Rap Music&Violence

Published 16 Feb 2017

The music alone with sudden charms can bind

The wand’ring sense, and calm the troubled mind

These words were written about three hundred years ago by William Congreve in his Hymn to Harmony. Many years before him the Greeks had believed that musical education was the most powerful weapon as far as the rhythm and harmony could penetrate the deepest places of the human soul. The accuracy of these words is confirmed in our days by parents of young people. If their children are constantly listening only to the heavy-metal or rap music they very often become reserved and unsociable. Something like that was occurring in fascist Germany where the swarms of people were exposed to exiting martial music that prepared them to hypnotic speeches delivered by Hitler. Undoubtedly, the music has an impact on the human mind and thus it can be used to set people either for the good or for the evil. The pronounced violence and open glorification of sex in some rap songs give grounds to state that rap music may be improper in terms of social standards and tend to encourage violence.

Evidently, the enormous influence of the music upon a person can be useful. However, there is a real reason to worry, while if misused the music may become a deadly weapon. Some researchers have revealed a direct linkage between antisocial behavior and certain kinds of music. To support this statement there is evidence that certain kinds of music tend to contain high levels of violent and sexual imagery. One of the articles published in Psychology of Women Quarterly says that the facts lead us to conclusion that the videos of rock concerts influence people in the same way as pornography, while the men, who watched videos of rock concerts with violent elements, treated women more violently and boldly than those who watched the videos of rock concerts without violent elements (St. Lawrence & Joyner, 1991).

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The article in Sex Roles journal refers to the similar fact. It says that the researchers have shown that if adolescent girls are reared in troubled families and are keen on rap music at that, it contributes to the development of promiscuity in their views and behavior (Adams et al., 1995). The journal Adolescence came to the conclusion that according to the adolescents themselves as well as their parents, for the young people who listen to heavy metal and rap, the life is in more turmoil. Such youngsters are aggressive, they tend to roster and have poor academic achievement results (K. J. Took & D. S. Weiss, 1994). So the linkage between the certain kinds of music, such as rap, and promiscuity, suicides, antisocial behavior and general social degradation is supported by results of numerous researchers.

Rap music exploded in popularity during the 1990s. Although rap as a musical genre was several decades old, the 1990s witnessed the rise of hip-hop culture to prominence not just among young urban blacks but across America’s youth culture. Sometimes funny, sometimes ominous, rap lyrics and the sampled tracks that accompanied them could be heard on the streets of Harlem and in the fraternity houses of Harvard. Rap tracks consistently climbed to the highest levels of the charts. MTV, accused by some in the 1980s of discriminating against black artists, placed hip-hop videos in heavy rotation by the mid-1990s. Rap, considered primarily the music of young Black urban males, features themes similar to those in heavy metal, within this genre, the police are often the target of violent fantasies, women are often viewed as sex objects and objects of rage, and racism and sexism are viewed as acceptable norms of behavior. One of the most famous and controversial at the same time rap star, Eminem, in his music relies heavily on absolutism, stereotyping, scapegoating, and dehumanization, the very thought patterns that underlie hatred and violence in modern society. In fact, he elevates the thought patterns of hatred to outrageously obvious levels rarely seen anywhere else in popular culture. Often comic and ironic in his approach, though, Eminem leaves listeners guessing about his real meanings: is he advocating violence or is he its most sarcastic critic? As such, the very ambiguity of his intentions embodies the fascination with hatred.

But does it mean that any music produces such evil effect upon people? And why does music touch people? Music and speech are two exclusively human skills. It is difficult to imagine life without them. Both music and speech reflect the human need for communication. Music is like speech when music speaks person’s feelings listen to it. To understand how and why music touches people it is necessary to consider three things – what music consists of; how human mind perceives it; and finally how the perception of music depends on person’s emotional makeup and cultured surroundings.

The first of music elements a person meets in life is its rhythm. The first contact with rhythm occurs in mother’s womb when a child hears mother’s heartbeat. It is supposed that person’s heartbeat and even breathing rate subconsciously influence their perception of rhythm. That is why, probably, it is notable that most people prefer music tempo of approximately 70-100 beats per minute. This is an average pulse of a healthy adult person. Harmony, dissonance, and melody are also the elements of music. Harmonious sounds are pleasant while dissonance grates on ears. However, without the combination of these two parts, the music would be boring and dull. Entwinement of harmony and dissonance, evoking scarcely noticeable oscillation and tension of sound, impose strong emotional impression upon hearer. Melody expresses the idea of music, and depending on the intervals between notes, it can be sad or merry, dramatic or smooth. All these elements together heavily influence people and can either impel them to some actions or set their mind at rest.

The effect produced by music depends on the processes that occur in person’s mind when they listen to the music. The reaction to certain melody or song often depends on person’s state of mind or circumstances in which this music is heard. For instance, a certain melody can be related to some sad event or unforgettable adventure and in future, it will always hold these associations. Moreover, music helps words and ideas to penetrate people’s hearts. Thus, hardly any commercials go without music score. Usually, the wording means little in the advertisement but properly matched music helps produce an emotional effect upon the recipients.

While the advertisements can hit customer’s pockets, the music, and lyrics sometimes bear far more serious danger. Repeated again and again words from songs infuse adolescents with feelings that they are “cool” and that it is quite unnecessary to respect others’ opinions. Ideas, present in rap songs with morally objectionable sense, become ingrained in hearers’ minds and spur them on violent actions. Is it possible to avoid the malign influence of rap songs by listening solely to their music and ignoring words? In fact, the most rap songs have slurred wording, and it is difficult to catch them because of thunderous music. But whether or not one listens attentively to the words, the pulsating beat and iterative melody or rap music already have a definite idea. And more often than not this idea inculcates the cult of strength, power, and sexual victories. The main topics of rap songs are the rebellion against all and any, violence, debauchery, and even promiscuity and perversion.

How much dirt have I done
My life has just begun
I sleep with my gun
My problems weigh a ton…
Live by the gun die by the gun
(from Snoop Dogg Presents The Eastsidaz, Doggystyle Records, 2000)

I’m from where the guns love to introduce theyself
Reduce your health, little bulletproofs get felt
Make way for krill, I don’t play I spray for real
Blow your top with the glock, that’s my favourite kill
Blaze your crib with like thirty shots
I’m already hot, but my last one is with some dirty cops
Blow a hole through your ribs just for runnin your lips
The street’s a trip; either you deep or you sleep with the fish
(from Endangered Species, released posthumously, Loud 2001)

I caught him with a blow to the chest
My hollow put a hole in his vest
I’m bout to send two to his dome
Cry babies go home!
I just bought some new guns my mama said “it ain’t worth it”
But I’m at the shooting range just cause
practice makes perfect
(from Word of Mouf, Defjam, 2001)

Some young people agree with that statement but they believe that they do not undergo sinister influence of rap music. They usually assert that this kind of music helps them find their identity. But is it really so? As noted in the article in Journal of Youth and Adolescence deviant behaviors in adolescence, antagonism, and cult of power, absorbed by some of the adolescents from rap music, specially impress those who don’t enjoy cognitive endeavors, who spent the whole day at school where they are told that they are slowwitted and stupid. The same article states that the irony of it is that while striving to find confidence and discover own self these adolescents resort to stereotypes. Instead of searching for own precious features they resort to the ready-made notions prepared by the music industry (G. T. Fouts & K. D. Schwartz, 2003). In other words, the young people are told what to do and what to feel.

In another relevant experiment, J. D. Johnson, Jackson, and Gatto (1995) studied three groups of African-American males between the ages of 11 and 26. One group saw a music video featuring violent rap; a second group saw a video featuring nonviolent rap, and a third group saw no music video. Compared with participants in the other two groups, those in the violent rap group expressed a greater acceptance of the use of violence and reported a higher probability that they would also engage in violence. Interestingly, when a group of juvenile offenders was asked about their views on rap music, most believed that such music was a reflection of their lives rather than a cause of their behavior.

To protect children’s mind and soul from sinister influences of popular rap music the adults must first reconsider their attitude towards the role of rap in violent behaviors. Children have to be raised not only just to deplore violence but also to recognize the inherent fallacies behind hatred and to be active, critical consumers of popular culture instead of passive receivers ready to accept any message that flashes across the screen. Unfortunately, it is not true of most kids today. Moreover, by blaming rap icons for children’s attitudes toward hatred and violence, adults themselves are role-modeling for children one of the fundamental thought processes of hatred – that of scapegoating. Another thing to remember, while scapegoating violence onto influences from popular rap culture, is that this “dangerous” music is not a part of some foreign invasion – it is a product of American culture. Most rappers were born and raised in America within the confusing cauldron of messages that long has resulted from people’s obsession with hatred and violence. Thus, while people must concern themselves with the messages rap music now sends to youth, people also must remember that these messages did not arise out of a vacuum.

Works Cited

  • Adams, M. S., Ashburn, L., Johnson, J. D., & Reed, W. “Differential Gender Effects of Exposure to Rap Music on African American Adolescents’ Acceptance of Teen Dating Violence.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. 33. 7-8, (1995): 597+.
  • Big Pun. “Brave In The Heart” Endangered Species, released posthumously, Loud, 2001.
  • Fouts, Gregory T., Schwartz, Kelly D. “Music Preferences, Personality Style and Developmental Issues of Adolescents.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 32. 3, (2003): 205+.
  • Johnson, J. D., Jackson, L. A., & Gatto, L. “Violent attitudes and deferred academic aspirations: Deleterious effects of exposure to rap music.” Basic and Applied Social Psychology. 16. 27–41, (1995).
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