Experts debate hip-hop’s influence on American culture, youth, for better or for worse

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    By CHRIS KILLION

    Rap music is very influential and can have positive or negative effects, according to some experts.

    ?To say there is no influence and no effect is na?ve,? said Murray Forman, professor of media studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

    Today, rap has become a popular genre. It originated in the 1970s in South Bronx and is part of hip-hop culture.

    Hip-hop encompasses everything from dance and fashion to music. Forman said rap is the vocal and lyrical aspect of hip-hop.

    Hip-hop has become increasingly popular over the years and its influence is felt throughout society.

    ?It is a known fact that hip-hop has taken over, in a sense, the mainstream youth culture,? said Emmett Price, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston, who teaches hip-hop culture. ?So, the young kids from the age of being able to speak to going on to high school are influenced by hip-hop culture whether they listen to music or not.?

    There has been a long, ongoing debate whether hip-hop, especially rap, the musical aspect of hip-hop, has a negative or positive influence.

    There have been studies done that show a correlation between rap music and increased criminal behavior, sexual activity and drug use.

    Ralph DiClemente and his colleagues at Emory University in Atlanta studied 522 randomly selected African-American females from the same area between the ages of 14 and 18. The researchers were interested in how exposure to rap music videos affected the subjects? health.

    The researchers placed the young women into two categories: high exposure or average to low exposure. Average exposure was about 20 hours per week.

    The researchers found that after a year the subjects? viewing habits did not change. Those in the high exposure group were more likely to take sexual risks and were less apt to use a condom. The high exposure group was less likely to disagree with their boyfriends about sexual behavior.

    The high exposure group was also more likely to have sexually-transmitted diseases, be being drinkers and use more drugs.

    DiClemente said this does not mean that rap videos cause such behavior, but there is a strong association.

    Other experts have also seen an association.

    Price said he thinks it is ?horrible? how the lyrics speak as though women are not equivalent to men. Also, the presence of derogatory remarks about race and the concept of love of money as well as the image portrayed in rap music that drugs and sex are common, all have negative impacts on those listening.

    ?A lot of these notions are not notions that we want to pass down to the young kids without the proper contextualization,? he said.

    Price said talking about sex in the music is not bad, but it becomes bad if the rappers do not put the notion in the right context.

    Susan Weber, a music therapist at MMB Music, Inc., in St. Louis said if someone is rapping over and over again about killing cops, someone is more likely to kill cops because people are susceptible to suggestions.

    Many experts have agreed that rap?s greatest effects are on children, where its influence can be particularly strong.

    ?A lot of young people listen to their [rappers?] lyrics and take their word as law,? said Salome Thomas El, a principal of an elementary and middle school in inner city Philadelphia, who has been interviewed on ?The O?Reilly Factor? on Fox News about the issue of rap and its effects on children.

    He said children ?live what they learn and learn what they live? and many of these children coming from broken homes look up to the rapper.

    ?A lot of times he [the rapper] becomes the teacher,? Thomas El said. ?He becomes the role model to these young people.?

    He said he has seen rap music and videos influence his school children negatively. He said the school children are using profanity and wearing baggy pants. Girls dress like the women in the videos, who are oftentimes inappropriately dressed.

    Forman said he is skeptical of reports that say rap and hip-hop are negative. He said there are other factors that play a role as well, such as a broken home, psychological problems or economic depression.

    Some experts have seen that there is potential for rap to have a positive influence.

    Thomas El said he knows all rappers are not negative because some are doing positive things. His issue is they do not rap about those positive things.

    ?Some of these guys are very astute businessmen, I mean, Jay-Z owns his own record label,? he said.

    Soul music was grafted into the political movements during the civil rights era and hip-hop is capable in some of the same ways to be ?grafted onto some of the new power politics in the early 21st century,? Forman said.

    Many people have seen rap have positive effects on society. It is an artistic form and allows people to express themselves in a positive way.

    Forman said rap helps young artists get out of economic depression. The young artists help their family, friends and neighbors overcome economic depression as well. Rap opens doors for young artists to express themselves.

    Rap also allows for young blacks to articulate a certain cultural perspective and help others understand what is going on in the minds of young black people in the urban environment, he said.

    Price said the music was about expression.

    ?At a certain level we need to listen to what these folks [rap artists] are saying because they are in a sense telling us perhaps what?s wrong in society or they may be telling us what?s good in society,? he said. ?So, in a sense, I think it?s all important.?

    He also said the innovation involved in rap is ?fantastic.? He also said the use of a turntable as an instrument by scratching it and the adoption of the new dance styles mixed with the old styles is ?phenomenal.”

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