Rap music and artists have been blamed widely in the media for spurring violence. Music is said to have a great influence on individuals, specifically adolescents who are learning and finding their way through life looking to the people they see on television and listen to on the radio, as role models. Over the years there have been debates of whether gangster rappers and their music lyrics have influenced negative behavior in young adults. When researching the link between the lyrics of the rap artists, the violence associated with their lyrics, and the behavior of the young people one would search in the United States and specifically within the African American communities. The U.S. is known for its high numbers of gang and gun violence. Could it be the influence of the entertainers that are paid so much in the music industry that continues this controversary causing the violence to linger in young adults and minors today? In this paper, I will discuss the background of rap music and its formation of violence in mainstream media. The lyrics in rap music that are a reflection of the culture of African Americans and can assist in the shaping of an adolescent’s social identity.
Hip Hop took over pop culture in America in the 1970s and early 1980s, and took a lead in the music industry. Rap, a genre of hip-hop, received recognition world-wide for its inventive lyrics combined with its creative beats and backgrounds. The context of rap is lost between the monetary values it generates and the negative lifestyle it glorifies. Music has historical significance in African American culture as it was used as a way of communication between slaves during their time of captivity. Rap is used as the form of communication amongst the black youth of America. Artists like Lauryn Hill, India Arie, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Puffy, and Jay-Z, are known for their ability to formulate bonds between their communities and their descriptive lyrics. Rap also provides as a coping mechanism for social and political oppression that African Americans continue to face in this great country.
The Black Scholar says From the moment Harriet Tubman sang steal away’ to signal runaway slaves that it was time to flee, music has been not only a weapon of African American resistance to racism, but part of the African American strategic arsenal of group consciousness, (Howard).Music has served as an expression of constant distress but also as a way to alert others of the oppression of society. African Americans used rap as an expression of their disappointment in the way America treats the people who made this country.
Another reason rap music was created and is known as being so creative is because African Americans were Denied opportunity for more formal music training and access to instruments due to Reagan-era budget cuts in education and school music programs, so turntables became instruments and lyrical acrobatics became a cultural outlet (Lusane 38). Black children were forced to create their own forms of entertainment. They took to rapping because it costed them nothing, and it was a way of expressing themselves as they were reflecting their situations and harsh living conditions within the communities they reside. Living in poverty, growing up victims of oppression, and having very little hope in current society, black rappers began to use rap as a way to exercise their First Amendment rights and tell their stories(Howard). Lyrics also include the turmoil within the communities and their affiliation with violence and drugs to speak to their opposers. People who are not directly associated with the communities and conditions that are rapped about, rap music and artists may seem dangerous and intimidating, but the concept of the genre and their lyrics is to simply share what they’ve made of their experiences growing up and the things that they’ve seen(Howard). Rappers often view their lyrics as a way to encourage others to choose better routes and prevent them from failing into the same life; however, those not directly affected, may use it as a bullet point to explain main causes of social problems today. Rap is rarely seen for the good today in society, but what’s not understood is that young people have no choice but to live in these conditions and accept the violence and crime in their communities as normal. That is the reason they continue to rap. The aim of this paper is to find a correlation between a subculture of black adolescents and rap music and how their viewpoint of lyrics affects the violent identity that might be formed in them. Social class stands as a component in the different aspects.
Rap music is not the only form of violence portrayed in media, and it is not the only thing shaping and influencing their identity. There are movies and television series that include all forms of violence (Durgin 4). Boxer et al.(2009) conducted a study in which he tested a diverse group of youth from a detention center and an average high school and discovered that a preference for violent media was predictive of personal violence and aggression. Even when individuals have low aggression, they are still affected by violence in media in some way (Durgin 4).
Rap contains a great amount of violence when compared to other outlets of media. Charis E. Kubrin (2005) conducted a study and found that many rap lyrics provide justification for street violence and directly links to the use of violence to protect and defend their identity and reputation (Durgin 5). Their lyrics tell the stories of the lives they’ve lived and the things they’ve seen and done. Gun violence, gang and drug relations are all extremely popular in the lyrics of rap music and it is glorified by those who can relate most with the lyrics, therefore it could have a significant influence of the young rap fans of different races and backgrounds.
As previously stated, rap’s context is usually lost between the monetary values it accumulates, and the negative lifestyle it glorifies. Rappers today rap about the money they make, the materialistic items they’ve obtained through selling drugs and now through the industry. An example of a few rappers today with pretty great influences on the youth currently are Blac Youngsta, Kodak Black, and Tekashi 69. They all write and rap about the lifestyle they lived before coming up in the industry which was using drug money to buy the materialistic items that they possess. They often speak of the struggles they’ve faced and how selling drugs was a way to feed their families and get the things they need and want. They brag about making so much money from selling drugs and running the streets, and this is what the youth grasps. Research done at Utretch University, Netherlands, shows that if youth strongly prefer hip-hop and heavy metal, their consequent externalizing problems may be shown through some modeling processes and trying to cling to certain group norms (Durgan 6, Meeus et.al. 2008). These norms are related to the black subculture of which rap music originated from (Durgan 6).
Tekashi 69, for example, started off as an internet star who began rapping after achieving a fan base on social media. His music, a combination of heavy metal and rap, contains mostly content relating to violence, drug use, and gang affiliation as he brags about the crimes he and his counterparts have committed without getting caught. Tekashi bragged about the beef he had created with several artists in his music and on social media platforms and began facing real-life consequences. As Tekashi was arrested for these crimes, he began telling media platforms that he was only gang affiliated to sell his music He said in an interview with The Breakfast Club that the entire thing was merely an act for profit. With the rap industry stuck between old school hip hop, in which street credit still matters, and a new generation of artists who have become successful by the insane amount of clout they receive on the internet, Tekashi chose to allow the gang affiliation to boost his career (Watkins/Coscarelli).
Charlamagne tha God, the host of radio show The Breakfast Club, said that social media creates fantasies that there are no consequences to your actions. In the last year, you’ve gotten three clear-cut examples of what this (the behavior of Tekashi in his music and on the internet) can lead to: Tekashi69 is currently incarcerated, XXXTentacion got murdered, and Lil Peep died of a drug overdose. All of these things that you all are glorifying, they’ve been killing our community for years. Now it just looks different on social media, he added (Watkins/Coscarelli). Tekashi also admits that the scumbag persona is what sells and is just for shock value. Tekashi said that he and his brother began selling drugs to support his mom after his dad was murdered a block away from home. The odd jobs they were working weren’t working, so he turned to drug relations and the internet. Tekashi’s lyrics and posts on the media have influenced gang violence within the gang he and many others are affiliated with, and has played a part in shaping the identity of those who watch him from the internet.
While many rappers see their lyrics as encouragement and as a message to the youth to do better than they did, the youth are glorifying and idolizing the stories and the trouble that the rappers got into. Meek Mill is an artist who became consciously aware that some of the youth in his community may have been idolizing the old him and looking up to him because they are also facing the same troubles and crimes as he used to. He said in the bridge of his song We Ball, Three felonies, ain’t graduate, no I am not your role model./I hope the Lord got us, expressing to his audience that they should not look up to him as someone they want to grow up to be, but they should learn from his mistakes and aspire to make better choices than him.
Violence amongst adolescents cannot be blamed on one thing, but today’s rap and the media can be named as an influence in the shaping of their social identity as they all look for role models.
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