Rap music is a phenomenon that is unparalleled in America, at no other time has a music form risen in such a way and gripped a nation as fully. While, rap music has its roots in the ghettos of the U.S.A. And black culture, it is now a full scale industry that caters to the disenfranchised youth of America and bridges all gaps of culture and social level. Indeed, one of the currently most famous rappers, and relevant to this topic, is white, as are most of the current buyers and listeners to rap music. Violence and rap music are interwoven in such a way that it is impossible to completely untwine them but looking at the cause and results of violence is a different topic that needs going into as it has far reaching implications, including the government control of the music industry. Parental guidelines and warnings are now posted on music cds and Washington was even, at one point, considering making an "adults only" section at music stores, similar to the laws now applied to video stores and adults only videos.
When talking about violence and music, there is a question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? If music is considered to be the egg, then the chicken far preceded it. Violence has been with us as long as we know and the world's history of wars and violence done by man to other man is long and sad. Rap music, as a popular industry, has been with us since the mid-'80s, when rappers such as Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer broke out onto the music scene in a very large way. Violence, and, in particular, ghetto violence and violence that's perpetrated by minorities and the poor, has been with us from far before the mid-'80s, so why then is there all of this focus on rap music?
The reason is because rap music is, almost inherently, violent. Rappers such as Snoop Doggy Dog, 2 Pac Shakur, Busta Rhymes, and Eminem, sing about violence and, in some cases, are known felons themselves. Actually, rapping is arguably the only type of music where violence and other crimes such as drug abuse are the main topics and sell huge amounts of records. But, has it been the cause of further violence among youth and the disenfranchised or it is simply their way of expressing themselves?
It's hard to single out rap music for this type of demographic because of the overall media diet that the average American youth consumes. Video games, TV programs, and overall music diet (including such things as music videos) should first be considered. In her excellent book, Impact of Media on Children and Adolescents, Susan Villani (Villani, 2001) notes that incidences of violence and drug use in the media have increased among all types of mediums over the last 20 years. There has also been the addition of video games to the music, which often use conflict and violence as their main themes and are very popular among youth. Some games, such as Counterstrike and Grand Theft Auto, are so violent that they have caused out cries all their own. The violence portrayed in these games is very graphic and real, in fact reality is often the factor that is looked for when they are created. So, it must be remembered that youth are exposed to many media sources that show and, in some cases, glorify violence. According to reports that are cited by Susan Villani, 65% of television programs that are viewed by youth contain violence of some kind while only 20% of music that is listened to by the same group contains violence. (Villani, 2001)
On the other hand, music touches us in a way that video games and television doesn't. There is the age-old quote "Music soothes the savage beast." This deals with the soothing effects of music, but if music soothes then can't it also enrage? Music is intensely personal, especially when we relate to it. Couples often have "our song" and music has been shown by studies to be able to intensely change moods and in this way it has been shown that music does indeed soothe the savage beast, going one more, it has been shown that music can depress or make us more aggressive over the short-term also. Being the direct cause of violence is another matter though because while music changes emotion over a short time, does it have a direct influence over our ideas and opinions?
In rap music, as with many kinds of popular music, "attractive perpetrators" often glorify violence. According to one study (The National Media Violence Study, 1995-1998), 38% of violence shown is by "attractive perpetrators," 26% of which involves weapons and more than 50% of the time no pain is shown. Accompanying this, almost 75% of violent acts involving no evident remorse, criticism, or penalty for the violence. To the contrary, humor accompanied the violence in 41% of the incidents. These "attractive perpetrators" are of course considered to be role models. And, in a majority of cases, even if a role model than didn't do it than any kind of remorse or penalty was not shown. This is completely out of line with reality and is very false in the real world where sorrow almost always accompanies violence, there are often penalties, and remorse is often felt because of these penalties and sorrow. People often learn from this remorse then and the violence is not repeated so it must be concluded that music does show the world in the light that violence doesn't have any consequences and that there is no reason not to do it because there are no negative results.
Studies of rap music that intend to show the relationship between how rap presents the world often skewed and insubstantial because of who they are studying. One study (3) that dealt with schools and the association between music and its listeners concluded unequivocally that music listeners that listen to rap and heavy metal music are more likely to indulge in reckless behavior such as driving while intoxicated, driving at speeds of greater than 80 mph, drug use, sexual promiscuity, shoplifting, and vandalism. The study concluded, however, that it is not the music that is the cause of this reckless behavior; it is simply these individuals that are attracted to this style of music. This is a very critical difference because it shows that the music doesn't cause this reckless behavior, it's this behavior that exhibited among the followers of these music styles and thus this music is the result of violence, and not the cause.
For example, by far the majority of perpetrators of violence of young males and black males are represented in the criminal system and, unfortunately, in the jail system by a far greater margin than they are in society. This is also the case in rap music where most of the major rappers are young black males and the fans are also made up of a greater portion of minorities than there really is in society. If this music is really the result of violence among minorities and black youth specifically than rap should be seen as a form of expression rather than a cause of violence. Forms of expression are given a general name, which is "art" and rap music must be seen as art and a medium of expression to be taken seriously.
In her book, Hole In Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in American, Martha Bayles (Bayles, 1996) has blamed gangsta rap for street crime. Pertinent examples of such crime are the violent deaths of popular rap singers like Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., both of whom were caught up in the gang wars that most of these rappers are involved in. Bayles has also touched on some accurate and depressing sociological observations about the role of gangsta rap as a repository and encourager of the worst sorts of attitudes and behaviors among adolescent males Later, she makes a less widely quoted statement that "the burden of proof lies with those who would repeal the law against offensive crudity, not with those who would enforce it." (Bayles, 1996)
At the same time, some of the music she disdains, like gangsta rap, while high-selling, is largely restricted to small and homogenous fan groups of young men and gets played on the radio only in strictly segregated formats; if not for the occasional media brouhaha about it, the people not buying it hardly would know it existed. And the social pathologies Bayles sees inherent in them are not strictly spawned by them The Marshall Mathers LP, by Eminem certainly portrays some vile thoughts and deeds. Eminem's detractors condemn him by presenting disconnected snippets of lyrics that make his art seem nothing more than ignorant advocacy of hateful mayhem. He is amazed in his song, I'm Back that someone who commits a crime could be…