Hip-Hop and Dialogue Between Youth and Adults: A Youth’s Perspective

July 2, 2021 by Derick Agyenim-Boateng 

Big Sean does not miss. Look at one of his lyrics:

“. . .Slavemaster take our names, 5-0 take the shot, and young souls take the blame, man, but they can’t take away the light.” 

Rap music consumer or not, it is safe to say that we know who “they” is.

Why can’t they take away the light? For decades we have been using hip-hop to Fight the Power

The hip-hop group, Public Enemy, is a perfect example of hip-hop’s meaningful origins. Since its creation in 1985, the group has expressed messages on racism and media in America, thus influencing other forms of expression. For example, the film Do the Right Thing, centered around black culture and hip-hop against police brutality, uses the song Fight the Power.

Originating in the Bronx, hip-hop is used as a platform for racial justice advocacy and movements against police harm and brutality in Black communities. Its transformation over time has led to forms of expression such as rap music, which is widely consumed by Black youth. 

I have seen and heard it firsthand. Back when I lived in the Bronx, It was usually the youth consistently listening to rap music. However, it became a more prominent issue when parents would hear reports of their children cursing at school or “saying an inappropriate lyric from a rap song.” 

Concerns of rap influence would lead parents and older adults to overlook any other aspects of rap music and point to its faults. 

Hip-hop culture is a lifestyle that integrates music, dress, aesthetics, and language. It influences how youth act, dress and speak. Rap music does the same. 

This is the reality: rap music has themes of misogyny, violence, and sexual objectification, which are detrimental when consumed by Black youth. However rap music also has themes that promote the cultural and political empowerment of Black communities. 

When children listen to the illicit content in rap, they may begin to believe that rap music “glorifies drugs and violence.” Though such statements can be the result of personal opinions from youth, it is possible that whatever they hear from the adult community regarding rap music could impact how they perceive rap music. 

The concern adults have regarding youth consumption is understandable. However, there is reason to glorify the empowering themes that lie in hip-hop culture and rap music. 

Though it is primarily consumed by Black youth, the adult community should focus more on hip-hop culture and its themes of racial resistance and social action. By promoting more education on this, adults can cascade their knowledge of hip-hop to their children, potentially increasing youth’s social analysis and sociopolitical action. 

Black youth spend more time engaged in media than they spend with their parents. However, we would all benefit from collective education on hip-hop culture and its role in racial resistance. Sociopolitical influences, such as adults, surround Black youth. Therefore, we must encourage these influences to hold the knowledge that promotes sociopolitical development.

Walking back and forth between school and home in the Bronx, not a day passed where I did not hear rap music playing outside. I refused to put on headphones because the music playing from passing cars and pedestrians was just as good (if not better) than the music I would listen to on my own. However, there was a significant difference between my consumption of rap music outside and my entrance into my home. 

There was a time when my parents refused to engage with rap music or allow it in our home. They heard the same songs I did every day, but they let the words pass through their ears without giving them attention. It was clear that they did not hear the same messages I did; however, I was much more understanding because there was a cultural divide between our Ghanaian culture and the American culture that I grew up in. 

Consider this dialogue between my father and me (though it occurred in a different language, I will do my best to translate)…

In a car ride to LaGuardia Airport, Derick listens to ATM by J. Cole. He forgets that his music is loud enough for his father to hear. 

Dad: Hey Derick, what are you listening to? It’s too loud! 

Derick: Oh, it’s a song. 

Dad: What type of song. 

Derick: Rap music.  

Dad: By who? 

Derick: (Derick sighs) J. Cole 

Dad: Who is he? 

Derick: A rapper. 

Dad: This is what I don’t understand about you children. Why are you listening to the meaningless mumble of… (Air quotes) “musicians” who can’t even use full first names. Do not come into my car with songs from a man whose first name is J. You know how I feel about that type of music. 

Derick: But dad. Why do you hate this type of music? Some hip-hop songs and rappers give good messages. 

Dad: Like what. 

Derick: In the song Freedom, Beyonce, along with a rapper named Kendrick Lamar, sings about how African Americans must come together to break away from the chains of oppression. 

Dad: Okay, but how about the song you are listening to now? Where are the good messages in that? 

Derick: Can I please plug in the Aux cord? 

Dad: Very well ( Dad reluctantly passes the cord to Derick, and Derick plugs in his phone. The song Brackets by J. Cole begins to play)… Hmmm… I cannot even understand a word he’s saying… Oh my goodness…Why is he using that type of language…Okay, I’ve had enough. Turn off the music. 

Derick: But dad. You didn’t take the time to listen to the message. Get by all of the curse words. You’ll see that he talks about how the school curriculum blinds the children they are educating by teaching them history in one perspective; the perspective of white people. 

Dad: What else?

Derick: He also talks about how the government and big companies carry the goal of oppressing and silencing people of color through violence. 

Dad: I need proof. 

Derick: If you were listening (Derick says this quickly to avoid a piercing glare from his father), J. Cole says, “Money hungry company that makes guns that circulate the country. And then wind up in my hood, making bloody clothes. Stray bullet hit a young boy with a snotty nose.” He was trying to raise the fact that gun violence has become a massive issue in America…

I take pride in my enjoyment of rap music as I look out for the messages of peace, love, unity, and fun that grew from its roots in hip-hop. I am proud to say that this conversation would lead my father to spend his time in college learning about the history of hip-hop culture. 

Though adults should educate Black youth, the reverse applies. Conversations where Black youth inform their parents of the empowering messages in rap music are invaluable. They strengthen the sense of collectivism and community that is necessary for racial resistance and social action. Unity between adults and youth will brighten the light. The brighter it is, the harder it will be for the known “they” to take away. 

Published by Derick Agyenim-Boateng

My name is Derick Agyenim-Boateng, and I am from the Bronx, New York. I am in the University of Pennsylvania’s class of 2024, and I intend on majoring in Neuroscience while on the pre-med track. I am working as a research assistant for the Black Youth IMPact project.

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