Censoring an art form like rap that relies so much on freedom of expression raises issues that can be turned into an article of its own. However, there are some (albeit very few) benefits, whether intentional or not, to clean rap music. I could explain this in writing but I feel like this anecdote from my childhood does a better job:
A landmark moment in my life was when I got an iPod Mini on my 10th birthday. I brought it to school every day just to show it off to my friends – I wasn’t even allowed to listen to it during school hours. I don’t know why a kid that age needed an iPod, but that’s what truly gave me my love for hip-hop.
Along with my iPod came an iTunes gift card, and I was given carte blanche when it came to purchasing songs. If you go back to my iTunes purchase history, the first five songs I had put on my glorious MP3 player were as follows:
“Get Back” - Ludacris
“Yeah” - Usher
“Let’s Get It Started” - The Black Eyed Peas
“In Da Club” - 50 Cent
“Candy Shop” - 50 Cent
At first glance, that looks like a pretty standard playlist for anyone in 2005. Upon further inspection, however, you will find that these songs are grossly inappropriate for a 10-year-old kid to be listening to on a daily basis.
Not knowing any better, I would buy the explicit version of songs and I learned to love cussing in music. Half the time I'd have no idea what any of it meant, it just sounded cool. After consistently listening to these profanity-laced anthems, the radio edits of rap songs just wouldn't cut it.
That all changed when my mom borrowed my Mini while she went on a run. This was probably one year into my iPod ownership, and I had filthy cuts like Baby D’s “Drop A Lil Lower” and Akon’s “I Wanna Love You” in regular rotation. I obviously didn't know what Baby D was talking about but gahdamn was that beat wet.
Needless to say, I got quite the lecture upon my mother’s return, and while it was warranted, I felt like I was being put in a cage. For about two miserable months (you can only cage a peacock for so long), I was forced to buy strictly clean music . However, every once in awhile during this dark time I would come across a rare gem – a clean song that was superior to its explicit counterpart. Songs like Trillville’s “Some Cut” and the “I Think Dey Like Me” remix made this time of pain worth it (the dirty version of “I Think Dey Like Me” may be better than the clean, there’s just no evidence of it ever existing).
Don’t get me wrong, for every “Some Cut” there was a “Stay Fly,” which sounded like your headphones went out every five seconds or even an “Xxplosive,” in which Kurupt’s absolutely filthy verse gets completely removed. I was reflecting upon this time in my life several months ago and decided that it was worthy of a post highlighting some great clean rap songs while also shunning the horrible, putrid edited versions of songs that I was forced to listen to.
So what makes a clean rap song great? There are a variety of answers to that question. In rare cases the original version might be overly dirty, so much so after strictly listening to the edited version it comes as a shock to the ears. Take for example "Some Cut." We previously talked about Trillville in our "Dumpster Boys" post, and if by some odd chance they are reading this I'd like to personally thank them for the making of this wonderful song.
I discovered the track during my strictly edited days, and it was the same version my friends and I would hear on the radio. I will never forget the first time the unadulterated original cut came into my life. "Let you juggle my balls" instead of "so we can do it all" absolutely blew my mind. Any childlike innocence I had vanished that day.
In addition to the dirty version being too perverse, another factor that makes a good clean rap song is editing quality. In some cases, whether it be due to a lack of effort or a conscious one to stick it to the man, a song's radio version can be sloppily put together.
A perfect example of a shitty editing job is Lil Jon's "Get Low" which to this day is the best song to get any girl to say "AYYYY" and flail her arms uncontrollably in the club. While you could make an argument that the radio edit is better than the ridiculously vulgar original, upon further inspection you can see the laziness from Lil Jon and company.
Off the bat we have "'til the sweat drip down and fall" switched for "'til the sweat drip down my balls." This is a quality and well-thought out replacement to start off the tune, and you'd think that it'd set the tempo for the rest of it. However, we then have an egregious, inexplicable, nearly 10-second clip of "SKEET SKEET SKEET" being screamed at the top of one of the Eastside Boyz' lungs. (side note: does anyone know what happened to the Eastside Boyz?)
How the record label and radio stations thought that "SKEET SKEET SKEET" for the majority of a song was suitable for the public's ears is beyond me.
Sometimes the fault isn't in the quality of the editing but of what they replace the explicit lyrics with. David Banner's 2007 single "9MM" was accompanied by a clean version entitled "Speaker." None of the edited version quite makes sense, almost as if they just looked for words that rhymed with nine millimeter and went from there (not to mention David Banner's essentially removed verse, which brings us to our next point).
Additionally, the dirty version just simply may be too dirty to make a quality edit. On songs like A$AP Rocky's "F'n Problems" there really isn't much you can do (this might take the cake for worst clean rap song of all time, despite its unintentional humor). Such is the case for the aforementioned "Stay Fly" and "Xxplosive."
In comparison, a good editing job would be exemplified by 50 Cent's "In Da Club." It's my guess that Fiddy predicted "In Da Club's" success and knew he had to make the radio edit quality for the masses to hear. Incidentally I had the clean version on my iPod before I was put on probation and didn't even realize it until I finally heard the dirty version some years later.
50 Cent doing upside-down sit-ups will forever be iconic
What makes the clean version so good is the seamless replacement of explicit lyrics with clean ones. Instead of just cutting the dirty version and sloppily inserting clean lyrics on top it seems as if there were two separate recordings of each version. "Imma tell you what Banks told me go 'head switch the style up and if they hate, then let 'em hate and watch the money pile up" is infinitely better than "if niggas hate then let 'em hate and watch the money pile up," so much so that Kanye even used the clean version in "Good Life."
So there you have it. While it may be a rare occurrence, quality, wholesome, clean rap songs are something that need to be appreciated. In fact it is their rarity that makes them so special. So the next time you are listening to a clean rap song that is pretty decent, take note. Stop and appreciate it because it doesn't happen very often.