Hip hop music has evolved and changed since the 1970s and has encountered controversy along the way. Many people object to what they believe is the promotion of violence and misogyny in hip hop; however, that is only a small part of hip hop, and there are many positive effects hip hop provides to its listeners.
Promote Critical Thinking
The lyrics in hip hop music are as diverse as those in pop, country, blues and rock. Think of the Guns 'n Roses song "I Used to Love Her, but I Had to Kill Her" or the Toby Keith video for "A Little Too Late" where he keeps a woman prisoner in his basement. The media has sensationalized some of the more misogynistic and violent lyrics or scenes in music videos, but these images and sentiments are popular in the culture at large. Hip hop music that does use lyrics about violence or send misogynistic messages is an excellent opportunity for the listener to examine what he feels is objectionable and ask questions such as: Why does this sell? What do people like about these lyrics? Do I agree with these lyrics? Why or why not?
Numerous examples of hip hop lyrics exist that promote political awareness about topics from racial inequality, gender inequality, police abuse, voting, education, family and more. Listen to the lyrics in Lupe Fiaso's song "Baba Says Cool for Thought," which discusses the fallout from Hurricane Katrina and is a plea to stop the type of violence that happened at Virginia Tech and Columbine.
Other hip hop artists are know for positive and political messages, such as Common, De La Soul, Digable Planets, Dead Prez, Mos Def and Talib Kwali.
Hip hop artists serve as role models to youth from a diverse array of backgrounds. Many hip hop artists did not come from privileged backgrounds but showcase to youth that they can achieve their goals. There are many successful artists who are creative wordsmiths, but hip hop also creates a venue for musicians, fashion designers, publicists, club owners and producers.
Folk music is often billed as "the voice of the people," a label that can also apply to hip hop. Folk music defines generations, fuels protest and calls attention to injustice while celebrating ordinary life; hip hop does this as well. Hip hop creates and sustains community in the larger popular culture particularly for youth of color who are still marginalized in American culture, neighborhoods and the public school system.
Hip hop history begins in the early 1970s in New York City. This means that today's children have parents and even grandparents that grew up on hip hop. Hip hop evolves like any other art form, and this changing art form connects modern hip hop to older roots, which establishes a sense of community and artistic history. This is a positive effect for today's youth who can turn to older hip hop to see what issues previous generations have dealt with and then think about what has change, what has not and their own role in social change.
Frances Hall is a librarian and writing and women's and gender studies instructor. Hall has written for Her Active Life and Queercents and has been blogging since 2004. Hall holds a Master of Arts in library science from Dominican University and a Master of Arts in English/literature with a focus on feminist writing pedagogy, as well as a graduate certificate in women's and gender studies.