In the last two decades there has been significant debate over hip-hop lyrics that have been perceived as encouraging cruelty, prejudice misogyny, drug use and homophobia. The identification of hip hop lyrics and violence is perceived to simplify and distort the problem of gun crime. In other words to say that hip hop lyrics does not encourage or cause violence is to ignore the statistics that tell us that physical violence and murder occur at alarming rates in impoverished neighborhoods, especially among young African American men who highly embrace these lyrics.
The strongest objections to hip-hop lyrics have been against their productivity toward violence. With the rise of artists like Ice-T and NWA and later Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G, and hence hip-hop lyrics began giving detailed gritty descriptions of violence (Finkelman, 2006). Initially studies show that hip-hop albums reflected the socially conscious soul music of the 1970s from which they came and were not specifically inclined to violence.
The supporters of hip-hop claimed that the descriptions in these lyrics were merely flamboyant descriptions of the reality black youth faced while opponents claimed that they glorified and encouraged violence (Finkelman, 2006). In the last decade the focus has been on what the government should do to discourage violent lyrics.
Hess (2007) on the other hand says that hip hop figures have a fascination with death because artist boasts about being shot or taking someone out. According to Hess (2007) the reason why they are associated with violence is because “bulletproof vests adorn the bodies of hip hop rappers in music videos, gunshots which can be heard resounding on the tracks of CDs and self made prophecies of death are put to the rhythm of a beat and made to rhyme” (p. 429).
In his research Hess (2007) established that while 1990s gangster rap certainly elevated the level of attention to murder and gun violence in lyrics, old-school hip-hop also had its run-ins with death. For example DJ Scott LaRoc of Boogie Down productions was stabbed to death in an altercation, and slick Rick was sentenced to prison for attempted murder in a drive by shooting. Hess (2007) established that in many occasions “to say that hip hop lyrics does not encourage or cause violence is to ignore the statistics that tell us that physical violence and murder occur at alarming rates in impoverished neighborhoods, especially among young African American men” (p. 429). In this context we can say that rappers who capitalize on real life ghetto violence may find themselves even as major label recording artist not that far removed from the perils of street life.
For many hip hop artist this lyrical theme of death serves as a way of promoting their records so that they can sell more records. Hess (2007) however says that “many artists who talk about death and violence really do not live the life they rap about their songs however Tupac Shakur and fellow rapper Notorious BIG they actually lived the lives they talked about in their songs” (p. 429). With many people noting that the legends of Tupac surviving five bullets and 50 Cents surviving nine shots, including one to the face makes these rappers seem invincible on their records and more hard core than other artists. We can therefore say that this hard core image appeals to listeners and in one way or the other promote violence. Hess (2007) says that the music of the day represents the culture of the day and the current happenings within a society. Besides this many rappers claim that they are confronted with death every day but this situation is only heightened when violence, murder and death become a point of marketing.
Miell, MacDonald & Hargreaves (2005) says that revenge fantasies within rap music have received intense press attention and precipitated demands for the censorship of hip hop lyrics. However critics say that revenge fantasies seen in hip hop are an important form of public resistance to mainstream stereotypes which barely mask the interests of hegemony. Much controversy surrounding the censorship of rap lyrics in the USA was intensified by Tipper Gore who identified gangster hip hop rap as a pollutant to the minds of the American youth. Miell, MacDonald & Hargreaves (2005) continues to say that this type of hip hop pioneered by NWA which has been vilified for its sexually explicit lyrics, volent imagery, material emphasis and glamorization of violence. The portrayal of hip hop by the mainstream media as a male dominated, money oriented, violent and exploitative of women is an accurate representation of the hip hop lyrics.
In their further studies Miell, MacDonald & Hargreaves indicated that attempts to frustrate the positive potential of hip hop were reinforced by the focus on hip hop related violence (2005). This was for example demonstrated by the fatal shooting of DJ Scoot La Rock and the high profile instances of violence at rap concerts. As a result this provided the impetus for the development of the hip hop anti violence movement. According to Miell, MacDonald & Hargreaves (2005) the hip hop community sought to question and undermine the erroneous link between rap lyrics and violence. The identification of hip hop lyrics and violence was seen to simplify and distort the problem of gun crime. From these examples there is a link between hip hop lyrics with violence.
Contrary to the above arguments, Price (2006) established that in many ways and by numerous accounts, hip hop began as a response to social, political and economic inequities in New York’s inner cities. In his studies Price says that among the manifestations of these inequities was the presence of violence, via murders and other violent crimes especially among gang-banger inhabitants of the communities sparked by the murder of “Black Benjie”. 50 cent, The game and numerous other continue to claim that to reveal the plight of the street and to remain true to the fact that hip hop began in street and continues to offer the raw, uncut, uncensored truth in the language and sentiments of the street (Price, 2006). Self acclaimed urban reporters and storytellers offer that hip hop lyrics do not encourage violence but they merely reminiscent everyone that it is still there.
The media on the other hand as indicated by Price (2006) “offers an entirely different perspective using the presence and residue of violence as an opportunity for high ratings, increased viewers and attention in order to compete with the growing shock drama and reality television era” (p. 79). The media is known to spin the coverage to focus on the violent acts without providing all the facts or the full context, the media often present half truths and insufficient, biased accounts cloaked as fact.
Also because the violent lyrics of hip hop are well known Price (2006) says that hip hop lands as the scapegoat for violent acts that are not perpetrated by hip hop practitioners or fans or even associated with the hip hop community. He adds that the media certainly are not likely to assist in putting any stop to the unbalanced coverage and neither hip hop nor the inner city communities overwhelmed by the violence have the political or economic power to counter the often negative images and portrayals of the culture of hip hop and its participants (Price, 2006).
Research shows that right from the beginning of hip hop violence has plagued the community. Price (2006) therefore says that gang infested neighborhood discotheques converted into neighborhood hip hop hot spots still reeking of occasional violent acts, personal fights that took place during hip hop concerts were blamed on the oblivious performing artists and notable hip hop artists who lost their lives through senseless violent acts notably Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G (p. 79).
The book published by Council of Europe (2003) noted that an immediate parallel between the coverage of hip hop musicians in the USA and UK is that they are accused not only for signing about violence in everyday life but of actually having a personal involvement in gang culture. For example Council of Europe (2003) says that individual members of So Solid Crew have been convicted for possession of a shotgun, accused of murder and of assault. Besides this in 2001 the groups UK tour was curtailed because of fears about violence at their concerts. In addition gangsta culture as shown in some hip hop songs and demeanor of rap musicians has become synonymous with the portrayal of crime, drugs and violence in urban settings conditions that they both reflect and are seen as participants in and instigators (Council of Europe, 2003).
Phillips (1999) says that hip hop graffiti has always been linked to violence in the popular mind. Political geographer Timothy Cressswell indicated that in New York city officials used ant graffiti containment programs to create an illusion of control over other problems like violent crime thus manufacturing direct link between hip hop and violence (Phillips, 1999). One might also suppose that words like battles and killing equally indicate an embrace of violence in the hip hop world. Phillips (1999) continues to say that “these symbolic referents refer to manifestations in graffiti alone while battles for example are competitions through writing; killing means crossing out someone’s name” (p. 311).
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It is important to note that soon after hip hop began to arrive in Los Angeles, kids in lower income neighborhoods with established gang activity recognized hip hop crews as an alternative to the gangs they acknowledged as ultimately destructive to themselves and others (Phillips, 1999). Moreover Hampton, Gullotta & Ramos (2006) says that although there has been considerable discussion about the various ways in which hip hop culture glorifies overt displays of manhood and promotes misogyny, denigrates the image of African-American females and possibly condones acts of intimate partner violence. Hampton, Gullotta & Ramos (2006) also says that” insufficient research has been conducted to determine if there is an empirical association between exposure to and identification with hip hop culture and intimate partner violence” (p. 11).
Images portrayed in hip hop videos and the lyrical content of some hip hop artists reinforce historically crafted images of black women. Hampton, Gullotta & Ramos (2006) indicate that some of these oppressive images subtle or overt and contribute to the acceptance of beliefs such black women are promiscuous and immoral Jezebels and thus they are used to normalize violence against black women. In addition the broad dissemination of these stereotypes may lead criminal justice officials and domestic violence service providers to believe that black women are less credible victims of domestic violence.
There are various assumptions associated with hip hop and its negative effects to the society at large. See (2007) says that most of the underclass youth who are exposed to and identify themselves with hip hop are not involved in gangs, selling drugs and committing acts of intimate partner violence. The exposure and identification with hip hop affects the life course trajectories of members of the hip hop generation. See (2007) continues to say that hip hop activism has shaped the interpretation of the lyrical content and video images among African American consumers of hip hop leading to big assumptions that hip hop lyrics are associated with violence.
In addition, hip hop culture has been underutilized in efforts to address social problems impacting African American youths and young adults. In this context See (2007) says that “attention should be devoted to incorporating hip hop culture in efforts designed to prevent the occurrence of social problems that disproportionately affect members of the hip hop generation” (p. 386).
Hip hop culture in particular probably stimulates real world violence among a minority of young people although to a considerably lesser degree than some alarmists. Brym (2008). Hip hop culture probably does a more effective job of getting young people to dress and talk in certain ways and misguide them about their mobility prospects than it does of influencing them to act violently. This means that social reformers interested in lowering levels of violence can achieve little by bashing hip hop culture.
In conclusion we can therefore that hip hop is highly associated with influencing violence among the generations which highly embrace this kind of music. With the videos portrayed in this kind of music having implication of open violence it means that those who consume hip hop will be influenced by the crime activities portrayed in the music. Supporters of hip hop on the other hand indicate that the initial aim of coming up with hip hop was to demonstrate the oppressions which a certain group of people underwent. Therefore to articulate that hip hop lyrics does not promote or cause violent behavior is to disregard the statistics that acquaints us that substantial violence and murder crop up at alarming rates in impoverished neighborhoods, especially among young African American men who highly embrace these lyrics