Chapter 5: African American English and the communities it influences

5.4.3 The way rap and hip-hop have influenced today’s African American youth (research essay)

Amiri Austin

English 102, November 2020

Today I believe young people not just limited to African American’s find themselves being in a situation in which they have turned to their favorite rapper for motivation, a voice to listen to, or even just background music. Since I started this topic, I’ve been intrigued to find out just how big of an impact Rap and Hip-Hop have had on African American youth in areas of high income along with impoverished areas. Music has helped many of these kids get through tough situations and help escape their reality of gang violence and perhaps not the best circumstances. Rap and Hip-Hop music have also helped influence this generations views on certain topics and helped create opportunities young men and women of color otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to experience.

Now you may be wondering how exactly music can help African American communities. To start I will introduce you to a study used and created by counselors to better help them understand their clients of color. In the article titled “Using Rap Music to Better Understand African American Experiences.”, the authors start off by describing Hip-Hop as more than just a culture you can adopt by buying certain clothes or going to see a few concerts. Hip-Hop is described as more of a dream or an emotional outlet or a way to build relationships and to help young people network their way to a career or profession to get out of the projects or another tough living situation. The authors went about this study by using a content analysis design and chose a genre known as conscious rap, featuring multiple artists and 10 different songs. The songs included were NWA-F**K The Police, 2Pac-rapped, Killer Mike- Don’t Die, Rage Against the Machine-Killing the Name, MainSource- Just a Friendly Game of Baseball, Dead Prez-Cop Shot, Gil Scott Heron- No Knock, Ice-T – Cop Killer, KRS-One-Sound of Da Police, and UGK-Protect and Serve.(7) Each of the researchers listened to the songs in 30 second intervals and then wrote down their thoughts/decoded versions.  Time was taken to relisten and truly feel what the artist was trying to describe to its listeners. The authors found that these songs were more than just lyrics for people to memorize and recite at concerts, they were words used to help these artists get out of their struggle and help their family members out, they were words used to inspire other youth and let them know that even in the worst situations you can achieve the biggest of dreams. This advancement of understanding the lyrics and usage of certain verbiage in songs helped counselors become more culturally competent and helped them institute encouraging activities and helped bring out locked up stories from clients of color. It also helped them understand their social identity and made them feel more wanted even in a world of privilege and oppression. This study is important to the climate of today’s world because I think a lot of people have a misunderstanding of Rap and Hip-Hop music and how it can be used to help. Counseling especially is now more important than ever with the increased awareness of mental illness in the United States and around the world. Suicide rates are at the highest they’ve been in a long time especially in teens and youth and a lot of these kids talk about artists like Juice Wrld or Lil Peep who helped them get through rough times in their life where they thought the only way out was suicide. My next topic will be moving from a health perspective in counseling to ways in which rap and hip-hop have helped African American youth from an education perspective.

From my education experience I never really was forced to have music as a class until 5th grade when I had a required recorder class and we learned how to read basic sheets of music and perform songs in front of our peers. In a scholarly article titled “Connecting Black Youth to Critical Media Literacy Through Hip-Hop Making in the Music Classroom” a program called Foundations of Music encouraged participants to increase their effort and maximize their abilities in the classroom through making music of the hip-hop genre. The Foundation of Music program introduces students to both the process of writing lyrics of a rap song and the technology used to produce rap songs in a classroom. Each day the authors would record observations like the concept’s kids learned every day, reactions from student-to-student and student-to-teacher, along with informal conversations between the students. It was discovered that having the same group of kids come in every day and work on a new hobby built a sense of belonging among them that replicated what it felt like to be a part of a team. A common goal of bettering themselves every day and a sense of having an actual end goal of creating a song or producing a song helped them create a work ethic they weren’t otherwise used to or aware of. Many kids were also able to express their emotions and real-life experiences and let their stories be heard in their communities without being harassed by their normal teachers for talking during a lesson or being off topic. One of my research questions I’d like to answer with this topic would be just “How effective are these literacy practices involving rap music” and “How do African-Americans benefit as a whole from literacy teaching practices involving rap or hip-hop music.” In the article titled “Toward a Critical Pedagogy of popular Culture: Literacy Development Among Urban Youth”, the author talks about how educators have wanted to use new strategies and approaches to teach literacy to urban youth. It can be argued that hip-hop music is the representative voice of urban youth because it was created by and for urban youth, in addition to acting as voices in their urban communities’ rappers consider themselves educators and see at least a portion of their goal as raising consciousness of their communities. The author and his colleague in this article first designed a unit in their curriculum that incorporated hip-hop music and culture into a traditional senior English poetry unit. The major portion of the unit was a group presentation of a poem and a rap song from a historical period that was discussed in the class. The groups were asked to prepare a justifiable interpretation of their poem and song with relation to their specific historical and literary periods and analyze the links between the two. The students generated quality interpretations and made interesting connections between the poems and the rap songs. Their critical investigations of popular texts brought about oral and written critiques like those in college preparatory English classrooms. The students moved beyond critical reading of literary texts to become cultural producers themselves, creating and presenting poems that provided crucial commentary and encouraged action for social justice. Another area used by this study was teaching with popular film. The notion of films as visual texts worthy of academic study has been growing within the postsecondary academy for some time. The critical studies field has grown in prominence, and there are now academics who use critical theory to study film at nearly every major university in the U.S. During the units, the students watched the films in class while reading the accompanying texts at home. By combining popular film with canonical texts, the students were able to hone their critical and analytical skills and use them in interpretations. They were also able to understand the connection between literature, popular culture, and their everyday lives. Further they were able to translate their analyses into quality oral debates and expository pieces. While working with urban youth in Los Angeles, the author coordinated a group of research seminars that brought high school students to the local university to study access to corporate media and the corporate media’s portrayal of urban youth. The students read literature relating to critical media literacy and the sociology of education, designed a study, conducted interviews, analyzed countless hours of news coverage, and performed a content analysis of major U.S. daily newspapers. The author noticed that through the teens research process they were increasingly able to meaningfully draw upon personal experiences during the reading of texts concerning critical media literacy or during interviews they conducted with members of the mainstream media. Motivated and empowered by the prospect of addressing a real problem in their community, the students learned the tools of research, read difficult texts, and produced their own text of high academic merit.

The next topic I will move on to is the “healing power of hip-hop” as stated in an article written by authors Alexander Crooke and Raphael Travis Jr on Hip-hop and rap culture alike have been criticized as a criminal threat and numerous studies have been undertaken on the harmful influence of hip-hop on kids. While there’s no denying that the lyrical content of hip-hop can be confrontational and many rappers do glorify violence and drugs if you look past certain artists and certain situations you find the “hidden gem” that everyone loves and enjoys. Hip-hop at its core is built on the values of social justice, peace, respect, self-worth, community, and having fun. That is why it is so increasingly popular to youth all around the world and why many kids alike idolize these artists and truly believe they are a therapeutic tool. At its simplest you can make a beat with your mouth or by using a pencil on a school desk or just recite lyrics about anything and with cost-friendly music creating software, young kids are able to take their talents to new levels and pathways to entrepreneurship. Aside from assisting African American youth in urban areas in career options, hip-hop music can also just be a way to cope with problems in their life. I know at least for me that in my first semester in college 10 hours away from home I have definitely used music as an outlet in many situations. In fact for the first week or two my roommates and I would come back from lacrosse practice, sit on the couch and listen to music or “vibe” as we call it. Each day we played different music depending on our mood and just talked about our problems or just listened to the music and relaxed. It was the only time we really interacted to be honest but after two or three days it was what I looked forward to the most in my day, just listening to music and screaming lyrics with my friends. In his U.S. based research Dr. Travis found that those who listen to hip-hop have strong benefits to individual mental health, in areas of coping, emotions, identity and personal growth, can help promote resilience in communities.  Marginalized urban communities around the world share the feeling of resisting exclusion or discrimination and fighting for equity and justice and the rappers that come from these areas have a certain sound that echoes this feeling. Hip hop is not a cure or antidote and it isn’t perfect, but its promise is undeniable. It is a culture with complicated social and historical roots. Its complicated history enables us to critically reflect on our society, and forces us to face issues of race, privilege, class, and cultural appropriation.

I’d like to discuss a very controversial topic in today’s society for many reasons but the main one is that this topic often intertwines with African American youth today and I believe Rap and Hip-Hop music play a very big part in this. That topic would be Police brutality and the way in which Rap lyrics are used as a political force against it. In the scholarly article titled “Rap Music as a Positive Influence on Black Youth and American Politics” the author Natalie Wilson discusses lyrics from an artist named Ice-T in his song titled “Squeeze the Trigger”. He raps “Cops hate kids, kids hate cops. Cops kill kids with warnin’ shots. What is Crime and what is not? What is justice? I think I forgot.” The lyrics in this song are quite blunt but I do believe he is stating true information and addresses the grey area of our justice system. African-American youth are constantly the victims of homicide by cops in most cases they are unarmed and in most cases cops are let off with no charges. I believe a lot negativity in rap songs comes from the artist just speaking on the climate they were raised in whether it be around gang violence and drugs or living in harsh situations where their parents couldn’t provide them with certain necessities. Many young black men are in a situation in which they get a sudden sense of discomfort around police wondering of they’ll be the next hashtag or next face on a t-shirt that people are purchasing in order to support my family. I do understand that in some situations the teens or people are in the wrong and the media takes some stories are out of context but like Ice-T said cops kill kids with warning shots and certain precautions are not taken. I also understand that it can be out of self-defense but in cases in which the civilian is unarmed how are they supposed to protect themselves or even attack without a weapon. There is no question that black youth are unproportionally racially profiled and stooped and questioned simply because of their skin color. I will now discus an artist named Kendrick Lamar who is a positive role model to black youth across the U.S. as he persevered as a good kid and escaped the dangerous streets of Compton. In one of his songs titled “good kid” he shares his experience of gang violence while never being affiliated with one himself. He depicts memories of being jumped by gang members despite his disaffiliation, he is self-described as a good kid who stays out of trouble and attends bible studies regularly. When recognized by the wrong person he is a victim of conflict simply because he associates with friends who are gang members, he then recognizes he is a good kid trapped in a mad city, alluding to the title of this song being good kid and the title of the album m.A.A.d. city. I believe many young African American kids struggle with this situation and often turn to music as a way to escape their city and live a better life away from conflict.

In the next article I will be introducing titled “Hip-Hop & the Global Imprint of a Black Cultural Form” helps me take a slightly odd view on my thesis but nonetheless it states that hip-hop is one of the most popular genres’ in America and that it is really becoming the lingua franca for popular and political youth culture around the world. As hip-hop has skyrocketed in global popularity, its defiant and self-defining voices have been both multiplied and amplified as they challenge conventional concepts of identity and nationhood. Global hip-hop has emerged as a culture that encourages and integrates innovative practices of artistic expression, knowledge production, social identification, and political mobilization. The hip-hop nation is an international, transnational, multiracial, multiethnic, multilingual community made up of individuals with diverse class, gender, and sexual identities. While hip-hop heads come from all age groups, hip-hop culture is primarily youth driven. The global influence of hip-hop directly relates to its popularity as a major music source among youth in the United States. According to the national Gallup poll of adolescents between the ages of thirteen and seventeen in 1992, hip-hop music had become the preferred music of youth (26 percent). Along with hip-hop’s cultural norm of inclusion, global hip-hop remains symbolically associated with African Americans. It has incorporated many aspects of African American language ideology. Hip-hop presents African American English (AAE) as a symbolic and politicized dialect where speakers are aware of complex and contradictory processes of stigmatization, valorization, and social control. The hip-hop speech community is not necessarily linguistically and physically located but rather bound by this shared language ideology as part of politics, culture, social conditions, and norms, values, and attitude.

It would be unfair if after discussing all the positive effects and influence rap and hip-hop has on African American youth I didn’t discuss the negative effects. I will be doing so with the help of an article titled “How Hip-Hop holds Blacks Back” and it is by John H. McWhorter who’s podcast we listened to earlier this year in class. He believed that encouraging rap culture reinforced stereotypes that long hindered people of color, and by teaching young African Americans that a thuggish appearance or dialect is the “authentic” response to a presumptively racist society impedes future black success. Of course, not all hip-hop is belligerent or profane, entire CDs of gang-banging, police-baiting, and woman-bashing would get old fast to most listeners, but it’s the nastiest rap that sells the best, and the nastiest cuts that make a career. The top ten best-selling hip-hop recordings all celebrate the ghetto as “where it’s at”. Keeping the thug front and center has become the quickest and most likely way to become a star. So much so that many artists nowadays try to cultivate a gangsta image, even if they aren’t actually from an area they claim to be or if they never struggle like they say they do. Many fans, rappers, producers, and intellectuals defend hip-hop’s violence, both real and imagined as a revolutionary cry of frustration from disempowered youth. While I do agree with McWhorter on some of his stances about hip-hop, not all rappers or hip-hop artists preach violence and negative energy. I do believe there was a time period where there was a lot of civil unrest and racial tension where artists did just seem like their music was just angry rants about rival gangs or police or certain events but I believe that rap and hip-hop, like all things evolve and grow and we have a new generation of artists who are trying to turn the views of rap and hip-hop around. There will always be some artists that just rap to rap and say what they want to say but if you’re really looking for someone speaking real lyrics you can find it. That’s another great part of music that I enjoy, you can really find anything you want for your mood and it doesn’t always have to be someone speaking deeply about their story, you can just listen to someone mumbling over a cool beat if you want.

To conclude my paper, I will discuss my final thoughts on how rap and hip-hop influence African American youth. As I’ve stated many times above, music can be used in many ways to help people get through their days whether it’s playing music in the car or listening to a playlist while working out. So, music isn’t just tailored to those who are in tough times or those who need it to get out of a certain situation. I just believe that rap and hip-hop have had an extremely significant impact on African-American youth because to some of those kids it’s all they have, and even for me some days this semester when I missed home or just didn’t feel like doing anything, turning on some music was always my go-to. For some African American youth music is what drives them to do well in school, as you saw in the studies above adding music to a curriculum helped students stay engaged longer and helped them learn multiple advanced techniques just by creating what they thought was a silly rap. The study of rap and hip-hop songs helped counselors better understand their clients of color just by hearing what the artists had to say, it helped them come to a better understanding of possibly what some of their clients were going through and they were able to better connect with clients and truly fulfill their task of helping people feel better. Many artists are telling their stories of their youth through their songs and you really get a look into the good, bad, and the ugly. I believe that rap and hip-hop both get a bad reputation for being all about drugs, violence, or disrespecting women but maybe it’s just what these artists saw growing up and at that moment they weren’t able to tell right from wrong. I bring this up to say that we must come together as a society and understand the cries out for help and instead of just letting songs go by without any action we must get out and help these people and save them from their struggles and help break this everlasting cycle of poverty and recession in black communities. Especially with the political climate of the United States right now, there’s riots in the streets over a black man being killed by the police and there were protests in all 50 states at one point. It’s more important than ever to understand what is going on with African American youth and I believe that rap and hip-hop music are a good gateway to an inside look on their lives, of course their stories don’t represent all of the youth but there is a fairly good representation of different cities that rappers are from and each of their stories relate in some way or another. This topic has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me, from being confused at the start of what I really wanted to write about but I did enjoy truly understanding stories and seeing interpretations of a hobby so simple as listening to music because I do it just about every day.

Works Cited

Brooks, Michael. “Using Rap Music to Better Understand African American Experiences.” Taylor & Francis, 26 Feb. 2020,

Evans, Jabari. “Connecting Black Youth to Critical Media Literacy through Hip Hop Making in the Music Classroom.” Latest TOC RSS, Intellect, 1 July 2020,

Morrell, Ernest. “Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Popular Culture: Literacy Development among Urban Youth.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 46, no. 1, 2002, pp. 72–77. JSTOR, Accessed 4 Nov. 2020.

Powell, Catherine Tabb. “Rap Music: An Education with a Beat from the Street.” The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 60, no. 3, 1991, pp. 245–259. Accessed 4 Nov. 2020.

Wilson, Natalie, “Rap Music as a Positive Influence on Black Youth and American Politics” (2018). Pop Culture Intersections. 21.

McWhorter, John H., et al. “How Hip-Hop Holds Blacks Back.” City Journal, City Journal, 18 June 2019,

Crooke Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Music Therapy, Alexander, and Raphael Travis Jr. Associate Professor of Social Work. “The Healing Power of Hip Hop.” The Conversation, 18 May 2019,

“Positive Impacts.” Impacts of Rap Music on Youths,

Morgan, Marcyliena, and Dionne Bennett. “Hip-Hop & the Global Imprint of a Black Cultural Form.” Daedalus, vol. 140, no. 2, 2011, pp. 176–196. Accessed 5 Nov. 2020.

D’Amico, Francesca. “Welcome to the Terrordome: Race, Power and the Rise of American Rap Music, 1979-1995.” YorkSpace Home, 11 May 2020,


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