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Are American youths being influenced by hip-hop?


The emergence of a beguiling phenomenon among American youths should no longer be ignored or dismissed as just another passing fad-a temporary novelty. In recent years many teenagers have become enmeshed in the euphoria and are gravitating to this all-encompassing sub-culture popularly known as hip-hop. It is quite pellucid that hip-hop has now become a major influence on young people especially Black and Latino youths.

            As society wrestles with the myriad of social problems engendered by such developments, young people generally but high school students in particular must recognize the impact of these changes on their future endeavors. The most perplexing aspect of this inexhaustible controversy is the lack of a singular response or cohesive approach to alleviate unwarranted fears.

Hip-hop is defined as a popular culture of big city and specially inner-city youths, characterized by graffiti art, break dancing, and rap music-of or relating to the culture. This art form that began in the late 1960s on the streets of New York to settle conflicts among Black teenagers has now evolved into a mainstream youth culture.

Contrary to public opinion, hip-hop is not only about music, it is a culture, a way of life, a language, a fashion and a set of values-nevertheless a culture void of acceptance or recognition. Today, across America it is not unusual to discern youths between the ages of 12 and 22 years of every conceivable ethnic background who dress in baggy clothing, sneakers, baseball caps and sporting elaborate tattoos all over their bodies. White suburban males are the largest listeners to and buyers of gansta rap music.  

White teenage girls are expressing appreciation for hip-hop by braiding their hair and adopting the mannerism akin to their African American friends. Many teenagers now wear baseball caps with the peaks in every which position but the front, dressing in oversized athletic jerseys and enlarged jeans. It has also become fashionable for youths to wear partially displayed boxer shorts and underwear. This inappropriate style of dress definitely gets the ire of conventional adults.

The cultural impact is not only being observed in the billion-dollar music industry but rap music has enabled Black artists an easier cross-over appeal and potentially serve as a unifier among diverse populations. Hip-hop culture now permeates various industries. Many Sit-coms and movies have targeted this impressionable population by reinforcing the negative images and lyrics that proved lucrative. It appears that unapologetic business moguls spear no efforts as they continue to advertise negative images. Our youths have to determine whether the appeal of fame and fortune must predominate over education and their personal integrity.

Rap music and hip-hop transcend race and economic status as is evident in the Asian community. These rappers represent various styles and elucidate messages ranging from social issues such as hate crimes against Asians to relationships between Black and Koreans. White and Latino artists have also impacted hip-hop culture with their unabashedly rebellious messages.

 In 1998, hip hop artists sold more than 81 million CDs, tapes, and albums exceeding any other genre of music. White hip-hop fans are expected to buy in excess of 70 percent of these albums annually.  Ironically, rap music that began on the streets of inner-city neighbors reflecting the hopes, concerns and aspirations of Black youth now appeals to a wide cross section of American society. 

            In fact hip-hop has moved from inner-city ghettos, to suburban streets, and currently occupies a seat in corporate boardrooms around the country. The emergence of gansta rap music (perceived as a culture of violence) has allowed record executives to benefit financially from the negative portrayals of Black people, especially women, in hip-hop lyrics and videos.

            Critics of this popular musical art form contend that Black adolescents are becoming sexually active at ages younger than other youth and are suffering from HIV/AIDS at a rate higher than other groups. Opponents of hip-hop also point to the high pregnancy rate among American youths and the steady increase of violent crimes perpetrated by young people.

            The outcome of this sub-culture will depend on the value and importance our society ascribes to youths, the nation’s future leaders. 

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