Journalism Lesson 

In a world of rap and four-letter words, a reporter needs a good dash.

The dash is one of the most essential items in the modern journalistic toolbox.

It lets us navigate those troublesome but ever-more-common bad words like s-- and b-- and even f--ing (which was the subject of a front-page story about Bono and the FCC in The Wall Street Journal last week) while respecting the delicate sensibilities of our readers. The dash is the print media's answer to the electronic bleep, black-out, or five-second delay. It is our bridge between mainstream culture and mainstream media. Beyond the dash lies a land of chaos, nihilism, crotch grabs, and bare breasts. Sort of like Music Fest.

Thanks to goodness for the handy dash when one of those very shockers appeared within the pages of our own family-friendly Commercial Appeal this past weekend. If you are a sensitive sort, I suggest you stop reading right here. The language, or rather the dashes, are going to get a little rough.

The article and accompanying color picture covered nearly half of the Metro page in Sunday's paper. It was especially thoughtful of the newspaper to run the concert review in the news pages on Sunday so families could share it after church. The subject was a Memphis concert by Ludacris, a rap singer from Atlanta. You may have seen him in a Pepsi commercial before it was taken off the air. The reporter said an estimated 2,500 people went to the concert, including several parents who brought pre-teens, one reportedly 9 years old.

Mr. Ludacris was described by his fans as "gracious" and "so intelligent" although the reporter called him a tad "raunchy." The lyrics of songs such as "Move B--," however, "make one laugh out loud because of their cleverness," she wrote in the first paragraph.

Well, I like a good chuckle as much as the next fellow, so I looked up some Ludacris lyrics on the Internet. When I studied journalism a million years ago, we were taught "show, don't tell." In that spirit I'm going to let you in on the joke.

The first verse -- note the snappy rhyme scheme -- comes from the big hit entitled "Blow It Out":

I never used to snore in my sleep 'til this rap s-- started

Warm thoughts fill the hot-headed and cold-hearted

Your whole paycheck, you burp it and then fart it

And y'all think I'm gon' stop?

BLOW IT OUT YA A--!

The rap continues, employing a poetic device known as a simile in the first couplet:

C'mon and take a look, he's got gigantic balls

Plus his money keeps flowin' like Niagara Falls

We all know Jesus saves and Ludacris withdraws

I 'bout to go on vacation -- BLOW IT OUT YA A--!

As The Commercial Appeal story noted, one of the things that makes Ludacris special in a town like Memphis is his appeal to blacks, whites, and Latinos:

My black people show me love when I'm up on the block

And Latinos always waitin' for my CDs to drop

White people love the flow, they say, "Dude, you f-- rock!"

Yo fans are my fans, right? BLOW IT OUT YA A--!

Note how the tune derives its power and artistry from the use of vivid language. Try saying "Blow it out your nose" or "Dude, you surely rock!" and the message is lost.

The hit song "Hoes in My Room" describes a common problem of life on the road when one is bothered by unwelcome female visitors, one of whom is a "big fat whale" who weighs 300 pounds, does not practice good feminine hygiene, and has "Tupperware t--":

Fake b--, break b--, make b--

Kick rocks, when they f-- up in they face

Tick-tock, you gots to get up out my space

Hey Ludacris let's get the f-- up out this space, let's bounce

Then it got to my head, and somethin' reminded me

I know who let 'em in, it was Bill O'Reilly (Faggot)

(Ya white bread, chicken-s-- nigga!)

Once again, see how the cleverness and side-splitting humor are lost when one substitutes "heck" for "f--" and "homosexual" for "faggot." The song ends with a truly hilarious suggestion:

We need to form a society or somethin'

Fat, gorilla, monkey mouth b-- can't get in our mothaf-- dressin' room or backstage

And if they do, we kindly put our foot up their a--.

I can't stop laughing and would love to show you more, but now I'm out of space. Ain't that a b--?

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