In a 2004 study by Bulck and Beullens, 63.6% of survey respondents watched music videos at least several times a week and are a favorite pastime of adolescents today. Research has shown that problematic behaviors may lead to changes in media use instead of the other way around, and for young people this has often been linked to music. Adolescents who do poorly in school often look to media that is not favored by elders or teachers to distinguish themselves from children whose motivations and goals are still defined by traditional education.
It is widely known that parents seldom talk to their children about sex or any socio-political issues. The mass media are powerful educators because they provide frequent and compelling portraits of social issues such as sex as fun and risk free. The media serves as a kind of super peer for the youth, providing models of attractive adolescents and adults engaging in behaviors that may not be condoned by the teen’s own peer group. White adolescents spend five to six hours with some type of mass media as African American adolescents spend even more. Black Entertainment Television (BET) dropped Rap City which was one the networks longest running programs dedicated to respecting early Hip Hop and discussing the latest and greatest artists in Hip Hop. The program was thought to portray too many negative influences even though the Music Television (MTV) network played the same music videos, despite both being a part of the Viacom cable company.
Analyzing the critical social commentary produced by The Fugees, Public Enemy, or Nas can lead to discussions raising awareness and research projects attempting to find explanations for the current state of affairs for the youth. The knowledge reflected in these lyrics could spawn discussions of esteem, power, place, and purpose while encouraging youth to further their own knowledge of economics, sociology, education, and politics. This way, Hip Hop music can stand on its own merit in the world of traditional education and be a worthy subject of study in its own right rather than reading something more “acceptable” like a Shakespeare text.
Hip Hop lyrics are literary texts that should be used to support literary terms and concepts and ultimately foster literary and sociological understanding. Hip Hop lyrics are saturated in imagery and metaphors that should be used to teach irony, tone, diction, and point of view. If the goal of educators is to empower students to analyze complex literary texts, Hip Hop should be used to bridge the seemingly vast span between academics and the streets. Hip Hop lyrics can be just as valuable as a jump starter for discussions about political, economic, and social issues facing today’s youth. Edgy rap lyrics can be brought into the classroom and discussion topics can be derived from listening and reading the lyrics. These discussions can lead to more critical thinking which could translate into a commitment to advocate for community empowerment.