 Respect
Regardless of its ethical merit, the ban on reggaeton was used to seize thousands of dollars worth of cassettes and CDs from stores all over Puerto Rico. At the time, you could be pulled over for having it playing in your car and forced to hand over the tape. While the ruling that made this legal was ultimately overturned, the response from the business community was to do the converse of what record labels in the United States found necessary in the PMRC‘s regulatory environment. Rather than putting labels on releases containing “objectionable” content, they took it upon themselves to label the stuff that wasn’t particularly vulgar and, in some cases, stick to only selling material of that variety:
Clean Lyrics label used to label reggaeton as such