In today’s day and age, music is used to address many topics that range from political and social issues to relationship issues and daily life. Due to the fact that everyone is exposed to some kind of music in America, regardless of their personal preference, the issues and content of music reaches many ears and has great influence on everyone’s lives in one way or another. Music, not only just today, but also throughout the course of history, has and will always have the power to inspire new ideas, incite specific feelings, and address topics that are often not addressed otherwise. For the most part, music is associated with positive things; people tend to listen to music they like, while they participate in activities that they enjoy as well, therefore music is related to positive things. As Justin Konsler says, “…music in general is one of the strongest ways to influence people.” However, the content of music is becoming more and more uncensored and explicit and it leading to negative outcomes. Rap music in particular is a genre that has only been created in fairly recent times, and it has started to incorporate increasingly negative content that is taking its toll on all of, but mostly, its many young listeners. Current rap music is infiltrating today’s youth culture and ideology and exposing them to negative ideas that are leading to increase aggression/violence, substance use, and negative psychosocial outcomes.
Rap music can be empowering for many youth through the exposure to the content of songs that include coping mechanisms, varied representations of identity, and varied representations of culture resulting in stronger ethnic identity, less depressive symptoms, and higher self esteem. Teenagers generally listen to the type of music that they like, and if someone enjoys listening to rap music and they appreciate the content of it, it may have some positive impacts. For example, a positive ethnic identity fostered by the content of rap music often increases a person’s individual and community empowerment (Travis 471). Music, including rap, has always and will always inspire its listeners. Many teens have reported that rap music has inspired them to think critically and to influence their surrounding, and with these inspirations, the presence of depressive symptoms decreased (Travis 470). Music can potentially spark any kind of human emotion, even several at a time; this stimulation of emotions becomes very influential to listeners (Konsler). As a person becomes more self-aware and finds their identity assisted by the music that they love, this may have overall benefits. Through the positive ethnic identity and the decline in depressive symptoms, for many youth, self-esteem has increased leading to an increase in overall individual empowerment. However, these benefits rely the assumption that teenagers will choose to not let the negative content of rap music influence themselves and their decisions in a negative way. This is a very dangerous assumption to make because most teenagers are easily influenced, and they are unsure of whom they should and want to allow to have the most influence on their lives and decisions. Although rap music has been seen to have positive effects in some cases, the overall effect that the content has on young people in America is overwhelmingly negative.
The first negative impact that rap music is having on America’s youth is an increase in violence and aggression, especially against women, due to the exposure to violent and misogynistic content. The exposure to the violence against women that exists in the content of rap music has led to negative perceptions of women and attitudes towards women in youth. The rates of domestic teen violence are rising daily, and society, instead of attempting to combat it, is actually becoming more and more accepting of it. As the exposure to violent aspects of the content increases, the acceptance of violence has increased as well. Even more, this exposure to violence has increased the chances of youth actually partaking in similar violent activities as well as accepting violence specifically against women (Johnson 36). As young men hear misogynous content in rap music, they become more inclined to believe that violent actions towards women are acceptable due to a cognitive misunderstanding and misrepresentation caused by the content of the music. Due to the fact that the content of rap music is not restricted, it is easily accessible which then causes listeners to believe that the content presented, including violent and misogynistic ideas, are acceptable (Barongan 204). Even if listeners of rap music are not influenced to the point of actually committing violent acts towards women, the misogynistic attitudes that are already present in America are steadily increasing throughout teenagers, especially those who frequently listen to rap music. This creates unhealthy relationships between members of the opposite sex and distorted views of women. Although what an artist chooses to express through music is purely up to them, what is played to the public, especially on the radio, should be “radio friendly” (Konsler). Due to the fine line between self-expression through music and reality, if violence and misogyny are completely acceptable in music, it is only a matter of time before these things are also acceptable in reality.
The second negative impact of rap music on America’s youth are the frequent drug and alcohol references that are made in popular rap music that lead to increased substance abuse by teenagers. In today’s society, substance abuse is becoming more and more socially acceptable among America’s youth and due to this, as Konsler says, “Substance abuse is growing more and more acceptable to write about in many genres of music — not just rap.” However, when the content of rap music and the content of other genres are compared, rap music contains many more references to drugs and alcohol. The frequent and continued exposure to music that contains references and explicit statements about drugs and alcohol is related to teenagers increased substance use (Chen 1). Just as the increased exposure to violent ideas has led to increased acceptance of these things in reality, the increased exposure to content containing references to drugs and alcohol are leading to increased acceptance, and eventual use, of these substances. One study that focused on adolescent females found that increased exposure to rap music and the glorification of substance abuse that exists in the content was associated with health risk behavior involving drugs and alcohol. Specifically, of the subjects with high exposure to rap music, 44.2% were reported to regularly use drugs and 44.4% were reported to consume alcohol (Wingood 437). When the references to drugs and alcohol not only glamorize, but also glorify, the use of these substances, young people are more prone to partake in similar activities. Instead of the music being an outlet for teenagers as well as a coping mechanism that leads to an increase in identity and self esteem like some argue, the music provides an alternation method of release and coping: substance abuse. Also, the fact that this content is not even discouraged or censored at all by most of the individuals in the industry, reveals just how complacent producers and rappers have become to the fact that they are negatively influencing young people. If rappers and music producers fail to recognize the negative impacts they are having on young people, these negative impacts will only increase.
The third negative impact of rap music is that the exposure to all of the violent, misogynistic content as well as drug and alcohol references that are present in the content of rap music lead to several negative psychosocial outcomes. Not only are these specific aspects of rap music influencing teenager’s decisions directly related to those things, but they are also affecting the demeanor and attitude of teenagers as a whole. The presence of degrading sexual content in rap music that teenagers are exposed to has led to an increased likelihood of engagement in sexual activity (Herd 584). This increase has led to not physical consequences such as sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy, but has also led to increased levels of low self-esteem in teenagers. According to Wingood, 37.6% of all the subjects with high exposure to rap music that were being observed in this study acquired a new sexually transmitted disease over the twelve month period that they were being observed (Wingood 437). Also, the materialistic lifestyle that is often depicted in the content of rap music has led to other negative affects among youth. Due to the fact that women are often materialized or sexualized within the content of rap music, this lead many teenagers to start to think in similar manners. The more a person is exposed at frequent intervals to something is going to seem more acceptable, and even appealing. Young boys, ages eleven to sixteen, who had high levels of exposure to rap music, all felt more inclined to be more like a person depicted in the content of the rap music due to the seemingly more desirable lifestyle, despite the lack of a college education. (Johnson 37). This is a dangerous inclination because the desirable lifestyles that are depicted in rap music are extremely falsely glamorized, but are still appealing and can influence teenagers to believe that they too can have this type of lifestyle if they lead lives similar to the lives that rappers say they live in their music: involving violence and substance abuse. The influence that the content of rap music has on youth is a vicious cycle that will not be stopped until people take notice of these negative outcomes.
Although music has been beneficial and positively influential on every culture in the history of the world, it can also have negative impacts. The people in today’s American society need to recognize that America’s youth is being infiltrated by current rap music that is exposing them to negative ideas that are leading to increase aggression/violence, substance use, and negative psychosocial outcomes. The rappers and producers that allow these kinds of references to be present in the majority of rap music need to realize that it is indeed taking its toll on the listeners of their music. Teenagers who listen to rap music are being negatively affected through an increase in acceptance of violent and misogynistic ideologies and an increase in substance use. Both of these things, which are negative affects in and of themselves, also result in a multitude of negative psychosocial outcomes such as increases in sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, materialism, as well as decreases in education. Until rappers and producers realize just how horrible these negative impacts are on youth culture, this cycle of negative affects will continue to infiltrate youth. In other words, until rappers themselves become aware of the fact that what they are addressing in their music should not lead to negative affects, but should contrarily inspire and result in positive affects, youth culture is at high risk for these continued negative affects.
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