THE QUESTION of rap music’s influence — or lack of it — was debated on Capitol Hill Friday, with a White House panel being asked to push for a rating system for albums like the one developed by the movie industry.

Defenders of the music, including rapper Yo-Yo, responded angrily to the view that rap music — especially hardcore gangsta rap — glorifies and inspires violence. “Attack the world rappers live in, not the words they use to describe it,” she said.

“Being from the ‘hood, I can tell you that violence didn’t start from a cassette tape that might have been popped into a home or car stereo system,” said the rapper — whose real name is Yolanda Whitaker — to a House Energy & Commerce subcommittee.

But Dolores Tuker, chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women and a longtime foe of rap music, said the genre goes against the values of the black community. She also said it detracts from the progress in the fight for civil rights for African-Americans, as she repeatedly made references to Martin Luther King.

“Dr. King would be deeply saddened by those in our community who abuse and misuse the freedom of speech by dehumanizing, demeaning and degrading our own women,” Tucker said.

She said gangsta rap is obscene, and First Amendment protections shouldn’t apply to it. “The record industry is out of control, and if it has to be regulated, so be it,” she told the panel.

Don Cornelius, president of Don Cornelius Productions Inc., which produces the music show “Soul Train,” also criticized some of the music, but said he understood it. He also said he is in favor of a ratings system.

Presently, records with explicit lyrics sport “parental advisory” warning labels, a voluntary system spawned from Senate hearings and pressure put on the industry by lawmakers and Tipper Gore — the wife of then Senator, now Vice President Al Gore — and her Parents Music Resource Center in the ’80s.

“The parental guidance sticker system presently being used in the recording industry is simply not enough,” Cornelius said.

Recording industry representatives disagreed.

Ernie Singleton, president of MCA Records black music division, raised the specter of freedom of speech and said the Parental Advisory Program “allows us to exercise our artistic rights at the same time that we exercise our social responsibilities to the community.”

But Rep. Cardiss Collins blasted the industry for not doing enough to protect the public from rap music.

“People are complaining, yet no one in the industry seems to be listening and taking the complaints seriously,” Collins said. “Let one thing be clear today: Congress is listening.”

YO-YO MOVING UP: Speaking of Yo-Yo, the EastWest Records rapper has signed a deal with Warner Bros. TV for the production of a 30-minute sitcom, “Shifting Gears.” She will play a dispatcher for a family-owned trucking company. The series will explore a myriad of family and social issues.

This isn’t the first acting role for the 21-year-old rapper from South Central L.A. She made appearances in films such as “Boyz N the Hood,””Who’s the Man,””Menace II Society” and “Sister Act 2.” Yo-Yo first came to prominence as part of Ice Cube’s “Lench Mob.”

Her solo career began in 1991 with the acclaimed album “Make Way for the Motherlode,” where she presented herself as a strong, assertive woman. Her most recent single was a duet with Ice Cube on “The Bonnie & Clyde Theme.” She is preparing to record her fourth album.

DU-OP DESIGNER: The duopoly trend in corporate radio, where one owner buys another station in the market to offer national ad agencies a larger and wider audience — and often to eliminate direct competition (Daily Variety, Jan. 17) — continues unabated. Richard Balsbaugh, CEO/owner of Pyramid Broadcasting, is aggressively taking advantage of the FCC-approved duopoly rules by acquiring second stations in Boston and Charlotte, N.C.

Balsbaugh considers the recent trend, begun after the FCC relaxed its local market ownership rules as just compensation for the reckless buying sprees in the early ’80s — when the Reagan administration deregulated the industry. A lot of non-broadcasting interests jumped into radio, inflating station prices to the point where it became close to impossible to turn a profit.

“Duopolies were designed to get those people out of the business and allow broadcasters who know what they’re doing to have more critical mass. They’ve given good operators the ability to get rid of the riff-raff and basically operate more stations, which is good for the industry, the listeners, the advertisers and the bottom line. Over the next couple of years, profitable stations should rise to over 60% because better people are running them.”

Balsbaugh has been less involved in the other recent major radio trend — the syndication of superstar air personalities like Howard Stern, the Greaseman and Don Imus. “We already have one of the top four syndicated shows in the country with John Boy & Billy out of Charlotte,” he says. “We’ve been approached about a couple of other opportunities and we’re considering them. But that’s not something I’m totally jazzed about doing. I’ve been so busy buying stations, I haven’t had a lot of time to think about it.”

Although Balsbaugh generally refrains from making music decisions for his stations, he did have a quick answer when asked what was primarily responsible for Top 40’s ratings problems. “No. 1, it was the quality of music and the fact that there was no consistency,” he said.

“Top 40 always seems to suffer from its cyclical nature. When the really good artists come out with hit Top 40 music … stations become a lot more listenable. The stations won’t do well when they’re playing music by artists who’ll be forgotten next week. People want to hear good music from good artists.”

Sounds simple enough.

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