Dirty, clean, and instrumental - the DJ service pack trifecta for singles ready to be promoted and pushed through clubs, radio and all major music avenues. Without some well placed censorship even the hottest heatrock won’t reach the airwaves, hence the importance of the clean version or radio edit. The FCC is not to be played with, they'll drop fines like Steph Curry drops 3s.
When Beyoncé released “Formation” the clean and dirty versions were options for listeners - with a massive fan base of all ages and a song that was guaranteed to explode, offering both was a great necessity. Beyoncé is far from vulgar, more saint than sailor, but there’s a sweet f-word and a respectable b-bomb that are censored for sensitive ears. No additional work was necessary, the clean version of the song was radio ready since day one.
Nathan brought to my attention that he recently heard “Formation” on San Francisco's 106 KMEL and the word “Negro” is bleeped out. In the big book of words that should be banned from radio because they’re considered bad, dirty, explicit, indecent or otherwise obscene, “Negro” shouldn’t be one. Especially once you hear the context of its usage on “Formation” - self-loving, a way of embracing her own beautiful blackness, taking pride in Jay Z’s Jackson Five nostril.
It only appears in the beginning, but to silence such a small but crucial part of the song’s message is like censoring an "amen" from a gospel song. What makes matters worse, it’s not censored on B’s self-released clean edition. That means someone possibly took it upon themselves to alter the lyrics the way they saw fit. It’s possible that there was a deeper worry, that they considered “Negro” to be in the same family as “Nigga” or “Nigger” and that the bleep was a cautionary modification.
Censorship is often nonsensical when it comes to radio and television, what’s deemed acceptable fluctuates depending on the circumstance. Last year, Kanye’s Billboard performance was tragically ruined by an overzealous censoring that muted a large portion of his lyrics. Dave Chappelle has a joke where he makes fun of radio for allowing the Ying Yang Twins to say “skeet skeet” in their raunchy collaboration with Lil Jon. The word “damn” isn’t silenced on the radio version of YoungBloodz “Damn” and it’s said repeatedly in the hook. Biggie’s “Blow up like the World Trade” lyric on “Juicy” was edited after the first bombing attempt, then unedited, then edited again after the 9/11 disaster, ultimately penalizing Big for an event that happened years after his death.
The Federal Communication Commission website details in-depth what falls under obscene, indecent, and profane broadcast. The goal of censorship is to prohibit explicit lyrics from being advertised between the hours of 6 AM and 10 PM. Indecent and profane content is protected by the 1st Amendment and has more flexibility after 10 PM, while "obscene" broadcasts are banned at all times. Cross over into "obscene" and you're done for. Context is important, which can be the difference between being fined and being protected by freedom of speech.
The FCC defines profanity as "including language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance." Like indecency, profane speech is prohibited on broadcast radio and television between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Beyoncé's “Formation” is far different from all the other records mentioned, it’s a controversial anthem that sent ripples through America for her unapologetic blackness. The video caused more of a firestorm than the actual song, but to tamper with the lyrics is a slap in the face of what the song stands for. Beyoncé' is well within her rights, the word "negro" isn’t obscene, profane, or indecent. Radio’s self-imposed edit is a questionable action. I called KMEL to ask them about their thought process, get their side of the story, but they transferred me around before finally giving me an email to contact - that email doesn't work.
It’s ridiculous that this is even a problem, especially in such a forward thinking society. There’s always been scrutiny centered around rap lyrics - too many bitches and hoes, fucks and shits, ass and tittes, and all the other epithets that have been criticized again and again. Censorship may be necessary to some degree, children are still being exposed to the radio and what’s being played should consider that, but Beyoncé isn’t an artist bringing harm. Beyoncé is for the children, just like Wu-Tang, and she should not be silenced when embracing her beautiful blackness, inspiring those children to do the same.
Free the negro! Long live the Queen.
UPDATE: Big Von from 106 KMEL reached out and clarified that the radio station had nothing to do with the censoring of the word "Negro" on Beyoncé's “Formation.” The version that’s being played on air is the version that was provided by Beyoncé' label and no actions were taken to change or tamper with the record.
Readers from various states have admitted to hearing the song on their respective radio stations and the word is also bleeped out. Clearly it's not radio, but rather the label that’s censoring Beyoncé. Raising even more questions...
By Yoh, aka Yohbe Bryant, aka @Yoh31.