Notorious for its often violent, mysogynistic, and sexually explicit lyrics, rap music has always gotten a bad rap for its potential effect on young, impressionable listeners. A recent study led by an Emory public health researcher bolsters the case for the allegations of rap’s bad influence.

Gina M. Wingood, assistant professor in the Rollins School of Public Health (below), found that teenage girls who listen to and watch rap videos frequently–more than fourteen hours a week–were three times more likely to hit a teacher and more than 2.5 times as likely to have been arrested than girls who aren’t such devoted rap fans.

The 522 adolescent African American women followed in the year-long study also were twice as likely to have multiple sex partners and at least 1.5 times more likely to get a sexually transmitted disease, drink, and use drugs.

“At this stage in their socio-psychological development, adolescents want to be autonomous and independent from parental controls, an act that can be viewed as somewhat defiant,” Wingood says. “They may also be modeling what they see as the norm. They pattern themselves after their peers and the women they consider to be role models on the videos.”

It’s hard to know how much of the high-risk behavior to blame on rap, Wingood adds, since other mediating factors were not assessed in the study. But if it seems a logical conclusion that the violent and sexually freewheeling rap culture might hold dangerous sway over young people, the music industry may be getting a clue, too: a recent article in the New York Times reports that many rap artists appear to be cleaning up their act, at least enough to get their music sold at Wal-Mart. As rap and hip-hop music become more mainstream and rappers secure endorsement deals to sell sneakers and software, they have too much at stake to be shocking.

Maybe more positive lyrics like those of popular female rapper Missy Elliott will offer young fans an alternative view: “If you don’t got a gun, it’s all right,” says Elliott on her latest album, in a single appropriately titled, “Wake Up.”–P.P.P.



© 2004 Emory University