How Gangsta Rap and Rock Music Address Violence, Racism, and Social Issues

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This essay focuses on how gangsta rap and rock music address violence, racism, and social issues in society. Gangsta rap is “a sub-genre of hip hop music with a lyrical focus on the lifestyles of inner-city gang members and rappers” (Blanchard, 1999).

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Critics have observed that early versions of gangsta rap were full of violence, profanity, and misogyny. While violence has always been a part of the gangsta rap canon, gangsta rap music has aimed to address the subject of violence in society rather obviously as Ice Cube had commented (Jenkins, 2013). The association between gangsta rap music and violence has remained complicated because there are critics who have considered gangsta rap as music that imposed violence and criminal mindsets on vulnerable youths (Giovacchini, 1999). The fight against drugs and the ensuing violence was responsible for the rise of gangsta rap in which artists were vocal about violence and the use of guns (Jenkins, 2013). Critics need to explore rap’s obsession with violence, drugs, and guns. One must understand that gangsta rap emerged from the struggle and success of artists, who had used violence to reflect violent times they had endured. The focus should be on combating violence in society that gangsta rap depicts.

Critics have noted that heavy metal, which is a sub-genre of rock music, has glorified all forms of violence, killings, suicide, occult, and Satanism among others. Some rock critics observed that Judas Priest (a rock band) was once sued because of suicide and attempted suicide of fans, which resulted from the lyrical contents. Moreover, heavy metal rock music has influenced youths to be violent.

According to the National Council of Churches, the increasing violent behaviors noted in youths resulted from heavy metal violent influences (Mileant, 2012). Some studies have indicated that many popular heavy metal rock songs were about killings, Satanism, and suicide. Hence, it is imperative to evaluate the lyrical contents of heavy metal songs and their impacts on society and listeners. A number of violent deaths and murders have resulted from the fascination with heavy rock music. Some studies have noted that violent music videos captured the attention of listeners who would later display violent behaviors immediately after watching and listening to such songs. Mileant noted that a Tennessee psychiatrist once commented that heavy metal music was “poison for disturbed adolescents, not to mention substance abusers” (Mileant, 2012). Rock music also reflects the disposition and lives of people in society. Hence, one can conclude that modern youths who watch and listen to heavy metal rock music have inner tumult. The destructive and estranged nihilistic nature of heavy metal rock lyrics has led to violence among its listeners.

Overall, gangsta rap and heavy metal rock lyrics have developed to international cadences with millions of followers. However, youths consider the violent nature of rock and gangsta rap as a form of lifestyle.

Gangsta rap music has attempted to address the issue of racism in society. For instance, the NWA’s Fuck the Police depicted hate and violence against the police because of racism. While gangsta rap points out the negative effects of racism, it is the mainstream media that consider anything ‘Black’ as the ‘other’. In this context, gangsta rap becomes streamlined, untouched, unbowed, and it fails to fit within the large and dominant culture of Americans. Critics have failed to recognize the role of society in influencing and shaping gangsta rap (Rhymes, 2007). Instead, the focus has been on the perceived negative impacts of gangsta rap on the American culture (Giovacchini, 1999). Race-based comments on gangsta rap have applied to the violent lyrical content in the music. Gangsta rap emanated from a society that was under the influence of racism. Hence, rappers have often depicted these dynamics in their lyrics, as rappers who have experienced racism have not failed to express it in their music. Racism is a historical fact in US history. However, the mainstream media have diverted attention from it in order to portray gangsta rap as the source and facilitator of racism. Racism is a deep national crisis in American society. Therefore, gangsta rap music should not be the scapegoat.

On the other hand, some critics have noted that heavy metal rock with elements of racism is understood as “performance, rather than from the perspective of personal feelings” (Rhymes, 2007). Hence, heavy metal rock has become a means of spreading hate and racism in society. In fact, some critics have noted that heavy metal music is a tool for promoting hate. It combines angst with angry lyrics to create music of hate crimes, hate groups, violence, and vitriol. A study conducted among students at the University of Minnesota noted that listening to heavy metal music by artists like Prussian Blue, Skrewdriver, and Bound For Glory contributed to racism among students as depicted in their supports for fellow whites. These artists are obviously racists in their songs. Generally, people have associated rock music with whites. This leads listeners to think about their own race rather than other races.

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Gangsta rap is not responsible for the creation and spread of racism, but its lyrical content highlights racism as a problem in American society. On the other hand, some forms of heavy metal rock (Skewdriver, Brutal Attack, Skullhead, and No Remorse) emerged to propagate racism. Contrary to a racism approach, some recording firms have opposed racism, and they have warned their members about such content in their lyrics. One must note that the power of music is enormous, and it can influence actions and behaviors more than one can imagine. Music can elicit both positive and negative biases in certain groups.

Gangsta rap also focuses on social issues in America. However, Kubrin observed that gangsta rap “departed from earlier rap forms, which were often characterized as socially conscious and more politically Afro-centric” (Kubrin, 2005). Gangsta rap still differs from other forms of music because it focuses on the ghetto and the culture of black youths, who have developed different ways of “interpreting, representing, and understanding the shifting contours of ghetto dislocation” (Kubrin, 2005).

Social studies have not largely focused on the identity, culture, and violence within ghettos in which gangsta rap originated. Gangsta rap reflects, reinforces, and advocates certain forms of social identities among listeners and rappers. The social significance of gangsta rap music has been to allow listeners to understand urban social issues and violence together with the identities and roots of people who experience such social issues. Social issues in ghettos and other forms of expression have found their way in gangsta rap music. Minority communities have found out that they can express their social challenges through such lyrics. However, when critics point out gangsta rap as a source of social challenges and violence in society, they simple avoid exploring the history of suppression that created the gangsta culture in the US (Blanchard, 1999). Gangsta rap and songs express death and violence in society, but it is social opportunities that such lyrics create. Such opportunities have made them popular among listeners. Rappers and listeners have used them as means of gaining both social and economic powers in their inner cities (Blanchard, 1999). Guns and violence are central in gangsta rap because they present opportunities for rappers to gain recognition, empower themselves and earn respect from their rivals in a racially charged and economically prejudiced society. Rappers may construct their identities through violence and justify its use in their lyrics. Overall, one must note that rap music has a significant role in understanding the cultural background and history of Blacks.

Heavy metal rock provokes strong emotions among its listeners. Rock music has significant social influences on society. Unlike gangsta rap, which explores social challenges in society, heavy metal rock fails to address such issues. Instead, its influences have been profound among youths who want their own identities. In this sense, heavy metal has fostered a sense of community among its audience. Listeners feel that they have shared ideas in their daily lives. Such influences have been strong to the extent of influencing national politics. Gangsta rap and heavy metal rock lyrics have resulted in the formation of various interests groups to debate various social issues, morality, and the concept of free speech. Both gangsta and heavy metal songs have influenced society in several aspects, including dressing codes. Fans reflect the dressing styles of their popular artists. This becomes a mainstream culture in society.

References

Blanchard, B. (1999). The Social Significance of Rap & Hip-Hop Culture. Web.

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Giovacchini, A. M. (1999). The Negative Influence of Gangster Rap And What Can Be Done About It. Web.

Jenkins, C. S. (2013). Rappers and Gun Violence: Exploring Hip-Hop’s Love of Firearms. Web.

Kubrin, C. E. (2005). Gangstas, Thugs, and Hustlas: Identity and the Code of the Street in Rap Music. Social Problems, 52(3), 360–378.

Mileant, A. (2012). Rock Music and Violence. Web.

Rhymes, E. (2007). Caucasian Please! America’s True Double Standard for Misogyny and Racism. Web.

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