A writer and music critic says rap music is getting a bad rap because people misunderstand the message.

Tim Riley, music critic for National Public Radio and a writer for the Boston Phoenix, told a large Weber State University audience last week that rap music is designed to throw racism back to oppressors."This is comedy," Riley said of the black inner-city street music. "To take it seriously is going overboard."

Riley is writing a book about the Beatles, entitled "Tell Me Why," and he spoke about censorship in the art and music industry.

He equated censorship in the entertainment industry to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, saying it was nothing but a "witch hunt."

He said Congress should be ashamed of itself for considering making artists sign an agreement that they wouldn't do any kind of artwork that may be deemed offensive in order to get grants through the National Endowment for the Arts.

If that policy had been implemented, Riley said the next step would be that for libraries to receive state money to buy books, the books must first be screened by the state.

The music critic talked extensively Thursday about rap music, saying the distinct sound strips the music of any melody or harmony.

Rap musicians exaggerate black stereotypes and then throw them back to those who oppress, Riley explained.

"Words give him power," he said. "Rap music caught on because it spoke to people. Rap sold itself."

Riley said censoring music is not new, pointing out that rock 'n' roll has always been controversial because of lyrics containing sexual and drug messages. He pointed out that rap music has more anti-drug themes in its lyrics than any other kind of popular music today.