Rap: What rhymes with "bad influence"?
Highlighting the power of music in young people's lives, a new study suggests that fans of rap and hip-hop are more likely to drink, use drugs and engage in violence.
The findings were released just a few days after 32-year-old rapper Proof (given name Deshaun Holton), a friend of rap superstar Eminem, was gunned down inside a Detroit nightclub after reportedly shooting another man.
In a eulogy delivered at Proof's funeral last week, the Rev. Wendell Anthony called violence "the madness that is infecting" Detroit, according to the Detroit Free Press. "It's time for us to stop shedding needless tears," he said.
Proof's killing isn't unique in the rap world: two of its biggest stars, Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace), were gunned down in 1996 and 1997, respectively.
The new research, reported in the May issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, doesn't settle the issue of whether rap changes the way the fans act, or whether they're drawn to the hard-edged music because of their outlook on life.
However, one specialist in teenage behavior said it does raise important questions.
"A link between rap music and aggressive behavior is certainly plausible, particularly for males," said Ralph DiClemente, a professor of public health at Emory University.
The new research was inspired by previous findings that suggested young people drink more alcohol -- malt liquor in particular -- because rap stars promote it, said study author Meng-Jinn Chen, a researcher at the Pacific Institute for Research & Education's Prevention Research Center, in Berkeley, Calif.
She and her colleagues decided to expand their focus and examine connections between music listening habits and substance abuse and aggressive behavior.
In 2002, researchers surveyed 1,056 community college students aged 15-25 from California's Central Valley about their music-listening habits, drinking habits and use of marijuana and "club drugs" such as ecstasy. They were also asked whether they'd recently engaged in violent behavior, such as getting into fights or attacking other people.
Chen declined to identify the college or colleges where the surveys were distributed; it also wasn't clear why some of the community college students surveyed were as young as 15. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed were females.
The design of the study didn't allow the researchers to say the exact level to which rap and hip-hop fans were more likely to drink, do drugs and engage in aggressive behavior. The study did confirm, however, that there is a "strong and significant association" between listening to those types of music and engaging in those activities, Chen said.
The researchers also found that fans of "techno" and reggae music were more likely to do drugs and drink alcohol than people who weren't fans of these types of music.
Rap songs often glorify drinking, drug use and violence; one study from the 1990s found that nearly half of all rap songs referred to alcohol. Reggae music, meanwhile, is often associated with marijuana use; techno music is a mainstay of the urban dance-club scene, long linked to "party" drugs such as Ecstasy or crystal meth.
Representatives of the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents record labels, didn't return messages seeking comment about the study.
What do the findings mean? Experts say that's not yet clear, because they have yet to figure out the chicken-and-egg puzzle of whether it's the music driving the behavior, or the other way around.
"It could be that people who are drinking alcohol and using illicit drugs are drawn to this type of music," Chen said. Or it may be that the music spurs young people to drink, do drugs and become violent. And the researchers say there may even be an unknown "third factor" that ties music-listening habits to the way the students act.
Researchers have found that listening to music with violent lyrics can cause "at least a temporary increase in aggressive thoughts and feelings," added Craig Anderson, professor of psychology at Iowa State University in Ames. But he said the long-term effects aren't known.
For his part, DiClemente said the study breaks new ground because it examines possible links between music and violence. But he acknowledged that it doesn't answer key questions about whether rap actually changes people's behavior. Resolving that puzzle is "going to be a tough one," he said.
According to HealthDay News