For years there has been an ongoing debate about how much of an impact hip hop music has on the lives of today’s young people. It has been blamed for a myriad of problems that affect black kids. The misogyny, violence and promiscuity (amongst other things) depicted in popular music videos have been said to continue down the foodchain into communities, negatively influencing those who are already at the bottom.
However, artists and record label execs have refused to take responsibility for the effect their music might have on the young, saying that it’s up to parents to censure what their kids see and hear, and denying any correlation between listening to certain types of music and subsequent behaviours.
But in the light of new evidence, can hip hop makers continue to deny that their music has a negative impact upon young people? Can they continue to be blase and nonchalant about what they are releasing into the world, when it is clearly having damaging effects? A report published in October entitled “Images of Sexual Stereotypes in Rap Videos and the Health of African-American Female Adolescents” has shown that “African-American female adolescents who spend more time watching rap music videos are more likely to participate in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking and sex with multiple partners, to test positive for marijuana, and to have a negative body image”. Please take some time to let that sink in.
When well-respected robust studies (this one came from the Emory University) are showing such links, there is patently a major problem that cannot be ignored. Black music role models can no longer disassociate themselves from the negative impact that their music is having on impressionable young black people. It is rather frightening to see scientific evidence that this is the case, although it is unsuprising considering the unparalleled media exposure that young people are subjected to these days.
I have always believed that leadership comes with responsibility. If you are a role model – which you are as soon as you are able to put your voice out in the public sphere – you must be aware of how your words and actions are perceived by those who look up to you. This goes not only for rappers but for corporations like Viacom and BET who have such a stronghold on what our young people see and hear.
It’s high time the mainstream music and entertainment industry start caring about the next generation. High time the industry starts caring about those who are being shaped and moulded by their environment, which includes not only their peers at school, but the people they listen to on their ipods. The media has to become much more conscious, much more responsible. There is something highly unethical and deeply unsettling about the idea that companies are not bothered by the knowledge that their products are leading to others’ demise.
What’s so wrong with showing healthy, happy relationships between black men and women? Why do rap videos need to show naked women dancing with dog chains around their necks? Who exactly benefits from that? What’s so cool about it? In the long run, not even those getting paid millions to make the music and videos gain from it, since it only makes society a worse place.
Some will say that hip hop is being unfairly demonised and made a scapegoat. Whilst I agree that parents need to monitor their kids, the truth is that to some people music is a parent! To many, music is a friend, a guide and a mentor. And it’s time the hip hop industry starts taking that responsibility very seriously.