In the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, it’s easy for some people to place blame on hip-hop music for gun violence. While there’s no disagreement that there are hip-hop artists who feature violence, especially gun violence, in their lyrics and music videos, those hip-hop artists are not physically forcing anyone to shoot others. Some hip-hop artists, primarily rap artists, who discuss gun violence in their lyrics and music videos contend that they are simply reflecting on their personal experiences and illuminating life in various poor black neighborhoods across the nation. For these artists, they feel the need to have the creative freedom to divulge their experiences with gun violence to stay true to their craft and lived experiences. They don’t see themselves as sharing any responsibility for violence in society, even when perpetrators of violence explicitly or implicitly disclose they were influenced by the work of hip-hop artists.
Ogbonna Hagins, Chief Executive Officer and founder of Philadelphia-based hip-hop magazine Philly World, asserts that rap artists share some responsibility for how gun violence has been glorified in some of their lyrics and music videos. He, however, does not contend that they should be regarded as being more responsible than any other individuals and phenomena for gun crime that plays out in society. In “The Hip-Hop Community Responds to the Sandy Hook Elementary School Tragedy,” Hagins posits that “hip-hop music is no more to blame for gun crime than films or video games.” Many others, however, argue that gun violence is as prevalent as it is in our postmodern epoch because of a combination of the influence of rap music, violent films and video games.
In Know What I Mean?: Reflections on Hip-Hop, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, distinguished Georgetown University professor and hip-hop public intellectual, promulgates that many rap artists give voice to the social misery of their lived experiences, which, for many, includes participating in and witnessing the dangers of gun violence. For Dr. Dyson, these artists must be afforded an opportunity to share their experiences and world views. He does, however, call hip-hop artists, especially rap artists, to understand how influential they are in American society and how they play an important role in shaping American culture. Dyson wants them to have a higher consciousness about their influence and be more selective about the ways in which they choose to present the truths of their lived experiences through their art.
While the highly contentious debate about whether hip-hop music leads to violence in society will probably continue, and arguments about how hip-hop artists’ depictions of gun violence potentially leads to violence will persist, one thing is clear: no empirical evidence has been presented directly linking hip-hop music to mass shootings, especially the tragic mass shooting that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. At this point, no evidence has been presented that Adam Lanza, the individual who committed the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, even listened to hip-hop music.
–Antonio Maurice Daniels
Antonio Maurice Daniels is a Research Associate and Ph.D. student in Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He blogs regularly for his cultural commentary blog, Revolutionary Paideia. His works have been featured widely in academic and popular online publications, including Mused Magazine, Up 4 Discussion, From Ashy to Classy, The Black Man Can, Healthy Black Men Magazine and etc. Follow him on Twitter at @paideiarebel.