Rap Made Me Do It
Updated: Nov 25, 2022
I recall that in the 90’s, hip hop—particularly “gangsta rap”—was accused of promoting violence within U.S. society. Blaming others for one’s own problems—whether on a micro, mezzo, or macro level—is not a new phenomenon.
Adam was said to have blamed Eve for sinful behavior, Socrates was accused of having corrupted youth with his teachings, and witches were denounced for poor crop results in Salem, Massachusetts. Regarding rap, personal responsibility and accountability are elements I think need to be considered when addressing this topic.
In 1990, members of the 2 Live Crew were arrested for violating a prohibition against obscene, lewd performances. Even selling the rap group’s album could result in apprehension. Imagine being arrested for free expression.
Though members of the group remained embroiled in legal turmoil, a copyright case—and not an obscenity matter—is part of what propelled the Crew to national infamy, as their case was heard by the highest court in the land.
I recall listening to the explicit version of As Nasty as They Wanna Be with other adolescents not long after the album dropped. If youth corruption was present during that period of my life, it wasn’t because of the Crew’s “Me So Horny.”
The children’s home in which I was a resident maintained minors in placement for neglect, child abuse, juvenile justice matters, and other reasons. If memory serves, up to level five criminal offenders were housed on the campus.
The 2 Live Crew had little actual impact on our behavior as residents of the home, as we huddled together and listened to the last Crew album to drop before explicit content labels were applied. Still, offending sensibilities of the public wasn’t solely the burden of 2 Live Crew.
In 1991, a British court ruled that N.W.A’s album Efil4zaggin was not obscene for purpose of legal consideration, though common sentiment at the time was to hold rap artists responsible for behavior of the public. Imagine having nothing better to do than whine about the syllables pronounced through another person’s mouth.
Oh, wait…that’s quite common these days. Yet, I digress.
By the time a court in England ruled on N.W.A’s case, I’d already seen the group in concert at LL Cool J’s 1989 Nitro World Tour in Denver. If N.W.A was responsible for violence and disrespect, I didn’t get the memo for wildin’ out against society back then.
A number of my friends at that time were hoodlums involved with street politicking, yet I never saw a member of any popular rap group in the neighborhood forcing anyone to do dirt. Depriving people of agency and instead focusing on a music genre as the source of overall negative impact on society seems a bit absurd to me.
In 1992, a Texas State Trooper’s death was said to have been associated with a man who was listening to 2Pac’s album 2Pacalypse Now when pulled over. Also a controversial topic at the time was Ice T’s “Cop Killer,” which was said to have exacerbated tense relations between law enforcers and the public.
Had the suspect instead listened to Enya and committed the crime, would Celtic folk music have been a source of controversy? While I enjoyed some of 2Pac’s music in the 90s, I admit that his sometimes controversial lyrics never caused me to shoot at law enforcement officers.
In 1993, a religious leader blamed various rappers, to include Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, for degradation of the so-called black community. The pastor was said to have used a steamroller to destroy The Chronic, featuring both artists. Someone had to pay for the albums, so weird flex, but ok.
In 1996, an 18-year-old man admitted to killing his three roommates, using an execution-style murder technique, purportedly after repeatedly listening to artist Brotha Lynch Hung’s song “Locc 2 Da Brain,” from the album Season of Da Siccness. Though he featured a news snippet related to the homicide on The Best of Black Market Records album, Hung has denied any responsibility for the incident.
Why wouldn’t he? Brotha Lynch Hung didn’t compel the individual to commit a crime. To me, pretending as though rappers are a form of Mr. Geppetto tugging on marionette strings of an audience is somewhat infantilizing.
At any rate, I recall hearing “Locc 2 Da Brain” when I was in high school. A number of knuckleheads with whom I associated told me they favored Hung’s affiliated ties and wanted me to hear the track, as they predominately listened to other artists of similar affiliation.
It’s safe to say I’ve not murdered any roommates. Of course, this may be a false equivalence argument. I cannot logically compare myself to another person, as though we are the same and but for rap music, we would have experienced similar outcomes. Life simply doesn’t function this way.
With 2Pac having died in 1996, and The Notorious B.I.G. dying in 1997, some people speculated that rap music itself was the cause of needless violence. While I can’t speak for other rap fans, I didn’t view the death of two rappers as violence endemic in hip hop as a whole.
These were two people who had a well-known feud that resulted in death. If rap were a scapegoat for feudal violence, how might one explain the Hatfield-McCoy feud, when hip hop didn’t even exist? What may account for other famous rap beefs that didn’t result in violence?
A relatively long time since the 90s, this sort of blame-shifting continues to occur. More recently, New York City’s mayor purportedly blamed gun violence on rap music. What better to explain a 38.5% spike in violence, other than music?
Some people have speculated. Moving on.
Ice Cube addressed the blame game issue in “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It,” mocking the notion of music causing others to behave in a particular way, denying a causal effect. An unlikely ally, even a Department of Justice (DOJ) source has remarked about how rap is unduly targeted by politicians and law-and-order officials who are hell-bent on scapegoating it as a major source of violence.
I can appreciate the critique, “The rise of nihilistic rap has mirrored the breakdown of community norms among inner-city youth over the last couple of decades.” I also maintain that individual responsibility and accountability are major factors when critiquing whether or not rap causes people to behave in a violent or criminal fashion.
When thinking about reactions to rap, I’m reminded of a blog entry I posted, describing my approach to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). I also think of a post I drafted, in which I described my intent to highlight hip hop elements which relate to REBT.
I think the idea of an individual not being responsible for personal actions, and it’s instead claimed that a music artist should, must, or ought (SMO) to remain accountable for such behavior, is a false premise, because the suggestion denies people personal agency. Using logic, allow me to explain what I mean.
Example 1 –
Premise 1: If rap contains violent messaging, people will commit crimes.
Premise 2: Rap contains violent messaging.
Conclusion: People commit crimes, because of violent messaging in rap.
Here, premise 1 (“If rap contains violent messaging, people will commit crimes”) is false, since people committing crimes may have very little to do with messaging in rap. For example, it’s possible that someone committing a crime did so, because of unchallenged maladaptive cognitions that led to self-disturbed anger and violent action.
Example 2 –
Premise 1: All people who listen to rap are inherently violent.
Premise 2: Rupert listens to rap.
Conclusion: Therefore, Rupert is inherently violent.
Here, premise 1 (“All people who listen to rap are inherently violent”) is false, because not every single person who listens to rap thinks about enacting violence upon others or actually exhibits violent behavior. For example, if you encouraged your 92-year-old grandmother to listen to “Noah’s Arc” by Classified, doing so doesn’t mean she is or will become violent.
Example 3 –
Premise 1: No people are responsible for their own actions.
Premise 2: Bartholomew is a person.
Conclusion: Bartholomew isn’t responsible for his actions.
Here, premise 1 (“No people are responsible for their own actions”) is false, since on a moral, ethical, and legal basis, people are expected to be held accountable for their behavior. To simply this matter, think of morals as equating to good, bad, right, wrong, etc.
Ethics are essentially rules we pledge to live by, based largely on morality. Legality concerns civil, criminal, or other societally-created systems of right or wrong, often based on morals and ethics, though not always.
With premise 1, the claim of absence from responsibility for all people professes too much. Whether we like it or not, or otherwise, personal responsibility and accountability—collectively, ownership—is a function of a civil society.
Example 4 –
Premise 1: All rap artists are legally responsible for the behavior of their fans.
Premise 2: Wilhelmina, a fan of rap, is convicted of homicide.
Conclusion: Therefore, Ice Cube deserves to be sentenced for Wilhelmina’s actions.
Here, premise 1 (“All rap artists are legally responsible for the behavior of their fans”) is false, because—as outlined in example 3—culpability is not necessarily the same as one’s own moral or ethical consideration. For instance, one may think an artist should not rap about killing members of an identity group—as was the case in Ice-T’s “Cop Killer”—though on a legal basis, this is inaccurate.
Love it, hate it, or otherwise, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, with certain permissible restrictions. If one determines that others SMO not to violate personally authoritative rules, prescriptions, or injunctions, these represent maladaptive cognitions—or self-disturbing beliefs.
I assist clients by identifying these rigid and extreme belief systems which often lead to emotional consequences (i.e., shame, guilt, sorrow, agitation, etc.) and behavioral reactions (e.g., steamrolling multiple copies of The Chronic). These emotive consequences and behavioral reactions may occur simultaneously.
Here are some examples of rigid beliefs that may lead to consequences:
· I ought never to be responsible for my own actions.
· Others must not use profane language.
· I should never have my sensibilities challenged.
· Others must respect my views.
· Society must not allow its citizens to hear hip hop music.
· Rap should never be anyone’s preferred musical genre.
As well, it isn’t uncommon to derive extreme beliefs from rigid expectations which further yield consequences.
Here are a few examples of these unhelpful combinations:
· I ought never to be responsible for my own actions, and if I were it would be awful.
· Others must not use profane language, and if they do it will devastate me.
· I should never have my sensibilities challenged, and if I do I don’t think I could stand it.
· Others must respect my views, and if they don’t it means I’m worthless.
· Society must not allow its citizens to hear hip hop music, and it does I don’t want to associate with anyone.
· Rap should never be anyone’s preferred musical genre, and if it is I can never accept such a choice.
SMO narratives are often the elements with which we disturb ourselves to vary degrees. That’s correct; I said we tend to disturb ourselves. REBT uses the ABC Model to highlight the Epictetian notion, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
People frequently maintain that an action (A) leads to a consequence (C). Someone commits a crime while listening to rap (A) is said to lead to anger for those who despise hip hop music (C). However, REBT maintains that rather than an A-C connection, we disturb ourselves with beliefs (B)—B-C connection.
In this case, a rising crime rate results among those who predominately listen to rap (A), you think, “This shouldn’t [SMO not] happen, and because it has, society is going to collapse; and I don’t think I can stand it [B].” As a result of this unhelpful belief, you disturb yourself to an angry disposition (C). This is an A-B-C connection that could use disputation (D), leading to an effective (E) new belief (B).
For the current written submission, I won’t go into how disputing (D) a maladaptive belief (B) system works. What is important herein is that we tend to disturb ourselves with rigid and extreme attitudes.
Our self-disturbing SMO narratives, when left undisputed, may lead us to conclude that demanding words (i.e., ought to have, they better, etc.) function as a prescription to life rather than a description of an observation. The words we tell ourselves are those we tend to believe.
When one no longer rigidly demands that rap shouldn’t exist, or extremely declares that all hip hop music leads to violence, I suspect self-disturbance may be resolved. Of course, I’d be willing to change my mind about rap’s influence on others if valid and reliable future research were to demonstrate otherwise.
One of the reasons I appreciate REBT is that it may be used for many of the challenges people experience on a day-to-day basis. The ABC Model allows us to take ownership of our circumstances, empowers us to focus on change from within, and serves as a method to reduce the amount of suffering we may otherwise endure.
As a psychotherapist, and hip hop head from the old school, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
If my approach to REBT sounds like something in which you may be interested, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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