Study Says Rap On The Radio Full Of Negative Messages, Rap Streamed Online More Positive

Avriel Epps and Travis Dixon studied music on the Billboard charts and music shared on Facebook, analyzing the messages in each.

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| July 13 2017,

7:34 pm

We’ve come a long way from the days where those in the White House take time out of their busy schedules to denounce rap music.

Or perhaps we haven’t — maybe Tupac and Quayle have become Snoop and Trump

In the modern era, however, there’s one difference: you don’t often hear how rap music is corrupting youth.

What messages does rap contain?

What we take in obviously has some impact on us — eat a good meal and you feel good, eat rotten food and you feel bad. Are there messages that are maybe not so good for us in the music that we listen to? And is there a way to find messages that are better for us?

A new UCLA study from Harvard's Avriel Epps and the University of Illinois' Travis Dixon looks to answer that question by studying the music played on top 40 radio as well as the music available on social media.

In their study, Epps and Dixon broke down the messages contained in rap into two categories: social and antisocial. 

Social messages included things like critique of racism, promotion of female education, critique of oppressive institutions and promotion of community unity.

Antisocial messages included themes like the sexual objectification of women, materialism, promotion of consumerism, denigrating women and references to illegal drugs.

Epps and Dixon looked to the Billboard charts to source songs distributed for consumption by traditional media corporations over the airwaves, and to Facebook to find out what songs people were finding and sharing organically.

The researchers hoped to discover what sort of messages were present in corporate-sponsored music versus what was in the music social media users sought out themselves.

What did they find?

That the songs we all hear on the radio are chock-full of antisocial messages, and that we tend to seek out and share songs with more social attitudes online. 

On both the radio and on Facebook, rap was found to be overwhelmingly materialistic, with 88 percent of songs on the Billboard list having materialistic themes and 64 percent of songs shared on Facebook having the same.

Radio songs were also found to be heavily sexually explicit — 73 percent of the Billboard songs contained sexually explicit lyrics; 52 percent of Facebook songs did.

62 percent of those songs' sexual explicitness was tied to the objectification of women on the radio. 57 percent of radio songs contained a derogatory reference to women. On the social media side, 32 percent of songs sexually objectified women, while 35 percent contained a derogatory reference to women.

Things weren’t too much sunnier on the social side of the spectrum. Social media songs were found to be most social in the realm of emotional expression — 35 percent of songs contained that theme. 27 percent of the Billboard songs contained some element of social expression. 

12 percent of the Facebook songs gave a critique of oppressive institutions; 5 percent of the Billboard songs did the same.

When it came to women, 8 percent of the Facebook songs promoted female education; only 2 percent of Billboard songs did.

Despite the low numbers on the social side of things, the study’s authors are hopeful.

While Epps told us that she believes the results suggest “that major record labels are passing up profits by playing into racial stereotypes,” the authors feel that “on the internet, individuals have increased opportunities to consume music that more accurately reflects their beliefs.”

Epps and Dixon also wrote that “the results suggest that consumers are not passively ingesting everything that the media industry feeds to them, but are rather making conscious choices about which media products they consume and use as a basis for self-presentation to their online friends. Furthermore, consumers are resisting some of the negative messages that media corporations promote, and are using autonomy to find alternative narratives that tend to be more positive.”

If you'd like to read the study for yourself, it is available through the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media.

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