Hip-hop often faces a substantial amount of blame for the inner-city violence that occurs in communities across the country. This ideology has been perpetuated by politicians, media personalities, journalists and scholars alike.
The genre has been heavily scrutinized for its influence and impact on Black youth for decades. The polarizing genre’s criticism dates back to the “Gangsta Rap” protests headed by National Political Congress of Black Women chair Dr. C. Delores Tucker, and the mass protests against rap group N.W.A. Disparaging elements of the genre due to a disdain of its vulgarity, misogyny, or its negative stereotyping of the Black community is rational. But mainstream media undeniably chooses to amplify rap music that glorifies murder, gang culture, crime and violence over more socially conscious and responsible acts. Despite this reality, solely blaming rap music for the violence itself is problematic at best, and illogical at worst.
When hip-hop first emerged into the mainstream in the late 1970’s, it rarely reflected or perpetuated gangs, drug sales or senseless violence. Songs by early acts such as Doug E. Fresh, Run DMC, Sugar Hill Gang, and Afrika Bambaataa often centered around partying, fun, and braggadocios lyrics about wearing the nicest attire and being the best MC. When artists did speak on crime in this era, many often sought to deter people away from violence and drugs by speaking on it in a negative light. This is displayed by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s hit songs “The Message” released in 1982, and “White Lines” released in 1983.
Despite this lack of glorification in the early era of hip-hop music, gang and drug related violence was at an all-time high in many urban cities during these same years. In 1980, the homicide total in New York City was 1,814. Dating back further, while my hometown of Chicago is often perpetuated as the poster child for violence in modern time, the cities peak murder rate was actually in 1974, with over 970 murders occurring in one year. Historically, this was before the hip-hop genre even existed in mainstream society. Who was to blame for the violence then? Surely it wasn’t the O’Jays, Stevie Wonder, Kool & The Gang, Jackson 5, or Aretha Franklin songs that topped the Billboard charts during the summer of 1974.
There are a plethora of occurrences and entities to blame for inner-city violence. Many elements lead back to systematic racism and the oppression of Black people in America. You can blame poverty, the lack of community resources, and poor educational systems. You can blame the systematic removal of Black men from households through mass incarceration, the war on drugs and welfare policies that prohibiting homes with men from receiving government aid. You can also blame crooked policing, the governments involvement in crack-cocaine epidemic, or the lack of counseling for the trauma of Black youth. While hip-hop music can normalize dangerous behaviors, these behaviors existed long before the genre itself. While individuals tend to analyze the impact that hip-hop has on the Black youth, they tend to ignore the circumstances and environments that led children to the point of susceptibility.
While media undeniably influences the youth in a multitude of ways, violence in the Black community is far more complex than the impact of songs. While blaming hip-hop music for violence is often convenient due to the level of ignorance often promoted to our youth, it tells a one-sided story that points the finger at the art reflecting a dysfunctional culture, instead of the system that created the dysfunctional culture itself. Solely blaming hip-hop is an issue because it neglects and negates the detrimental societal issues that plague the Black community, and who is truly responsible for its occurrence. Research throughout the years has indicated that poverty often impacts decision making, anger, and the likelihood of losing emotional control. It has also shown that single-parent households show higher signs of juvenile delinquency than homes with nuclear family structures. If violent rap music disappeared tomorrow, no evidence suggests that violence in the inner city would not slow nor cease to exist.
Jeremy C. McCool is a media personality, college educator, writer, and scholar from Chicago.