The Violence of Rap Music… Or is it!?!

The music industry is vital in the daily lives of many. Look around society and you will see that we listen to a large number of music on a regular basis. Whether we are driving in the car, working out in the gym or just hanging out with friends, music tends to always be with us. Yet within this very same music industry there still are different genres that are enjoyed by a variety of listeners. One of the genres which is popular among the youth is rap. Many people though, have long believed and understood rap music as encouraging violence and if this is true then it has the potential to be greatly damaging to our society. Some researchers which include Kubrin, Baxter, and Smith, have found that the messages within this genre are negative and promote violence (qtd in Conrad 2009). To determine whether rap music actual does promote violence in both its music videos and lyrics I analyzed the content of the rap songs, focusing on of the representation of violence. This is particularly important because in our current society, we listen to copious amount of music on a daily basis. Just think about the number of songs you listened to yesterday or the amount you have listen to so far today. Yet with the amount of music we listen to, do we even know the content in these songs and the meanings contained within them? It has been shown through a study that these songs have an effect on our daily lives. Through an experiment performed by Wayne A.Warburton and Heidi I. Brummert Lennings, they found that the content of music, both lyrical and visual content, have large effects on the aggression of listener (2011). This kind of effect would be devastating to the youth who often indulge their ears in this music genre. These effects would increase the aggression within them and cause more violent acts in our society and possible even lead to greater criminal offences. With such effects on listeners, it is important to see how much violence is being presented in the genre that has been previously associated with violence. If the music that we listen to has an effect on us, and we listen to it so often, then shouldn’t we be more aware of what we listen to along with the messages being passed to us? For this reason we should be aware of what we listen to and the ideas associated with a specific genre. When it comes to the topic of rap music, many will argue that violence is promoted and glorified in the genre. However from my research into these tracks, violence does not play a crucial role within the rap genre and in the few instances when it presents violence, this violence is negatively portrayed.

To begin my research, I looked for previous work that had already been done through the EBSCO host database with a focus on the Communication & Mass Media Complete database. I was able to find articles concerning the topic and this search was further streamlined to focus on academic journals which had been peer-reviewed. From the database I found “The effect of auditory versus visual violent media exposure on aggressive behaviour: The role of song lyrics, video clips and musical tone.” And in this article the authors Wayne A. Warburton and Heidi I. Brummert Lennings write about their experiment studying the effects of both auditory and visual violence on aggression. They uses a unique method to measure aggression which is through the amount of hot sauce each participant allocated to a fellow participants food, whom they believed would consume it. The hot sauce procedure was done twice once before and the second after listening to various songs with violent content. It occurred that when participants had been exposed to violent lyrics and visual from the songs, they tended to place more hot sauce than before in the bowls meant for a fellow participant. The fact that each participant who viewed or listened to violent songs allocated a larger amount of hot sauce for consumption, lead to the researchers to conclude that these two forms of violence do have effects on the consumer. It is clear from this research that if violence were a major theme in rap music it greatly affects society by increasing the aggression of consumers who think they are merely listening to music they enjoy.

A secondary article in my study was by three scholars Kate Conrad, Travis Dixon, and Yuanyuan Zhang and title “Controversial Rap Themes, Gender Portrayals and Skin Tone Distortion: A Content Analysis of Rap Music Videos”. In their research, the authors looked at music videos of rap songs that appeared on popular music channels and cataloged what these videos presented. The researchers then had four coders, who were from various ethnic backgrounds, who went through specific coding training to analyze the music videos. In conclusion and contrary to previous research done by other scholars, there work found that rap music videos were no longer filled with violence as believed, but rather the main themes were of materialism and misogyny.

Further research in the field of representation of violence is shown in a third source that is similar to the previous source I just mentioned. This source also engages in the researcher’s, Kenneth Jones, findings from his analysis of music videos, except in this instance his focus was not only on rap. In his article called “Are Rap Videos More Violent? Style Differences and the Prevalence of Sex and Violence in the Age of MTV”, Jones selected 203 music videos from various popular music video channels and assessed each video in search for violence along with other behaviors such as gun talk and gambling. This article also mentions Aldridge and Carlin who argue that the rappers are sending positive messages by using the violence shown in music videos as a means to end violence. As Jones progressed into his own research the findings from this research was that violence within the rap music genre is no less or more likely than other genres. These results are yet another attack at the idea that rap music tends to be more violent than other genres.

To engage within this ongoing argument I did my own research concerning the topic. For my analysis I looked at the top 15 rap songs off the Billboard chart, from the week of November 15th 2012, and I analyzed both the music videos along with the lyrics of the songs to determine how violence is represented in the rap genre. Out of these 15 rap songs I was only able to find 6 songs which represented violence within their songs.  The most popular rap song according to that week’s Billboard was “Gangnam Style” by PSY. This is one of the few songs that portray violence in a positive view, through the images presented in the music video. There are no references towards violence in the lyrics of the song, but there is a one instance of violence in the music video. About one minute into the song there is a buildup in the beat, which climaxes with an explosion, in the background of the video, and two people being thrown off their feet (PSY, “Gangnam Style”). This singular violent scene in the music video portrays violence as being exciting and climactic thing that can be used to add energy and excitement to the situation. The violence in this song seems random and unconnected, which is a similar trend seen in the other songs where violence is portrayed positively. One of these popular songs that has this similar perspective towards violence is “Birthday Song” by 2 Chainz and Kanye West. In its music video, we see a clown at what is a birthday party first being beaten on the street after he was pulled out of his car by a mob of people. The second instance is the same clown being dragged involuntarily on a slip and slide (2 Chainz and Kanye West, “Birthday Song”). Both of these scenes play a very minor part in the music video with a combined length of only 10 seconds in a 5 minute long video. These two scenes also do not have significant connection to the song and they portray each violent act as something done for fun.

However unlike the previous songs where violence isn’t really connected to the song, in the songs were violence is represented negatively the connection to songs are much clearer. The song that has the highest representation of violence from my research was “I Cry” by Flo Rida. The main theme of this song seems to be the resolution of the hardships that individuals endure and many of these hardships are attributed towards violence. In the lyrics of the song the first representation of violence is in the lines, “Norway no you didn’t get my flowers, No way to say it better but the killer was a Coward” (Flo Rida, “I Cry”). These two lines of the some are referring to the incident that occurred in Norway, in the summer of 2011, where Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in a mass murder attack (Staff). These lines show that Flo Rida disapproves with such acts of violence evening referring to Breivik as a coward for his actions. In the music video there is a scene of a dead body, covered by a blanket, in an open grass area followed by a scene of a grieving woman, who can be inferred to be the victim’s mother (Flo Rida, “I Cry”). These make the viewer feel sympathetic towards those that have had to endure situation caused by violent acts while also condemning violence. Furthermore a series of quick violent scenes flip through on the video which include riot police in action, a child holding an AK-47, a soldier discharging a flame thrower and conclude with a scene from the attack on the twin towers on September 11th2001 (Flo Rida, “I Cry”). Right after these quick scenes the song slows down into a mellow tune and once again the view is left with those images in their heads and sympathizing with the victims. During this same mellow moment, the lyrics sang are “When I need a healing, I just look up to the ceiling, I see the sun come down I know its all better now” (Flo Rida, “I Cry”) which are repeated four times. The way that this video has been compiled leaves the audience to view violent acts as detrimental to our society, while providing an avenue of hope for people to overcome the hardships.

Another song from the Billboard chart that presents the same negative idea of violence is the song “Swimming Pool (Drank)” by Kendrick Lamar. At first it may not seem as apparent as to how and where violence is represented within this song, but with a further understanding on the intentions and vocabulary of the lyrics, the connection is brought to light. The song is about the artist remembering his childhood in a house where adults indulged in large amounts of alcohol. Lamar, in this song specifically, views drinking as a bad and we see this through the use of his conscience as an adviser to his drinking. “I’m your conscience, if you do not hear me, Then you will be history, Kendrick.” (Kendrick Lamar, “Swimming Pool (Drank)”) In the bridge Lamar makes the connection to violence using the following lyrics, “I ride, you ride, bang, One chopper, one hundred shots, bang, Hop out. Do you; bang? Two chopper, two hundred shots, bang.” (Kendrick Lamar, “Swimming Pool (Drank)”) The word chopper is a slang term that is used to refer to an assault rifle. It seems like he is taking the view that acts of violence are like drinking, where it is more of a social thing that groups do together. This is evident as these lines start with “one chopper” followed by the question “do you; bang?” and then the next line begins with “two chopper”. Furthermore, a key repetition in the bridge is the word “bang” which is commonly referred to as the firing of a gun. The connection in this song between the use of a rifle and each shot fired and the drinking of alcohol by taking shots is crucial. It is important to remember that in this song, Kendrick’s speaks of alcohol as being a bad thing and he connects this with violence, by presenting the violent act of firing a gun as also being negative to society.

Rap music has been associated with promoting and glorifying violence. This however is no long true. From my research into the rap music genre, it showed that violence does not play a crucial role within the genre and in the few instances where it is violence is presented, it is negatively portrayed. Furthermore, it is clear that the rap music genre has had a shift from what it was previously known for, violence, into a new main focus of materialism and misogyny as stated by Conrad, Dixon, and Zhang (2009). I clearly saw this in my research as a very large majority of the songs that I analyzed, the remaining 9 of the 15, did not contain any violent content but rather were filled materialistic and misogynistic ideals. It is much more comforting to know that one of the youth’s popular genres is not sending out the wrong message about violence, but rather mainly preaching the negative effects of the vice. For it were not so, it is possible, considering the research lead by Lennings and Warburton, that the increase in aggression may turn into criminal offences. This may be a relief to some, but the works done by Lennings and Warburton may leave others wondering whether the new content in rap music may also have a similar effect on us.

References:

Brummert Lennings, Heidi I., and Wayne A. Warburton. “The Effect of Auditory versus Visual Violent Media Exposure on Aggressive Behaviour: The Role of Song Lyrics, Video Clips and Musical Tone.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 47.4 (2011): 794-99. Communication and Mass Media Complete. Web. 26 Oct. 2012.

Conrad, Kate, Travis L. Dixon, and Yuanyuan Zhang. “Controversial Rap Themes, Gender Portrayals and Skin Tone Distortion: A Content Analysis of Rap Music Videos.”Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 53.1 (2009): 134-56. Communication and Mass Media Complete. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.

Jones, Kenneth. “Are Rap Videos More Violent? Style Differences and the Prevalence of Sex and Violence in the Age of MTV.” Howard Journal of Communications 8.4 (1997): 343-56. Communication and Mass Media Complete. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.

Staff, CNN Wire, Journalist Olav Mellingsaeter in Oslo, and Laura Perez Maestro Contributed to This Report. “Norway Mass Murder Suspect Charged.” CNN. Cable News Network, 07 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.

Song List:

“Gangnam Style” – PSY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0

“I Cry” – Flo Rida

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLuWHr6-0YQ

“Clique” – Kanye West

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOrLNHbEzMg

“Swimming Pools (drank)” – Kendrick Lamar

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-ejyHzz3XE

“Whistle” – Flo Rida

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSnkWzZ7ZAA

“Pop That” – French Montana ft Rick Ross, Drake, Lil Wayne

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X98HX5nbsCI

“Mercy” – Kanye West

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Dqgr0wNyPo

“Bandz A Make Her Dance” – Juicy J

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AI0gk2KJeho

“Birthday Song”        – 2 Chainz

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y34jC4I1m70

“No Lie” – 2 Chainz ft. Drake

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQZMaG1eO74

“Turn on the Lights” – Future

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIrhcTkHX_A

“No Worries” – Lil Wayne ft Detail

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5z25pGEGBM4

“Thrift Shop” – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis ft Wanz

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK8mJJJvaes

“F**king Problems” – A$AP Rocky ft Drake, 2 Chainz, and Kendrick Lamar

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tqmIsF4s48

“Diced Pineapples” – Rick Ross, ft Wale and Drake

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jb6HZa151s8