The Reality Check: Mainstream Black Music & American Youth

The Reality Check: Mainstream Black music and American Youth

by: Chelsea Coffey

--At the expense of sounding off like a momma, I'd like to tackle a topic that is burning through my mind. A friend of mine tweeted a Shai song the other day, and when I finally got around to looking at it, I found myself watching another one of their videos -Baby I'm Yours:
 The truth is, I kind of melted as I watched the video. The song's a little corny, but the interaction between the singers and their leading ladies was actually something to be desired. The video is about 20 years old, and I couldn't help but feel disheartened seeing it. For starters the guys look like regular people you see in real life, no glitz or glam, and the same can be said about the women. It was almost a novelty to see a video where the women were not there to simply serve as a side-chick dressed like a stripper.  To really put things in perspective, the four leading ladies weren't wearing weaves --none of them. They actually had roles in the video, and most importantly the men showed them respect.
 Trust me, I get it. Each generation has a certain sense of nostalgia for the music they grew up liste ning to, but in the case of the transition we've seen over the last 20 years in R&B, we've witnessed more than a change in audio format and dress. The "Black Music" genre has seen a considerable shift in everything from the messages, to the videos, to the attitude towards women.
In an effort to evaluate my emotions against logic, I sincerely tried to think of one recent popular video or song from the R&B or Rap music genres that didn't require some degree of filtering. The reality is that it seems that the majority of mainstream R&B singers and rappers lack the sense of accountability that was displayed by previous generations. Point blank.
Maybe it's a moral issue on the part of artists, maybe it's an ethical issue on the part of record labels, maybe it stems from the "disappearing Black family"...whatever the case may be, the impact hurts our future generation's perception of "Black Music", especially as it relates to women and how they should be treated. My sensitivity to this issue isn't so much that women are spoken of in a derogatory way, because the truth is some women are bitches or sluts or whatever -sorry- shoulder shrug.
What bothers me is that it seems to penetrate all aspects of Black Music played by radio stations, at clubs, on commercials, etc. Whether it is a female rapper bashing other women and declaring her sexual prowess in a sleazy way, men talking about how many women he's going to run through, drug use, alcohol abuse; the list goes on. We are dealing with a content issue -both audibly and visually. Proverbs 12:11 states: And he that followeth after vain pursuits is devoid of understanding. Black Americans have so many reasons to be proud of where we've come from as a people and where we are going. It is a shame that negative stereotypes seem to monopolize our reputation. Our popular music plays a strong role in why that is the case.
Exhibit A:  Got Money by Lil Wayne featuring T-Paine. *Disclaimer: I'm guilty of doing a shoulder bounce every time the beat drops...Catchy lil mother sucker.
Got money (yeah)
And you know it
Take it out your pocket and show it (then)
Throw it 
This a way 
Thata way
This a way 
Thata way
Goes on:
 Bitch ain't shit but a hoe and a trick
But you no one ain't trickin? if you got it You know we ain't f**king if you not thick And I cool your ass down if you think you're hot shit
So Rolex watch this I do it 4 5 6 my click Clack goes the black hoe pimp And just like it I blow that shit Cause bitch I'm the bomb like tick tick
Or a heavier throwback example from 1986: Boyz-n-the-Hood by Easy E


Bored as f*** and i wanna get ill So I went to a place where my homeboyz chill Niggaz out there makin' that dolla' I pulled up in my '64 impala They greet me wit a 40 and I start drinkin' And from tha 8-ball my breath start stinkin' Enough tah get my girl tah rock that body Before I left i hit tha bacardi I went to her house tah get her out of the pad Dumb hoe said something that made me mad She said something that I couldn't believe So I grabbed tha stupid bitch by her nappy-ass weave She started talkin' shit what did ya know Reached back like a pimp slapped tha hoe Her father jumped up and he started tah shout So I bombed on pops knocked his old ass out
This song is over 30 years old, so it is not that we're just now seeing these types of lyrics in music, it about the reach and frequency. The only positive thing I can find to say about the Eazy E song is that it's beautiful the girl had a father in the home to try to defend her...
Look. It is proven that kids, regardless of race and socioeconomic status, imitate popular music --especially, when it comes to rap. All one has to do is look around and listen to the conversations of kids between the ages of eight and sixteen. Perhaps a possible argument would be, "Well, if it bothers you that much don't listen to the radio," and I don't. The reason why all of this is relevant is because it affects our children who are internalizing these messages. More importantly, it foreshadows a significant degree of influence on the perception of how our kids will define relationships, male/female gender roles,  how girls and boys will view themselves, as well as, what they feel they should emulate as they grow up (Don't even get me started on VH1's reality shows...).
To be clear, this is a problem that extends beyond the Black community. It affects our future society as a whole. Some would argue that rap is the number one music genre for today's youth, and anyone who would suggest that those messages aren't reaching American youth is sorely mistaken.
According to the NY Times Blog, Well:

Teenagers listen to an average of nearly 2.5 hours of music per day. Guess what they’re hearing about?

One in three popular songs contains explicit references to drug or alcohol use, according to a new report in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. That means kids are receiving about 35 references to substance abuse for every hour of music they listen to, the authors determined.

While songs about drugs and excess are nothing new, the issue is getting more attention because so many children now have regular access to music out of the earshot of parents. Nearly 9 out of 10 adolescents and teens have an MP3 player or a compact disc player in their bedrooms.

To present a concrete theory short of a complete overhaul in several areas to combat this issue escapes me. I have discussed this with family, friends, professors, community activists, and any solution seems to be hindered by two problems: parenting (or the lack thereof) and the high level of exposure to the lyrical content itself.
For the record, there are plenty of artists who convey real life issues in their music, and I applaud them. However more often than not, their tracks aren't being played on the radio or at school dances. It is my hope that conscious artists like Lupe Fiasco and The Foreign Exchange will get more play time on the radio one day and more visibility in general...In the meantime, I'll be praying for our kids, our society and the artists.

Standing and believing -Chelsea


Please see the following link to read the rest of the NY Times article at: Under the Influence of…Music?