Prime(time) Rap: How the Media Controls Our Kids

Rap is a term that was originally coined by males trying to win the affection and sexual favors from females and lost the sexual innuendo in the late 1960s as it crossed over into mainstream public language. Hip Hop helps urban youth develop empowering beliefs that help them connect with their culture and develop positive identities. Hip Hop is where many students live-the music they listen to, their traditions, the language they speak, the clothes they wear, the way they interact in the streets. There is tremendous pressure to emulate the ‘ghetto fabulous’ lifestyles flaunted by some Rap stars. Music is well known to connect deeply with adolescents and to influence identity development, probably more than any other entertainment medium.

Adolescents turn to such messages in order to set themselves apart from their parents and other authorities, which could have a positive impact on their sense of autonomy if developed in a safe and appropriate manner. Developing this sense of autonomy is crucial for any person’s psychosocial development. The priming process explains that exposure to media content influences later thoughts, judgments, and behavior related to the content. Priming occurs as a result of listening to music and watching music videos, which may induce, for example; more gender-typed perceptions of others, negative judgments of individuals from a certain ethnic group, greater emphasis on sexual desirability of potential romantic partners as opposed to traits such as honesty or reliability, greater acceptance for anti-social behaviors, and greater accessibility of suicidal thoughts. (Musto, Shaw, & Knobloch-Westerwick 2008)

Individuals exposed to representations of substance abuse, criminal behavior, sexual activity, and other negative or positive images would be more likely to perform those behaviors themselves if they are linked with relevant motivations, desirable and familiar associations, and positive consequences. Although priming effects are short lived, if the same songs play on the radio and television it is likely to accumulate a continual priming effect resulting in greater chronic accessibility of those concepts featured in the music and thus producing long-term cultivation and socialization effects. Such messages may indeed prime dysfunctional or antisocial thoughts, judgments, perceptions, and behaviors in teenagers, but this theory also remains true for positive behaviors. Hip Hops influence on the today’s youth could empower them to go further in academics, social concepts, world consciousness, and many other endeavors that could make the US a bigger and better competitor with other countries. But until they stop playing Rap songs that encourage hardcore drug usage, alcohol abuse, and promiscuity and decide to play music that discusses important social issues, politics, higher education, as well as love for community and love for self our youth will remain products of these socialization effects that result from long-term cultivation by the media.