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Rap: Social Aspects of Rap Culture

Social Aspects of Rap Culture
Jay-Z's latest single makes you want to move, Missy Misdemeanor Elliot's newest song makes you want to hum along, and Eminem's lyrics make you think. But could rap music be hazardous to your health?

Yes, say some rappers, music industry executives, and teen listeners. They have formed a movement called Hip-Hop 4 Peace to tone down rap music's violent lyrics and reputation. The members say that when hip-hop artists rap about drugs and gangs, they make dangerous activities sound cool to young listeners.

But critics of the movement say hip-hop gets a bad rap because of a few artists and that most rappers have good intentions. They say it is important for people to learn about the situations hip-hop artists are trying to portray.

Hip-Hop 4 Peace supporters say many rappers recount tales of drug use and gangs without conveying that the activities are dangerous and illegal. They say kids who look up to the artists may take the songs to heart and turn to drugs and gangs. "You got to tell them selling drugs is against the law," youth activist Pee Wee Kirkland told newspapers. "And then you got to explain to them that Jay-Z [isn't] in Brooklyn selling drugs."

Hip-Hop 4 Peace members also point out that too often, rappers' lives mimic their vicious songs. Rappers Tupac Shakur and Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace made headlines in the 1990s when a feud erupted between hip-hop crews on the East and West coasts. When the fighting stopped, both rappers were dead. In 1999, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs was arrested after a shooting incident in New York. Though he was cleared of the charges, his arrest was national news.

Plenty of Rhyme or Reason

Critics of Hip-Hop 4 Peace say rap music is written with artistic--not criminal--intent. They say hip-hop, which has its roots in Brooklyn, N.Y., offers a view of inner-city life that people should learn from. Even if it makes some people uncomfortable, it's important to share, they say. "We conceal ourselves and our pain in our art. Hip-hop allows us to release it, to get it off our chests," Alonzo Westbrook, author of a hip-hop dictionary, told The Washington Times.

Rap industry players and fans say a few bad-boy rappers give hip-hop its "gangsta" reputation. They say not all rap is based on violence. Run-DMC, one of the earliest rap groups, had hit songs about sneakers and staying drug-free. "You can have a hip-hop artist like Mos Def, who has a searing political critique, but it will never be talked about in the same way as some guy who's talking about whopping somebody," said Guthrie Ramsey, an assistant music professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
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