Rap music can affect people in many different ways. Rap lyrics can be relatable to a current life situation, they can help motivate people or they can provide a sense of hope. Because of the stay at home advisory, everyone is now at home and probably listening to music. Due to these current circumstances, now is a great time to bring up the debate of whether or not listening to rap music is harmful for youth.
A lot of people think that teens who listen to rap can become more aggressive, violent, or even participate in gang violence. There is a concern that teens idolize rappers who engage in risky behavior, like drug abuse and violent crime. Many, such as the Council on Communications and Media, believe that adolescents exposed to these actions in lyrics and music videos may be at risk for taking part in the same actions.
Certainly some teens see rappers talking about being in a gang and think it’s cool. They may want to be in one so bad that they start acting out, becoming more violent, or start doing drugs. When asked if he thinks rap music is beneficial or harmful for teens, South Middle School student Lucho Rosa said, “I think it’s good for teens especially for someone who plays sports but can influence kids to do things they’re not supposed to do.” While casual listening has its benefits, the possibility of influencing teens to do something out of character might be possible.
Overall, I disagree with claims that listening to rap is harmful to teens. Many teens who think of a rapper as a strong influence in their life may just be inspired by their music or hope to make similar music some day. Others may enjoy listening to music because it helps get them through a tough situation or matches the kind of emotions they feel. Listening to music does not mean teens will want to be in a gang or be violent or use drugs.
A study conducted at Emory University, “Exposure to Rap Music Videos and African American Female Adolescents’ Health,” concluded students in their study who listened and watched a higher amount of rap music were more likely to get into a fight, to get arrested, or to take part in risky or illegal activities. The small sample size of only 552 teens in this study hardly seems like enough data to draw conclusions about teen behavior. Many teens, including my friends and myself, listen to rap music and are normal kids who live a normal lifestyle without all of the claims this study is finding. While some teens may listen to rap and pretend they are about that gang life when they are not, most teens don’t want to participate in this harmful subject matter.
In a 2006 NPR broadcast, “Rap Music Linked to Alcohol, Violence”, Professor Denise Herd from the University of California Berkeley and Professor David Jernigan from Georgetown University talk about how teens who listen to rap are more likely to abuse alcohol. They believe that the many references to drugs and alcohol made in rap music can put teens at greater risk to start using at a young age. Again, I disagree with this claim. Even though rap music does frequently mention drugs and alcohol, young people are not guaranteed to think much about lyric meanings. Instead, I believe they are more likely to sing it out loud and enjoy the beat. According to a teen from Joseph Plouffe Academy, Aujane Lewis, when asked how many times she actually thought about the lyrics she said, “Never.” More often than not, Lewis is just enjoying listening to music, not dwelling on what it’s saying or its deeper meaning.
I think rap music is beneficial because it’s a way for teens to relate to someone. In an article entitled “Rap Music as a Positive Influence on Black Youth and American Politics,” Santa Clara University scholar Natalie Wilson argues, “ rap music...serves as an outlet, both for listeners and artists, for understanding the hardships of growing up within the struggles of inner-city life caused by institutional racism.” Wilson believes rap music can be relatable for youth who face certain hardships on a daily basis, specifically citing African Americans who face racism to this day.
Wilson goes on to say, “Rap artists who became famous and escaped inner-city life understand first hand the sufferings that Black Americans face and are an inspiration for Black youth to also escape the inner city.” Here, teens can see and know about someone out there who went through similar problems and hardships and were able to get through it. Most rappers who were poor and raised in bad neighborhoods and became famous for their music talk about the hardships they had to go through to be successful. While some rappers might be affiliated with gangs or did violent things in the past, it does not mean teens should not be able to appreciate their music and the success that came from their talent. In this way, rappers who found fame are able to inspire youth and provide hope for a better life.
Polo G, a popular artist and one of my favorite rappers, makes a lot of good music about his life experiences, and covers deep topics in his music such as making sacrifices, family losses, and going to jail. These experiences are relatable to a lot of people in similar situations. Polo G has discouraged gang affiliation and believes it should not be idolized. In one of his songs, “Lost Files,” he mentions fake people, people who idolize gang lifestyle, his discouragement of gang life, and the importance and depth to making sacrifices.
Some argue that listening to rap can even help teens with their overall mental health and wellness. An article published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities speaks to Hip-Hop based interventions being a helpful and beneficial method to improve well-being in teens. The article states, “hip hop interventions have been developed to improve health literacy, health behavior, and mental health,” showing how listening to music can be helpful in a variety of ways to teens.
Overall, I believe that rap music is mainly beneficial for youth. For rappers, it’s like an outlet to share stories of family loss or personal gain or hardship. For teens, it can be a source of inspiration and motivation to get out of a rough situation, to create music of their own, or as a way to understand and improve their wellbeing and identity.