One of the most prominent themes addressed in popular music today is violence and crime—especially in hip hop and R&B songs. Many have speculated that rap music has been the source of crime and violence among young people, particularly within the African American community. There are many songs, however, that do not glorify that lifestyle and send out clear messages stating that people need to stop fighting, stop killing, and stop the criminal acts.
With crime and violence still being a major social issue in today’s society, it is clear why many artists have decided to highlight the topic within their music; and it is important that people not only listen to these songs, but also take into consideration what is being said in the lyrics. In Kelly Rowland’s single, Stole, she sings specifically about various teenagers who have a great amount of talent and potential to be successful in life, but are killed instead. In the lyrics, for example, the chorus describes a girl named Mary who is comparable to Marilyn Monroe and could be the next movie star.
Unfortunately, it continues on saying “Never got a chance to go that far/ Her life was stole/ Now we’ll never know” (Deviller, Hosein, & Kipner, 2002). The title refers to how killing someone is to steal their future and, ultimately, rob them of reaching their full potential. Stole begs the question, “What would the world be like if young people were all given the chance to fulfill their destinies of being someone great rather than having their lives prematurely ended? ” The melancholy tone of this song is made clear from the beginning with a relatively slow tempo and a minor key signature.
Although there is not a clear audience in terms of race or ethnicity, Stole definitely targets today’s youth. Like Rowland’s song, I Can by Nas also focuses on young people and their future. The lyrics describe the use of drugs and how they can affect one’s ability to succeed in life (Hammond, Remi, & Jones, 2002). Nas, therefore, uses this song to urge kids to stay away from crime and violence, because they can all be whatever they want to be when they grow up. Poor choices, however, will sentence them to a lesser life. In the background, there is a sample of Beethoven’s Fur Elise, which sounds as if it is being played by a novice pianist.
This conjures up images of an adolescent playing the piano, which is consistent with the message of this song—that by being involved in positive activities and using one’s talent, anyone can grow up to be successful. Although it is typically associated with female empowerment, Mary J. Blige’s I Can Do Bad All by Myself also touches on violence. One of the lines in the chorus says “And I don’t need no one to black my eye”, which most likely refers to violence that takes place within the home (Blige, Harmon, & Smith, 2009).
The way that Blige sings the song also gives the lyrics a bit of extra power, indicating that the last thing anyone needs in their life is violence, pain, and mistreatment. Perhaps one of the most famous songs about crime and violence is Hope by Twista, featuring Faith Evans. In this single, Twista raps about everything that he wishes would change in the world. Some of the lines include “I wish my brother woulda made bail, so I won’t have to travel six hours to see him in jail” and “I wish that DOC could scream again and bullets could reverse so Pac and Biggie breathe again” (Mitchell, Taylor, & Calloway, 2005).
That one reference to Biggie Smalls is especially emotional as Faith Evans, his widow, sings “I wish” in the background directly after. This gives listeners an idea of who is affected by violence and who is left behind when a loved one is killed—everyone from friends to wives. Twista’s signature speed of rapping also gives this song a more modern sound that would appeal to younger generations at the time of its release. His style is then balanced out by Evans’ soulful vocals when singing the chorus, which is intended to evoke more emotion from the listeners.
Overall, Hope is a song that can be especially applicable to the youth in poorer minority communities that are ravaged by crime, violence, drugs, and anything else that ruins lives at an early age. Still, the message of the single is that there is still hope that some young people will make positive choices in their lifetime and will avoid becoming involved in violence and crime. Lastly, the song Where is the Love performed by The Black Eyed Peas and Justin Timberlake also serves as a declaration that the world needs peace.
Its moderate yet catchy tempo allows listeners to focus on the lyrics, which reference gangs such as the Bloods and Crips, along with the well-known chorus that begins with the line “People killing, people dying” (Will. I. Am. , Taboo, Apl. De. Ap. , Fair, & Board, 2003). This song was released shortly after the United States entered into the war with Iraq, which it also addresses, but it encompasses everyone in today’s society. Whether or not people are in a gang or committed a crime, it still points out that there is a shortage of love and peace regardless.
By making the main lyrical line “Where is the love? ” this song questions the audience and urges them to think about what they can do personally to make a difference and move towards a world that does not have so much crime, violence, and suffering. It is no question that crime and violence are both illustrated greatly in much of today’s popular music, as demonstrated by the preceding five singles by five different artists and groups.
Johnson and Coonan also discuss the strong connection between music and violence by stating, “Perhaps the most basic connection is to be found in musical narratives about violence people or violent acts. Violent imagery in pop music has become so commonplace that it would be gratuitous and patronizing to begin an inventory” (2009, p. 65). This simply refers to the presence of violent themes in music, and not necessarily whether or not an artist is glorifying crime or speaking out against it.
There is also another connection that crime and violence has had to the music industry in that artists themselves are becoming more involved with their communities and trying to take action against these issues personally. An example is in Isadora Rangel’s article about a Teen Summit that took place in Miami, where R&B singer Betty Wright was one of the guests (2010). This article shows that music artists are not only addressing crime and violence in their music, but also make an effort to show support outside of the music industry.
An article in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media outlines one study that was conducted in order to determine how the media influences the audience’s views on race, violence, and crime. As a result, the study showed that music and media did in fact affect how both men and women profile an individual as a criminal and that stereotypes are often implemented (Mastro, Lapinski, Kopacz, & Behm-Morawitz, 2009). The article then concluded that popular media has the ability to influence people’s perceptions about crime, violence, and the types of people who commit them.
This study does not openly state that certain genres of music promote violence and are to blame for high rates of crime, but rather that today’s music has affected what society now thinks about these issues. It is important that people do not immediately stereotype hip hop and R&B music as genres that glorify crime and violence. Although there are some rappers and artists who may not necessarily dictate that such actions should be avoided, there are many who record songs speaking out against these issues and who try to promote love and peace.
The five songs that were previously mentioned all portray a very realistic picture of how the world is today and what needs to change, demonstrating how current events and issues can alter what is produced by the entertainment industry and media. References Blige, M. J. , Harmon, C. , & Smith, S. (2009). I Can Do Bad [Recorded by Mary J. Blige]. On I Can Do Ball All by Myself Soundtrack [CD]. Atlanta, GA: EMI April Music Inc. , and Universal Music Publishing Group Deviller, D. , Hosein, S. , & Kipner, S. (2002). Stole [Recorded by Kelly Rowland].
On Simply Deep [CD]. Hollywood, CA: Columbia. Hammond, R. , Remi, S. , & Jones, N. (2002) I Can [Recorded by Nas]. On God’s Son [CD]. Hollywood, CA: Columbia. Johnson, B. , & Cloonan, M. (2009). Dark Side of the Tune: Popular Music and Violence. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited. Mastro, D. , Lapinski, M. K. , Kopacz, M. A. , & Behm-Morawitz, E. (2009). The Influence of Exposure of Depictions of Race and Crime in TV News on Viewer’s Social Jugements. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 53, 615-635. Mitchell, C. T. , Taylor, F.
, & Calloway, T. (2005). Hope [Recorded by Twista ft. Faith Evans]. On Coach Carter Soundtrack [CD]. USA: Atlantic Recording Corporation and Capitol Records. Rangel, I. Liberty City ‘Teen Summit’ Grapples with Crime, Violence. In Miami Herald. Retrieved July 29, 2010, from http://www. miamiherald. com/2010/06/15/1682770/liberty-city-teen-summit-grapples. html. Will. I. Am. , Taboo, Apl. De. Ap. , Fair, R. , & Board, P. (2003). Where is the Love [Recorded by The Black Eyed Peas ft. Justin Timberlake]. On Elephunk [CD]. USA: A&M and Interscope.
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