Youths to rappers: Clean it up
Can raunchy music make 'Hip Hop is Dead' a reality?


February 1, 2007
BY ANDREW HERRMANN Staff Reporter

They look, and they listen. But they don't always love what they see and hear.

A University of Chicago survey shows 58 percent of black youths listen to rap daily, and nearly half watch music videos at least several days a week.

But most also say they think the videos contain too much sex and violence. Two-thirds of young black women say rap music videos portray African-American females "in bad and offensive ways.''

About 57 percent of young black men agree.

"At one point, we asked, 'Why don't you just stop listening to it?' And they said, 'Well, there's not much else. This is what's been given to us,'" said Cathy J. Cohen, a U. of C. political science professor who was the principal investigator for the Black Youth Project.

Too much sex, violence

The rap question was part of a wide-ranging survey of almost 1,600 young people of all races, ages 15 through 25. About 600 of those queried were black.

Additionally, about 40 young African Americans were interviewed in-depth in five Midwestern cities, including Chicago and Gary.

About 72 percent of black youths said there is too much sex in videos, and 68 percent said they think there is too much violence.

A sidewalk sampling Wednesday outside of Jones Academic Magnet High School, 606 S. State, found that some African-American teens have mixed feelings about rap -- yes, it can be vulgar, but, hey, it's got a good beat, and you can dance to it.

"I say, OK, it's disrespectful, but it's good music," said Janese Evans, 17, of Englewood. "It's about the beat. I ignore the lyrics. I don't let them dictate how I feel.''

Keyanna Taylor, 17, of the South Side, said, "Every time you watch a video, every time you listen to a CD, they're always talking about something sexual or somebody's going to kill somebody or hurt somebody. You get used to it after a while. That's just how the song goes.''

"A lot of it is pointless, disrespectful. I used to watch videos all the time, but people started wearing less and less clothing, and more videos [made] women just look like nothing,'' said Deandria Kelley, 17, of Ashburn.

Spencer Slaton, 14, of Chatham, considers rap to be poetry, though some of it is harsh, he said. But "just because 50 Cent says I should do something doesn't mean I'm going to do it. I don't take it to heart.''

'Addicted to the images'


Parents have long worried about the music their kids listen to, noted Mark Anthony Neal, an associate professor of African-American studies at Duke University who specializes in pop culture. But young people today are "bombarded in ways we weren't'' through videos and iPods and the Internet, he said.

When it comes to consuming media, "the same way we watch the train wrecks on "American Idol" or Donald Trump, the kids are addicted to the images in music videos,'' Neal said.

This spring, U. of C. researchers will begin analyzing the content of the top rap songs over the past 10 years.

Cohen said the survey may indicate that "a coalition across generations" is building to force the rap music industry to clean itself up.

aherrmann@suntimes.com

THEY SAID IT ...


"Just because 50 Cent says I should do something doesn't mean I'm going to do it. I don't take it to heart.'' -- Spencer Slaton, 14, Chatham

". . . They're always talking about something sexual or somebody's going to kill somebody or hurt somebody. You get used to it after a while.'' -- Keyanna Taylor, 17, South Side

"OK, it's disrespectful, but it's good music. It's about the beat. I ignore the lyrics. I don't let them dictate how I feel.'' -- Janese Evans, 17, Englewood

"I used to watch videos all the time, but people started wearing less and less clothing, and more videos [made] women just look like nothing.'' -- Deandria Kelley, 17, Ashburn