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New American Songbook

The Inconsistent Standards of the Radio Edit


The process of making a song radio-friendly seems pretty straightforward: Replace an offending word with either a euphemism or simply nothing at all.

But determining which words are offensive turns out to be more subjective than you might expect. Beyond the obvious words that we all know are impermissible on air, other occasional edits include references to sex, drugs, guns and even the verbs associated with these topics.

Often, the result is bizarre. The unedited version of this Eminem song portrays the chaotic scene of a shooting at a concert. The edited version is just chaotic:

On the other hand, here’s an edited version of Smif-n-Wessun’s song "Gunn Rap" that not only includes gun-related words, but uses the sound of chambers being loaded as cover for cursing:

Inconsistency in content standards reflects the logical inconsistency often held by critics of hip hop. One of the more common complaints directed towards rap is that the listener can’t understand what the rapper is saying, while at the same time maintaining that the same supposedly unintelligible speech is somehow offensive.

Ironically, the edits do nothing to remove the offending language from the listener’s mind. Rather, the conspicuous and often awkward absences only add to the weight of the word, making it a curious thing: a word that is offensive when it’s there and when it’s not.