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In the early '90s, much respected rapper and actor Queen Latifah sang a song that received much hype and a lot of air time. And when its 15 minutes of fame were over, the concept vanished like vapor. The name of the song was U-N-I-T-Y, and its message was its title.

We also had crooner D'Angelo calling sisters Lady. And we loved him for it. He told us that we ladies were his darling babies; he loved us; we were fine and he knew it. He apparently appreciated us.

Later, Lauryn Hill educated us on our miseducation and told us all to forgive each other, love each other, love our children and praise our higher power. And we listened.

Even Madonna pushed the concepts of self-assuredness, and the demand for respect. These talents gained fame and notoriety by making their visions of love, peace, understanding, strength, individuality and joy global visions. They spoke peace to us and stressed the importance of societal connectedness. We gave them our dollars gladly because they respected our intelligence and humanity, and encouraged our psychological well-being.

What happened? When did our standards drop? When did some crazy-acting rapper, who does not even allow his daughter to listen to his lyrics, get to rise up on the strength of our children's dollars? When did "real" rap about "real" life become about young men sportin' diamonds and platinum, while nearly naked women (who are clearly only there to service them) bounce their buttocks and breasts up close for the cameras? When did expletives, for expletives' sake, enter into the realm of art? Where is the artistry in yelling to your audience, the benefits of getting paid (without showing yourself as an example of the kind of young person who could realistically get hired) and having so many women around you that they seem disposable?

Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel, Roberta Flack and Joni Mitchell did their best to clear the road so that talented musicians could showcase their talent and diverse views and gain the respect they so richly deserved. Why are we supporting people who are, seemingly, doing their best to clutter the road with trash? The first amendment gives all Americans the right to free speech. But just because one can write and recite trashy lyrics, should he? The aforementioned artists took the high road. Our singing their songs in our showers, cars, alone in our bedrooms or in a crowded club put us on the high ground as well. Along this same line of reasoning, if we honor those who degrade the dignity of our humanity, by singing their words, we have sunk our own spirits.

How can we instill self-appreciation in our children if we allow their heroes to be those who cheapen their very existence? How can we explain that sex is supposed to be an expression of love between two consenting adults if, every day, musicians are extolling the virtues of gaining as much of it as possible, from as many partners as possible, with as little regard for feeling as possible? "Let's Stay Together," has seemingly turned into a quaint old-fashioned idea shared by those who just can't get multiple play from multiple partners.

Here are a few suggestions to show the music industry that we mean business. Let's not support anyone who does not speak to our collective intelligence. Let's not financially support artists who substitute racial slurs, gender slurs or expletives for real music. And let's not let our children subject themselves to degradation, no matter how funky the bass line. If we raise our expectations and stand behind them, sooner or later those expectations will be met.

PATRICE ROSS is a performance poet, teacher and graduate student.
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