Why We Need To Stop Blaming Hip-Hop For Violence In America

by John Haltiwanger

On Wednesday evening, three people were wounded and one person was killed due to a shooting at a T.I. concert in New York City. What happened was deeply unsettling, and not something you want to see in any context.

Following the incident, however, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton made some pretty backwards remarks regarding hip-hop music.

There are a so many things wrong with what Bratton said.

First of all, hip-hop is a form of artistic expression. Whether Bratton can relate to the lyrics or not, freedom of speech protects the right of rappers to express themselves.

Why is it that Bratton doesn't also blame gun violence on other forms of art that have extremely violent themes? Why isn't he blaming movies like "The Godfather," or TV shows like "Breaking Bad" or the music of artists like Johnny Cash?

Probably because there's a huge double standard in this country when it comes to treating hip-hop as a specifically dangerous form of music, and this is rooted in America's racist past and present.

There is truth to the notion hip-hop often contains violent lyrics, but this is because it's an artistic reflection of the reality in many American communities. The fact of the matter is we live in a country that is plagued by violence, drug addiction and poverty. Rap music is not the root of these problems, but a method of coping with and responding to these unfortunate truths.

As rapper Killer Mike once stated,

In its formative years... [hip-hop] was explicitly conceived by many as an alternative to the violent gang culture that consumed cities like New York. Since then, it has offered countless young men and women opportunities to escape the poverty and violence in America's urban centers. As rapper Ice T once put it, 'If I hadn't had a chance to rap, I'd either be dead or in jail.' It is true that hip-hop has been scarred by violence. Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., for example, two of rap's most important and influential artists, were killed in the prime of their careers. But for each instance of violence, there are countless examples of lives saved or made stronger. Trust us on this: The kids spending hours per day writing rap songs aren't a threat to society; they are often trying to escape the threats from society.

Correspondingly, there is evidence listening to hip-hop can be effective in treating mental illness: a Cambridge University study found hip-hop can help combat depression, bipolar disorder and addiction.

Dr. Akeem Sule, a psychiatrist who conducted the study, stated,

Much of hip-hop comes from areas of great socioeconomic deprivation, so it's inevitable that its lyrics will reflect the issues faced by people brought up in these areas, including poverty, marginalization, crime and drugs. We can see in the lyrics many of the key risk factors for mental illness, from which it can be difficult to escape. Hip-hop artists use their skills and talents not only to describe the world they see, but also as a means of breaking free. We believe that hip-hop, with its rich, visual narrative style, can be used to make therapies that are more effective for specific populations and can help patients with depression to create more positive images of themselves, their situations and their future.

Contrary to what Bratton seemingly believes, hip-hop actually helps cultivate peace.

We also need to address how very misleading it is to blame a genre of music on the rampant gun violence in the US, as it distracts people from the root of the problem: the ubiquity of guns in this country. This is both irresponsible and dangerous.

Where there are more guns, there is more death. This is a fact. It's not a coincidence the US ranks number one in the world in firearms per capita and also has the highest homicide-by-firearm rate in the developed world. Guns lead to the deaths of around 30,000 Americans every single year -- that's an average of about 90 people per day.

We have a problem with guns in America, not with hip-hop.

Citations: NYPD COMMISSIONER CALLS RAPPERS 'THUGS,' BLAMES THEM FOR SHOOTING AT T.I. CONCERT (MTV News), Shooting at T.I. Concert in New York Kills One (The New York Times)