Feeling the Beat: The Meaning of Rap Music for Ethnically Diverse Midwestern College Students-A Phenomenological Study

By Iwamoto, Derek K.; Creswell, John et al. | Adolescence, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Feeling the Beat: The Meaning of Rap Music for Ethnically Diverse Midwestern College Students-A Phenomenological Study


Iwamoto, Derek K., Creswell, John, Caldwell, Leon, Adolescence


Over the past two decades rap music has exploded onto the music scene and become one of the most popular and controversial music genres in America. In 2003 the number-one selling artist, according to Billboard Records, was the former drug dealer and survivor of seven gunshot wounds--rapper 50 Cent. Myriad other rappers shattered the top 50 records sold in 2003, and in 2004 the pattern continued (Billboard Records, 2004). Many rappers, such as PDiddy, Eminem, and Snoop Dogg, are now household names. An example of this was in the 2004 presidential election campaign, when PDiddy used his popularity and clout to increase youth voter turnout.

The popularity of rap is not confined to America. In its exponential growth it gained international appeal. In France rap has become a "social and cultural phenomenon" for adolescents (Miranda & Claes, 2004, p. 113). French-Canadian adolescents report that rap music is their favorite musical preference. Youth in Japan have also embraced rap music and emulate facets of the hip hop culture, such as attire, hair styles, and vernacular. Despite rap's global popularity, it is still largely seen as deviant music by many: politicians from both political spectrums, powerful religious organizations, and much of the general public condemn it. Rappers have been vilified and labeled as misogynistic and violent (Sullivan, 2003). Rap fans have been viewed as prone to violence and at risk of engaging in unhealthy behaviors (Rose, 1994). Due to the extreme feelings and opinions elicited by rap, it has caught the attention of social scientists.

There has been burgeoning research on the psychological effects of rap on its listeners, and some negative and positive predictors have been identified as to how this music interacts with certain psychological variables. The 2.5-year longitudinal study by Wingood et al. (2003) of 522 single, lower-socioeconomic-status African American female teenagers found that those who had greater exposure to rap music videos were more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as acts of violence and using drugs or alcohol, and were more likely to have acquired sexually transmitted diseases than those with less exposure. Wingood et al. concluded that what is depicted in the videos may influence adolescents by modeling these unhealthy behaviors. Rubin, West, and Mitchell's (2001) study found that rap music listeners tended to exhibit higher levels of aggression than did listeners to other music genres, but they also had higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of trust and faith in others.

Some research has pointed to the possible use of rap videos and music as a potentially innovative educational and counseling tool. Watts and Abdul-Adil (2002) consider rap a "powerful hook" that can engage young men to rethink and redefine their conceptions of masculinity. Further, they note their successful educational and youth development program that uses rap music videos with adolescent African American males. The program has participants critically analyze their environment and address such concerns as gender, culture, race, and social class primarily through rap videos and movies. Rap music also has been used in HIV/AIDS-prevention counseling with African American adolescents and young adults (Stephens, Braithwaite, & Taylor, 1998). Stephens et al.'s model uses rap music as a "focal point for self-expression, teaching, and learning" (p. 130). In their four-session group-counseling model, participants listen to selected songs and identify, role play, and discuss the messages and risk behaviors in the music. Stephens et al. (1998) feel that rap music is an effective counseling medium because the music is culturally and sociopolitically relevant to many of the participants, and facilitates the cooperative learning process. Tyson's (2002) experimental study examining two group counseling conditions (hip hop vs. control) found that rap music as a primary intervention improved the therapeutic experience and outcome for the youths.

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