The Influence of the Hip Hop Culture on African American Youth.


While discussing and analyzing the influence of the hip hop music on African American young people, it is necessary to take into consideration the influence of this musical culture on the politics and the internal policies within the United States. It is also important for one to concern the variety of the theoretical arguments and recognized among the credible scholars certain empirical findings over the issue under consideration.

A major aspect to discuss in this context would be the influence and the impact of the hip hop music on the development of youth politics among the African American social groups and communities in America. Basically, this research paper is intended to investigate are the relationship between the hip hop and such daunting problem as sex and sexuality, racial attitudes, substance abuse and violence, concerning the African American youth. With respect to perform successfully the above established task, it would be necessary to present the ways in which the hip hop might be considered a manifestation, and give the exhaustive explanation of the hip hop’s complex nature, while regarding it as a complex phenomenon.


It is a widely recognized fact that the hip hop music takes its roots from the poor Black neighborhoods. It should be noted that, nowadays, the African American youth, more then any other subgroup in the United States, reflects the challenges that were faced the minorities in the post – civil rights period. This group of people takes an active part in the debates over such issue as “the mass incarceration of African Americans … a policy to redress past discrimination … [regulation of] standards of education … effective campaigns for HIV and AIDS testing and prevention programs, or efforts to limit comprehensive sex education in public schools. Most of these initiatives … are focused on … impact young, often marginally positioned African Americans” (Hart, Atkins, 2002, p. 228).

The numerous credible scholars assert that such an active civil position might be determined by the influence of the hip hop music on the African American young people. Such a positive effect might be seen in the improvement of the voting participation which has been detected by the “Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement”, generally called CIRCLE.

Mark Hugo Lopez, the scholar who studies the issue of the African American participation in the political life of the United States, and the determinative factors of this process, commented on the above provided statistics in the following way: “ [In] 2004, … the increase [of the voting turnout] was driven by an increase in voting among African-American youth. African – American turnout fell off in the 1988 election … African- Americans experienced a jump in turnout [in 2004] of more than 11 percentage points over 2000… (Lopez, 2005, f/s). Therefore one may suggest that such an increase of the African American youth’s participation in the American political life could be determined by the extreme spread and the improvement of the hip hop music, and thus the hip hop culture in the African American communities.

Following this, it is possible to assert that such changes were achieved because the hip hop music is actually a real cultural phenomenon. It has a strong ability to empower those young African American listeners as it conveys a positive and encouraging message to them.

The hip hop is an art music genre that is widely recognized allover the United States of America and the whole world. Its complex nature is determined by its origins of the extremely poor African – American neighborhoods of the United States’ cities, “with its passage to the mainstream, however, concerns have been raised over how hip-hop’s taking on of new cultural meanings weakens its connection to its roots in those communities” (Sanchez – Jankowski, 2002, p. 241). The great responsibility and major role held by the hip hop celebrities in the process of shaping young African American people’s impressions, which is likely to encourage their own potential for positive changes and activism, should be also taken into account while regarding the problems under consideration.

In order to analyze and evaluate the processes and phenomena (including the hip hop culture and music) that usually determines the African American young people’s activism in the social life and politics of the country (the USA), the scholars Flanagan and Sherrod developed the “insightful theories of the processes involved in political development among adolescents and young adults” (Sherrod and Flanagan, cited in Sherrod, 2003, p. 287).

In the course of the studies, based on the insightful theories, it was detected that the African American young people under the age of eighteen, being not legitimate group to vote, form certain opinions. Those opinions are likely to concern their surroundings, lifestyles, themselves as a part of that social surrounding, their communities, and, of course, government.

As it has been already mentioned, the African American youth is greatly influenced by the hip hope celebrities. Consequently, there rises a frequently debated and discussed at all social and scientific levels issue, of whether the hip hop music engages too much sexism and violence. There is a great number of the entirely opposite to one another opinions. For example such stars as “Jay – Z and Wu – Tang Clan narrate their struggles against systemic racism in their lives and careers, they foreground criminality and compare the hip-hop industry to the drug trade in their songs” (Hess, 2006, p. 62). One side, defending such celebrities as Jay – Z and Wu – Tang Clan, holds the idea that the violence and sexism shown in the hip hop music leads to the negative effects and the raise of criminal activity among the African American youth community (as well as among the white groups of young people, who listen to the hip hop).

The contrary position, however, insists on the fact that the hip hop artist, generally called rappers, should have a right to expression their ideas and feelings freely. The advocates of this view point motivate their choice by the assumption that the hip hop songs are, actually, the reflection of the modern reality that the African American young people are faced to. They also assert that the celebrities, who perform hip hop songs, form a certain attitude of young people toward the events in those songs, and encourage and advice them to look for the better life, then the lives of the main characters of such songs.

As it has been already noted, there were held numerous debates over the suggestion that the hip hop music and the hip hop culture had influenced the activization of young African Americans in the spheres of the political participation and the civic engagement. For example the hip hop journalists and researchers held the continuous debate in the hip hop community, concerning the proposal that the hip hop could be regarded a cultural vehicle of politics for the African American young people.

The participants of the discussion drew up the conclusion according to which “the hip hop culture [is] especially influential in the lives of younger African Americans and had the potential to be a significant political force … [as the] hip hop is where … [African American young people] can talk to each other about all the things done wrong to … [them]” (Martin, 1998, p.185). Therefore, it is possible for one to conclude that the hip hop music must be regarded not only as a cultural form, but also a significant method of the political expression.

If analyze the situation in the political arena before the 2004 presidential election and its pre – election campaign, drawing a connection with the hip hop music, then it appears that the presence of the hip hop community there could be viewed quite clearly. For example in the “Citizen Change Campaign”, P. Diddy used the provoking slogan “vote or die”.

Another example of the hip hop culture’s presence in the course of the election process was the “Hip Hop Summit Action Network” created by Russell Simmon. The release of Eminem’s “Mosh” just a few weeks before the presidential election, might serve as a good proof of the above established suggestion. Following this, one may firmly assert that there is visible connection between the hip hop music and the activism of the African American youth in the sphere of politics and voting.

Moreover, the hip hop public celebrities, lending their names for the good purposes, encourage the African American young people to take an active part in the problem solving concerning AIDS and the prison industrial complex. Various scholars and researchers are greatly concerned over the connections, between the hip hop culture and the politics, and the hip hop culture and the social activities, established by the African American youth.

There were made some suggestions that the given group of young people regards the hip hop as an alternative method or way of the political action, which makes noticeable their social, economic and political status; that the hip hop culture shapes the political opinions and activities of the African American young people. There was proposed even that the listening of the audience to certain forms of the hip hop influences their own engagement in politics, develops their political attitudes, or alienates them from the political system, at all.

The scholar Sanchez – Jankowski suggests that the understanding of the African American youth’s lifestyles, positions and political lays on the analysis “of the impact of groups on the individual’s perception of, and participation in, civic activities… [A] person’s socioeconomic position and their ethnic group’s history in America influences the type and intensity of their civic involvement” (Sanchez – Jankowski, 2002, p. 237, p. 243). Here the researcher implies the importance and the significance of the hip hop music’s and hip hop culture’s influence on the African American youth’s life and opinions.


The young African Americans are greatly influenced by the hip hop music and the hip hop culture. One of the main reasons of its popularity among this particular age group is the usage of the autobiography and real life facts in the hip hop celebrities’ lyrics. Such songs frequently trace the artist’s life path through his or her poverty during the childhood to the wealthy social position in the music business.

The African American young people regard these songs as the reflection of their own life and social position; also they are encouraged by the plots of such lyrics to achieve the same results in their lives, as their favorite celebrities did. Therefore, one may firmly assert that the autobiographical grounds of the hip hop music determine the influence of the hip hop celebrities on the common African American youth.

Many scholars and researchers consider the hip hop music and the hip hop culture the revolutionary force in the political and social sphere. In accordance with the Davarian L. Baldwin’s provocative article “Black Empires, White Desires: The Spatial Politics of Identity in the Age of Hip-hop,” “By reinforcing the stereotypes that long hindered blacks, and by teaching young blacks that a thuggish adversarial stance is the properly ‘authentic’ response to a presumptively racist society, rap retards black success” (Baldwin, 1999, p. 44). Such statement again proves the significance of the influence of the hip hop music and the hip hop culture on the African American young people.

Nevertheless, one should point out that the hip hop culture influences not only positively on the given group of young people, but also negatively, as some young people are not able to draw up the adequate conclusions from the facts represented to them in the hip hop songs, and thus act in the same manner. Such double sided position of the hip hop music and the hip hop culture led to the various debates of the hip hop role in the African American young people lives.


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Baldwin, D. L. (1999). Black Empires, White Desires: The Spatial Politics of Identity in the Age of Hip-hop. Black Renaissance, 138-151.

Hart, D. & Atkins, R. (2002). Civic Competence in Urban Youth. Applied Developmental Science, vol. 6 (4), 225-248.

Hess, M. (2006). From Bricks to Billboards: Hip-Hop Autobiography. Mosaic (Winnipeg), 39(1), 61-79.

Lopez, M. H. (2005). Electoral Engagement among Minority Youth. Fact Sheet of The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Martin, R. (1998). Critical Moves: Dance Studies in Theory and Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Sanchez-Jankowski, M. (2002). Minority Youth and Civic Engagement: The Impact of Group Relations. Applied Developmental Science, vol. 6 (4), 235-257.

Sherrod, L. R. (2003). Promoting the Development of Citizenship in Diverse Youth. Applied Developmental Science, vol. 5 (5), p. 283-301.