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.
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 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.”
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 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.
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.
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?