Hip hop was created with the intention of uplifting, empowering, and illuminating the negative facets of culture as a driving force for social change. However, after several years and decades, these initial intentions have steadily disappeared. Musical artists have transformed the face of hip hop and rap around the world since the 1970s. It is a music genre that has acquired a wide following around the world, especially among young people who aspire to mimic individual artists and their lyrics (Albert, 2009). Hip hop songs convey messages that have a huge impact on social circles. While some musicians have used the genre to promote positive social change, the reality is that most of the musicians and their songs depict negative social stereotypes that adversely affect the society and especially the youth. The contemporary hip-hop music often contains vulgar language referencing alcohol, drugs, sex, and violence as acceptable social values (Layne, 2014). Although it can be argued that these are just stereotypes generated by people who do not understand the culture, its adverse impact on the society cannot be ignored. This paper is focused on showing how the modern day hip hop music adversely affects the society by critically analyzing its content and its reception in the contemporary society.
The state of hip hop and rap music has experienced tremendous change since its inception in the 1970s. Tracing its roots back to Bronx, New York, the genre was viewed as an underground subculture that tended to deviate from the norms and patterns of the mainstream society. It was an avenue for young Hispanic and Black people to express their thoughts freely without the fear of being victimized. At this time, the music was considered to be a national commodity. However, during the 1980s, the music traversed the nations borders and gained enormous popularity in other countries. The market for the music increased as capitalism expanded and in the process media sources became the central locus for hip hop to become more mainstream (Layne, 2014). However, these transformations came with numerous negative implications not only to the style of the music but also to the the social institutions as a whole.
Negative portrayal of women
As capitalism sank its claws in the hip hop and rap music leading to its commercialization, it became more and more important for rappers to make music and music videos that attract a huge following and gain more recognition. Unfortunately, most musicians turned to the sexualization of their lyrics and videos to achieve these elements. An evidence of this can be seen by looking at most of the songs that attain a top one hundred rating in the Billboards. Songs such as Ludacris what is your fantasy and Lil Waynes Lollipop are evidence that sexual content often results in high sales records. It is from such songs that the society slowly came to accept false impressions of women (Albert, 2009). One can only visualize the influence these negative portrayals has not only on the young generation but also the average African-American women who are featured a lot in the videos. As more and more people see how these African-American women behave in hip hop videos, they develop a general idea that all of them act in the same manner. Also, these videos create a wrong impression among young girls who are attracted to emulate what they see and hear in the lyrics. This behavior can easily lead to poor life choices that end up destroying the lives of rather promising individuals in the society.
In a 2013 study, Cundiff Gretchen found evidence of how misogynistic messages presented in rap music influence its fans and listeners to commit intimate partner violence. Famous artists such as Ja Rule, Eminem, and Ludacris have time and time again depicted women as objects of violence. Their lyrics have encouraged male supremacy by indicating that submission is a desired characteristic among the female gender. This kind of music promotes male supremacy in which men not only expect to dominate and manipulate the members of the opposite sex but also want to be acknowledged as such. Hip hop videos and lyrics overtly encourage violence against the opposite sex including abuse, rape, and raise an acceptable sexual objectification and deprivation of women and girls. Cundiff (2013), found that youth between the ages of sixteen and thirty were the most likely consumers of hip-hop music and culture. In turn, the study found that these young adults may become numb to pejorative lyrics tolerating relationship ferocity and sexual hostility. Cundiff identified College-aged individuals to be the most frequent victims of sexually explicit lyrics and deleterious imageries of women as depicted in the hip-hop nation. Furthermore, it is evident that physical abuse is celebrated in hip-hop culture.
General violence and defiance are also common in modern day hip hop music. Over time artists have become more violent and personal in the lyrics. They have even in some occasion begun to exhibit some infusion of anti-racists sentiments (Zichermann, 2013). Take for example the words of Talib Kweli it’s in they job description to terminate the threat/So 41 shots to the body is what he can expect/The precedent is set, don’t matter if he follow the law/I know I’ll give my son pride and make him swallow it all (damn!). Although these lyrics might be interpreted as someone expressing their anger towards poor police work which discriminates against the African American communities, one cannot achieve positive change through sanctioning violence against the very people charged with keeping the peace. Some rappers have also used their music to encourage homophobic sentiments. Take the example of these lyrics from Eminems single Rap God. Little gay looking boy, so gay I can barely say it with a straight face looking boy. Although these lyrics attracted massive condemnation across the nation, the rapper justified himself by saying that he found his purpose in hip hop to be drawing negative attention (Zichermann, 2013).
Drugs and alcohol abuse
A 2006 study by Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation concluded that people who often listen to hip-hop compositions are most likely to practice drugs and alcohol abuse and act in a violent manner. The study involved one thousand two hundred participants from the California community college who answered survey questions about their musical habits and their use of alcohol and drugs. The results exhibited that approximately seventy percent of the scholars consumed rap music on a daily basis. Further, the results showed that alcohol and drug consumption and aggressive behaviors were greatly correlated with the high association with music genres like reggae, rock, techno, and rap (Montgomery, 2006). Although the results of this study might be considered to be inconclusive, drugs and alcohol glorification in hip hop music is undeniable. Take the example of these lyrics, so what we get drunk? So what we smoke weed? Were just having fun; we dont care who sees. Also, consider the numerous references to drugs like purple pills, hash, MDMA, and mushrooms in the song Purple Pills by D12. Given the level of influence these rappers hold in the hip-hop world, and the kind of sway they get from their fans, it is not difficult to imagine how these lyrics could influence people especially young and vulnerable individuals into drugs and alcohol abuse.
In conclusion, the original creators of hip hop and rap music genre had the intention of achieving positive change in the society by illuminating social injustices. However, partly due to the increased commercialization of the music, artist have turned to tapping into the negative side of social life to achieve success. Rap music now features lyrics full of slang and often dotted with profanity which raises legitimate concerns among activists, educators and parents alike. Given its extensive fan base not only in the U.S but also across the globe, it is undeniable that the music can adversely influence the society especially its young audience into destructive conducts such as violence, drugs and alcohol abuse and minification of women.
Albert, B. (2009). Hip-Hop: The False Advertisement of Women. Retrieved 21 May 2017, from http://www.mhlearningsolutions.com/commonplace/index.php?q=node/3792
Cundiff, G. (2013). The Influence of Rap and Hip-Hop Music: An Analysis of Audience Perceptions of Misogynistic Lyrics. Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 4(1): 1-4.
Layne, A. (2014). Now That’s a Bad Bitch!: The State of Women in Hip-Hop. Retrieved 21 May 2017, from http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/women-in-hip-hop.html#.WSCRz8YlG00
Montgomery, J. (2006). Study Says Hip-Hop Listeners More Prone To Drug Use, Aggression. Retrieved 21 May 2017, from http://www.mtv.com/news/1528932/study-says-hip-hop-listeners-more-prone-to-drug-use-aggression/
Zichermann, C. S. (2013). The Effects of Hip – Hop, and Rap on Young Women in Academia. Retrieved 21 May 2017, from https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/36081/1/Zichermann_Sandra_C_201306_EDD_thesis.pdf