Rap, Rock, and Violence

parental-advisory-explicit-contentDo rap and rock music really contribute to violence, misogyny, and other ills of society?

The notion that certain genres of music may be linked to societal problems has been a topic of debate for ages. Studies and surveys have been centered on the matter and various groups and people have spoken out against rap and rock music, in particular. Advocates of the music have defended it as a mode of expression and form of storytelling; a depiction of the artists’ lives.

The Lyrics

Rap and rock music’s lyrics, in addition to their music videos, are a main point of debate — many claim they promote violence and other undesirable behaviors and attitudes.

  • Rap

Rap has come under scrutiny for lyrics that have been described as overly violent, misogynistic, and homophobic. Life After Death, the third best-selling rap album of all time, and last album of deceased rapper Notorious B.I.G. illustrates such behaviors and attitudes. Its Grammy-nominated single “Hypnotize” contains the following lyrics:

Them niggas ride dicks, Frank White push the sticks
on the Lexus, LX, four and a half
Bulletproof glass tints if I want some ass
Gonna blast squeeze first ask questions last
That’s how most of these so-called gangsters pass
At last, a nigga rappin ’bout blunts and broads
Tits and bras, ménage à trois, sex in expensive cars
I still leave you on the pavement
Condo paid for, no car payment
At my arraignment, note for the plantiff
Your daughter’s tied up in a Brooklyn basement
Face it, not guilty

Such lyrics have pushed people like politician and activist C. Delores Tucker to dedicate their lives to getting them removed from the air. Tucker created petitions, picketed stores that sold such music, and bought stock in music companies so she could protest at meetings. Tucker said of rap lyrics, “You can’t listen to all that language and filth without it affecting you.”

  • Rock

Heavy metal has been the most criticized of the subgenres of rock music. It is said to glorify everything from killing, to suicide, to satanism. Judas Priest, an English heavy metal band, was sued in the early 1990s as the cause of one suicide and one attempted suicide. Two families of teenagers who shot themselves after listening to the Judas Priest song “Better By You, Better Than Me” claimed that subliminal messages in the lyrics influenced them to create a suicide pact. The actual lyrics include:

Tell her now I got to go
Guess you’ll have to tell her how I tried
To speak up thoughts I’ve held so inside
Out in the streets and down the shore
Tell her the world’s not much living for
It’s better by you better than me

Guess I’ll have to change my way of living
Don’t wanna really know the way I feel
Guess I’ll learn to fight and kill
They’ll find my blood upon her windowsill
It’s better by you better than me

The suit was eventually dismissed, but the case lives on as an example of the influence of music on behavior.

The Studies

The case against rap and rock music wouldn’t be complete without a few studies, and in fact, some connections to violent behavior have been found.

notorious-big-biggie-smalls

Rapper Christopher "Notorious B.I.G" Wallace

A study done in the early ’90s, when “gangsta rap” was at its peak, showed that black males who were exposed to violent rap music videos showed a greater acceptance of violence in general, and violence toward women, as compared to those who hadn’t seen such videos.

Psychologist Hannelore Wass, who specializes in death and dying, surveyed teenagers on their music habits. She found that while 17 percent of them listened to heavy metal music, 40 percent of those with criminal records listened to heavy metal rock music on a regular basis. On top of this, half of the teenagers interviewed agreed that the lyrics of these songs could push an already depressed person to harm themselves.

Real Life?

Hip-hop pioneer and entrepreneur Russell Simmons claims that gangsta rap “teach[es] listeners something about the lives of the people who create them and remind them that these people exist.” He contends that music is a reflection of the real lives of people and gangsta rap especially gives a voice to those that usually wouldn’t have one.

What do you think? Do you listen to rap or rock music? Do you think they add to violence in society? Could music artists use their public platform to promote more constructive behaviors?

Advertisements

22 thoughts on “Rap, Rock, and Violence

  1. I always figured Heavy metal is a bit better, I guess because hubby have dragged me to plenty of rock festivals. And he haven’t gone all Jack Torrance on me yet lol.

    I don’t listen much to rap but I guess the last song I heard was that one with Eve, the ‘rebuttal’ to no scrubs.

    Well It adds something bad to society! It depends on what group of people that listens to it I think.

    And I don’t see how Lil’ Wayne could do anything constructive.

  2. Nkosazana,

    “I always figured Heavy metal is a bit better”

    Russell Simmons begs to differ: he says at least rap is better than rock [at the time; 90s] which was saying, “I’m just going to take drugs and kill myself”.

    “I don’t listen much to rap but I guess the last song I heard was that one with Eve, the ‘rebuttal’ to no scrubs.”

    Oh, “No Pigeons”? That’s an old one. I remember every girl used to sing, “No Scrubs” and the guys would pretend to get in their face singing “No Pigeons”. Those were the days. 🙂

    “It depends on what group of people that listens to it I think.”

    Yes, younger people are more easily influenced.

    “I don’t see how Lil’ Wayne could do anything constructive.”

    …But! He’s trying to be more positive:

    “Tunechi be the name, don’t ask me how I got it
    I’m killin’ these hoes I swear I’m tryna stop the violence”

    😀

    [Can you tell I was listening to DJ Khaled’s “I’m On One” while writing this post? 😉 ]

    I’m still giving Kelly Rowland the side-eye though for featuring Lil’ Wayne on her hit “Motivation.” I was thinking, “…Ummm, Kels?” He’s already made it quite clear he’s not a fan of her type (dark-skinned black women). But doesn’t every other hip-hop song these days feature Lil’ Wayne? I could guess that a song is featuring him and I’d be right 3 times out of 4.

  3. I listen to more alternative-ish rock (i.e., Coldplay? I may be totally off; I’m bad at assigning genres.), and I don’t really listen to rap, but if a rap song comes on and I don’t change the channel, 9 times out of 10 it’s from the 90s.

  4. Jasmin,

    “I don’t really listen to rap, but if a rap song comes on and I don’t change the channel, 9 times out of 10 it’s from the 90s.

    That’s the worse kind! 😛

    I listen to a lot less rap these days… basically none. But I used to be a huge hip-hop head back in the day (high school 🙂 ), so I like it as an art form. And I still listen to Jay-Z even though I know activist and BWE bloggers are giving me the “How could you?” face for that.

  5. The Ancient Greeks believed that music had incredible power over the human psyche and they also had a list of types of music and the effect it would have. I personally believe that it is more an indirect, but potentially insidious effect. I think that a diet of music, and images that denigrate certain folks causes a climate where those folks are viewed as less, which then makes it easier to abuse them with no consequence.

  6. Sherry,

    I see you came here with your psychologist hat on. 🙂

    “I think that a diet of music, and images that denigrate certain folks causes a climate where those folks are viewed as less, which then makes it easier to abuse them with no consequence.”

    I’d say there’s definitely something to that. Definitely.

  7. Russell Simmons begs to differ: he says at least rap is better than rock [at the time; 90s] which was saying, “I’m just going to take drugs and kill myself”.

    Well I give rock as less dangerous in that it don’t promote that you go out and hurt others lol just yourself 🙂

    Oh, “No Pigeons”? That’s an old one. I remember every girl used to sing, “No Scrubs” and the guys would pretend to get in their face singing “No Pigeons”. Those were the days. 🙂

    Oh yes that was the one. Well lol. I’m listening to it now and I kinda find it funny after listening to no scrubs.

    I’m more of a reggae girl myself anyway.

    Hah I’m kinda surprised that Eve is so into white men lol. She does not seem like the type.

    Yes, younger people are more easily influenced.

    Hmm, yes lol. I guess that is why there won’t be any Lil’ jons in my house.

    What I don’t get about Lil’ Wayne is how he manage to get famous girls to get in line to be his baby mama.

  8. This argument is like the chicken and egg situation – which came first?

    We definitely live in voyeuristic culture that glorifies the hell out of violence in all forms of entertainment, so everyone is to blame. Pick your choice of action movie since the beginning of cinema and this was way before this new rock music and N.W.A (They freaking ruined everything, uh!). I know I’m not the only little kid that played cops and robbers. And when you got shot, you drew out your death like it was done in the movies. Of course, the violence has gotten ridiculously gratuitous. Race and genre also play a hand in the perception of violence because it seems that movie violence is more artistic than rapper violence. Remember how the “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” poster had the actors posing with guns but fifty cent wasn’t allowed to have a gun in his pic.

    I certainly don’t need a study to tell me that some of these horrible lyrics affect some of the listeners’ behaviour and perceptions of reality. For example, it’s now okay for a woman to call another woman a bitch as a term of endearment. When did that become okay or am I that old? I dare any of my female friends to say that to me and live to see another day – I’m just saying.

    On the other hand, we also live in a society where personal responsibility has gone out the window. “The devil made me do it” mentality is back in full swing. We blame it on the alcohol, the songs, the movies, and the video games. We blame it on everything but on the real culprits. Yes, I know there are little kids that listen to this crap but don’t they have parents? Exactly.

    I’m definitely not trying to stick up for these “artists” b/c I stopped listening to rap around my senior year in H.S. In fact, if I can go back in time and eradicate Ice Cube and his N.W.A cronies, I will but unfortunately, there needs to be a balance in everything. Although I think MTV and BET will beg to differ.

  9. I like rock music; in a way, it was an important part of me growing up in the 90s, which was a very special time in my part of the world. In a way, music was all we had, and it sure saved a few lives (if not literally then emotionally).

    The way it’s seen in my culture, rock is a music that young intellectuals like, as the opposite of folk (that uneducated, “white trash” people like). This dichotomy was particularly striking during the 90s, when, as you probably know, Serbia was under Milosevic, and other crap. To listen to rock music was a sign of rebellion against that regime, and also of being urban (as the opposite of rural – and in my culture it’s very important).

    So all in all, rock music was seen as helpful, to say the least, by my generation, and many older people (my parent’s generation) see it the same way.

    I know how important, and helpful, was music to me while I was growing up. I was a teen during 90s, so it’s basically what I like the most (grunge, for example). On the other hand, there are many older band and songs I like. Mostly foreign (American and British), but some Yugoslavian ones, too. We’ve had the best 80s music here, I think. It was so good, so amazing; art is often good before the bad times.

    All in all, I don’t see rock music as harmful, and it’s not seen as harmful in my culture.

    I don’t know anything about rap, but I believe it can be used in the same thing, as a sign of social rebellion against regime (I mean on domestic rappers). Sure, there are rappers who make songs about fucking women, but they aren’t taken as seriously as those who make songs about politics and other serious issues.

  10. Nkosazana,

    “Well I give rock as less dangerous in that it don’t promote that you go out and hurt others lol just yourself”

    Some of them do include lyrics that involve hurting other people!

    “What I don’t get about Lil’ Wayne is how he manage to get famous girls to get in line to be his baby mama.”

    Don’t you know? It’s the “swagger”. 🙂

    But I didn’t see anyone else really being into him except Lauren London. Am I missing someone?

    Udara,

    “This argument is like the chicken and egg situation – which came first?”

    Right. Many people who defend these types of music say they only reflect a violent society, they don’t create it.

    …it’s now okay for a woman to call another woman a bitch as a term of endearment…I dare any of my female friends to say that to me and live to see another day – I’m just saying.”

    …LOL.

    Yeah, you know you’re an old head now. 😉

    “On the other hand, we also live in a society where personal responsibility has gone out the window. “The devil made me do it” mentality is back in full swing.’

    You’re right. At some point you have to realize you’re ultimately responsible for your own actions. But the judicial system has an interesting way of making it so that if you can prove that someone else caused you to do something, then you’re off the hook. The families that sued Judas Priest, however, could not prove that.

  11. “But the judicial system has an interesting way of making it so that if you can prove that someone else caused you to do something, then you’re off the hook.”

    That’s not entirely true. The only defenses I can think of to that effect are self defense, involuntary intoxication (eg somebody slipped you some Ecstasy), voluntary intoxication (eg you got yourself drunk – not the greatest defense), insanity – and you have to be adjudicated as a mental incompetent, “temporary insanity” – which is a heat of passion killing – eg when a husband murders his wife at that instant on catching her in bed with another man. This doesn’t excuse the crime of murder, it drops it from first degree to second degree in most states. Most crimes are element based and contain a malice (a bad intent) requirement, which if negated, can cause you to be charged for a lesser offense usually. You rarely ever get off scot-free, unless it’s self defense in the case of murder.
    Sorry, I am currently studying for the bar and that was a great review of criminal law defenses to crimes 🙂 .

  12. Mira,

    I completely understand you (and your culture’s) liking of rock music. At least in your case it served a clear purpose.

    “I don’t know anything about rap, but I believe it can be used in the same thing, as a sign of social rebellion against regime (I mean on domestic rappers). Sure, there are rappers who make songs about fucking women, but they aren’t taken as seriously as those who make songs about politics and other serious issues.”

    The former sell way more records and are much more well known. I can’t even think of more than a few conscious rappers who are really popular… that seems to only happen when they crossover and begin rapping about the “hoe, hoe, hoes”, drugs, and money that other rappers do.

  13. Robynne,

    “That’s not entirely true. The only defenses I can think of to that effect are self defense, involuntary intoxication (eg somebody slipped you some Ecstasy), voluntary intoxication (eg you got yourself drunk – not the greatest defense), insanity – and you have to be adjudicated as a mental incompetent, “temporary insanity”

    I was talking about the last portion — insanity. There were a few cases I was reading about semi-related to the Judas Priest case re: subliminal messages and essentially the people found a way to prove that someone else drove them to do it (read: temporary insanity), thus the other side was responsible for their actions. I would link them for you, but I doubt I can find it right now.

    “Sorry, I am currently studying for the bar and that was a great review of criminal law defenses to crimes 🙂 .”

    Lol. Clearly. 🙂

  14. Alee,

    The former sell way more records and are much more well known. I can’t even think of more than a few conscious rappers who are really popular…

    I was talking about Serbian rappers. As for the American rappers, I’m not sure who are the popular ones. I know a guy (known as tough and macho) cried when Tupac was killed. I think Tupac was the most popular rapper here, but I’m not sure.

    I completely understand you (and your culture’s) liking of rock music. At least in your case it served a clear purpose.

    Rock music has a special place in my culture, and this is particularly true for my generation (and 90s music).

    Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but it’s not usual here for people to blame music and musicians for teen suicides, killings, etc. They do blame sects, but not music. I think the general consensus is that a) parents are responsible for their kids and that b) only crazy people kill themselves (and others), so it’s not seen as musician’s fault.

    So for example, someone listening to Death Metal (or something), or wearing “satanist” signs, etc. is seen as being in an occult group and that’s why (s)he listens Death Metal (or whatever). It’s never seen that music can make you become a satanist. (Or whatever bad influence we’re talking about).

  15. Mira,

    “I was talking about Serbian rappers.”

    Oh, okay. Thanks for letting me know that, because I probably would never have connected the words “Serbian” and “rappers”.

    Do you have any examples of Serbian rappers that would fit both of those types?

    “I know a guy (known as tough and macho) cried when Tupac was killed.”

    I think a lot of macho guys cried when Tupac died. That would be sort of funny, except it involves death, which isn’t so funny.

    “Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but it’s not usual here for people to blame music and musicians for teen suicides, killings, etc.”

    I wouldn’t say it’s very usual here either, but it is a popular idea that music can influence people’s behavior and minds.

  16. Thanks for letting me know that, because I probably would never have connected the words “Serbian” and “rappers”.

    Oh, admit it: it’s because they’re white, isn’t it?

    But rap is very popular around here. More popular than rock, that’s for sure. Only folk is more popular, I think.

    Do you have any examples of Serbian rappers that would fit both of those types?

    You mean, both at the same time, or… ? I’ll try to find something, but I can’t promise you anything. I’m really not familiar with the rap scene and I can’t offer any good examples.

    I think a lot of macho guys cried when Tupac died.

    Well, this guy (who was some sort of a school pot dealer) cried in public, during class. So the teacher got upset and all. I wasn’t there, but they say it was… memorable. So yes, I’d say Tupac was quite popular. Probably the most popular with my generation of all rap musicians.

  17. But I didn’t see anyone else really being into him except Lauren London. Am I missing someone?

    ah I don’t know, I think I read somewhere that he was dating Niki Minaj. BTW, Lauren is a very screwed up person. Her parents must be very disappointed in her.

    Oh, admit it: it’s because they’re white, isn’t it?

    Yes. lol.

    Hah most of the rappers I know in Sweden are actually mixed with one Swedish parent and one African.

    I like the beat on this one. He raps in English.

    Kinda my favourite Swedish rapper. If I have one 🙂 Swedish mum and Gambian dad. Plus he did rap about how bad drugs and stuff like that is, I think his dad was a dead beat who did heroin.

    lol, I like Swedish music videos they are so integrated and got a healthy mixed of different races

  18. Well, we don’t see rap as black music here. Hmmm, well, in a way, we do (unlike rock- rock is definitely not seen as white music). Rap IS seen as a black music in a way that most of the rappers are blacks. Not in a way that this genre is “not for whites”.

    Frankly, people here don’t see why Eminem “might be for us” and Tupac not. After all, both of them are American musicians, = not one of us.

    Rap is very popular here (at least it was in the 90s) and nobody sees that as strange.

  19. Mira,

    “Oh, admit it: it’s because they’re white, isn’t it?”

    Lol. Actually, no. There are several non-black and/or white rappers/people involved with hip-hop. Like DJ Khaled who I mentioned upthread, is Palestinian.

    I just wouldn’t put those two words together, for whatever reason.

    “But rap is very popular around here. More popular than rock, that’s for sure. Only folk is more popular, I think.”

    …Wow, really? I would have thought rock was way more popular. None of the people I know from your region are very into rap, but they love rock.

    “I’m really not familiar with the rap scene and I can’t offer any good examples.”

    If you have to strain to find some, don’t worry about it. 🙂

    Nkosazana,

    “ah I don’t know, I think I read somewhere that he was dating Niki Minaj.”

    Huh, I think maybe that’s just a rumor. And its seems Nicki and Drake have a little thing going… I think he’d be mad if his best buddy Wayne was going behind his back.

    Lauren seems like a nice person; I don’t know much about her personality. But of course I’m still confused as to why she decided to become the mother of Lil’ Wayne’s 4th (5th?) illegitimate child. Oh yeah, I forgot about Nivea amongst the famous women. She has a child by him as well (I believe she and Lauren were pregnant at the same time).

    Okay, I’m done discussing Lil’ Wayne. Too much drama. Not enough interest. 🙂

  20. Nkosazana,

    “50 cent anti bullying book? I did not know he could even read.”

    Ha.

    But how interesting that a person who has made a life/career out of bullying people would make a book an anti-bullying book. He says it’s about a bully having to face up to the damage he’s done… as if he has? I don’t believe he/Lloyd Banks ever apologized to Ashanti for constantly taunting her about her sideburns… how immature.

    I think he’s just trying out the various ways to make money… Get Rich or Die Tryin’.

    “hah, now I’m thinking about your ex.. Oh that boy is so ugly.”

    Ha. And he looked just like him. But he wasn’t a bully.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s