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Hip-Hop Fridays: Twista's Lyrics Get Him Dropped From Festival by Eric Velasco

Rap artist Twista was dropped from City Stages' lineup Thursday, hours after Jefferson County commissioners threatened to withhold $200,000 from the festival.

All five commissioners agreed at a Thursday morning meeting that they would not provide public money for the festival on Father's Day weekend if it booked Twista. They cited lyrics in his songs they said were anti-woman and racially insensitive.

That prompted organizers to issue a brief statement saying the Chicago native would not perform June 20 as headliner for the rap night that has become a strong City Stages draw.

"City Stages has no more important partner than the Jefferson County Commission," the statement read. "Our partner has made us aware they do not regard the hip-hop act Twista as appropriate for this year's festival. We have listened to their concerns, and Twista will not perform at City Stages, even though he was to have played a clean show."

Guy McCullough, marketing manager for the 16-year-old festival, declined further comment.

"I think it was a very, very wise decision on their part," said Larry Langford, the commission president, who had suggested withholding county funding.

"They're trying to build a venue where you can take the whole family and not be caught off-guard. I am delighted they heard our plea and pulled him," he said.

Efforts to reach managers or publicists for Twista were unsuccessful Thursday.

His latest album, "Kamikaze" has sold more than a million copies. Known for a machine-gun-fast rapping style, Twista often talks about his home streets in west Chicago, populated with pimps, prostitutes and wracked by drugs and violence, according to his official Web site.

Several commissioners said Thursday they had received e-mails with Twista's lyrics, which prompted their concerns.

Songs on the current album make several derogatory references to some women - and celebrate the anatomy of others. The performer also frequently uses a slang version of the n-word in making references to fellow blacks.

"I will not support filth in any way," Langford said Thursday. "It's a question of decency. Whenever disrespect for women, people or races raises its ugly head, I'm going to speak out - especially when it comes to spending taxpayer money."

Langford said he realizes he opens himself to accusations of being "the word police." But he feels that's his obligation as a father, grandfather and steward of public money.

He said he's used the n-word himself to other black people. But he has grown to realize that such references - even made from one black person to another - are "degrading in any context it's used," he said.

Commissioner Shelia Smoot said for-profit promoters are free to book whomever they please. But those spending public money "need to respect family values," she said.

City Stages has struggled since 2000 due to poor attendance, mostly because of inclement weather. It ended last year nearly $500,000 in debt.

Rap artists booked in the past few years have provided the biggest draws. An appearance by OutKast in 2002 helped set a single-day attendance record, and the rapper Ludacris was credited with the best attendance during last year's festival.

Only a few acts have been announced for the June 18-20 festival. City Stages, however, still has a big draw set for the final night, Birmingham's American Idol, Ruben Studdard. Staff writer Mary Colurso contributed to this report.

This article first appeared in The Birmingham News/
2004 All Rights Reserved.

Friday, March 26, 2004

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