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Violent Hip Hop

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The negative affects of violent Hip-Hop lyrics have been under public scrutiny for as long as the genre has been a mainstream commodity.  In 1992, the widow of a police officer who was shot and killed by 19-year-old male, while rapper Tupac Shakur’s “2PACALYPSE NOW” tape was playing in the teenager’s car, filed a suit against Shakur. It was conjectured that the tape, which included a number of songs with violent lyrics depicting the killing of police officers, motivated the young man to commit the murder (Philips, 1992).  There has been widespread speculation that violent Hip-Hop lyrics may attribute to an increase of aggression in its listeners.  In fact, the advent of labeling music with parental advisory stickers shows that there is a legitimate concern for violent music lyrics and the potential negative effects it may have on its listeners.  Also, there have been a number of research studies displaying the connection between violent media (movies, television, video games) and aggressive behavior it causes in its users.  However, the causal connection between violent lyrics, as commonly heard in Hip-Hop music and violent behavior still remains unclear.  There have been studies attempting to find a correlation between violent rap lyrics and aggressive behavior in its listeners, but the results are mixed.  I will answer this very question by presenting results from research that provides evidence to both support and argue against a connection between increased aggression and consumers of hip hop, and subsequently, create a synthesized conclusion.

There has been an extensive amount of research done to examine the effect violent media has on its user’s aggression.  Most of said research focuses on violent movies, television, and video games, because like music, these mediums of media have seen a new wave of violent content in recent years. The link between violent media and aggressive behavior is explained by “the priming theory”.  This theory suggests that overexposure to violent media causes altered perceptions of reality, which, more specifically, amplify violent and aggressive behavioral traits. Exposure “primes” the affected user and increases the effects of additional exposure.  Furthermore, through repeated exposure to violent stimuli, viewers develop specific scripts that can be used in the real world.  These “scripts” consist of expected behavioral reaction to specific situations.  The “scripts” are acquired through learning and then further developed in a person’s mind over time through repeated exposure to violent media. According to priming theory, after such behavioral traits and ideas are developed, a person will more easily access aggressive attitudes and behaviors and use them in similar real life situations. A person who has been exposed to a large amount of violent media is, therefore, more likely to act in an aggressive manner than someone who has been less exposed.  This can be viewed as a tangible scientific argument that reflects the widespread concern for the negative ramifications of violent Hip-Hop music.

The priming theory was tested in a study by Boxer et al., in which long-term effects of violent media on aggressive and violent behavior were examined in teenage youth over a two-year time period.  The participants were interviewed through extensive face-to-face interviews, as well as in telephone and mailed surveys.  The youth were asked to describe specific delinquent acts and the frequency with which they were involved in aggressive actions.  They were also asked to select how often they watched violent media (television and movies, primarily).  The parents and guardians were queried about the type and frequency of their children’s violent behavior.   Significant associations were found between the amount of exposure to violent media and both violent behavior and general aggression.  This provides solid evidence for the priming theory, as subjects were primed with violent media numerous times over the two-year time period, which, eventually, led them to increase aggressive behavior (Boxer, et al. 2009).

The Boxer et al. study was one of many studies that examine the link between violent media and aggressive behavior in its users.  However, the form of media tested has been primarily violent movies, television programs, and video games.  There are notably significant differences between watching violent video and listening to music with violent lyrics.  Without the video component, the average listener often does not ascertain the intricate complexities of spoken lyrics.  While it is nearly impossible to miss violent scenes presented in movies, televisions, and video games, music is often listened to without attention to the actual words being said, or with a completely, unique to the user, signified image being ascribed to the misinterpreted lyrics.  For example, this can occur when music is being played in the background while the user is engaging in extraneous activities, in which case the listeners aren’t even aware of the lyrical aspect of the song being played.  Therefore, lyrics are not always being processed by the listeners to the extent that violence portrayed in movies, television, and video games are, and when they are they might not even be interpreted in the way in which the artist originally designed.

Whether or not there are differences in the violence portrayed in music and other forms of media, there remains concern about the potential negative effects of violent lyrical content in music.  Does listening to Hip-Hop music cause more aggression in its listeners than other genres of music? This very question was examined in a study by Alan Rubin, Daniel West, and Wendy Mitchell (2001), who examined the differences in aggression, distrust, self-esteem, and regard for women among listeners to different genres of music.  

In this study participants were asked to select the type of music they liked the most, and to divulge the frequency of which they listened to each type of music.  The researchers used a series of standardized tests to examine evidence for anger, self-esteem, and low regard for women.  For example, to test for anger, subjects were asked about the degree to which they agreed with statements such as “I tend to get angry more frequently than most people” and “it is easy to make me angry”.  Other statements of aggression they were asked to respond to included, “Once in a while I cannot control my urge to harm others” and “I have known people who have pushed me so far that we came to blows” (Rubin, West, & Mitchell, 2001).  Participants were asked to respond on a five-point scale.  The researchers found that the degree of anger did not differ based on music preferences.  However, it was found that overall, Hip-Hop and Heavy Metal listeners exhibited greater aggressive tendencies than listeners of other music genres.  The results indicate that people may select music preferences based on their own attitudes and personality.  Hip Hop was not shown to have negative effects with on self-esteem or negative attitudes toward women.



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