Study: Rap Music Linked to Alcohol, Violence

A recent study by the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Berkeley, Calif., suggests young people who listen to rap and hip-hop are more likely to abuse alcohol and commit violent acts. Ed Gordon discusses the issue with Denise Herd, an associate professor at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health, and David Jernigan, executive director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University.

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ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

Two recent national studies on alcohol consumption are making headlines. One report sheds light on potential ground breaking treatment for addiction. The other suggests young people who listen to rap are more likely to abuse alcohol.

(Soundbite of music)

BUSTA RHYMES: (Rapping) What you gonna say? Tell that brother, pass the Courvoisier. You're going to tell that brother, pass the Courvoisier. Everybody singing now, pass the Courvoisier.

GORDON: A recent study concludes that popular songs like Pass the Courvoisier by rap artist Busta Rhymes are strongly linked to alcohol addiction, drug use, and violence among young people. The report comes from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluations Prevention Research Center in Berkley, California. It was released days after the rapper Proof was gunned down in a Detroit nightclub last month, reportedly after shooting to death another man.

Proof's blood alcohol level was said to be four times the legal limit. There's no question rap music is a powerful influence. Marketers have shown a correlation to the release of these tunes and increased sales of alcohol beverages mentioned in these songs.

Researchers maintain alcohol marketing, particularly targeted to young black people, has become even more prominent. Earlier I discussed these issues with David Jernigan of Georgetown University and Denise Herd of the University of California, Berkeley.

Mr. DAVID JERNIGAN, (Executive Director, Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, Georgetown University): Well, it's an interesting picture for African American youth in that they consistently drink less than youth in general. And yet our studies of their exposure to alcohol advertising have shown, over and over, again, that they're getting exposed to considerably more than youth in general. In fact, when we looked at magazines in 2002, we found that African Americans youth ages 12 to 20 were exposed to 66 percent more advertising for beer and ale, and 81 percent more advertising for distilled spirits. And the heaviest overexposure that they get is for the cognacs and the brandies, which have been very tied in with the hip hop and rap culture.

GORDON: Denise Herd, let me bring you in. We'll be talking about rap and hip hop and your extensive study of all of that. But before I get to that if we take the numbers that David Jernigan just gave us, I can hear the conspiracy theorists talk about idea of black youth drinking less but being targeted more. As you've looked at this, what does your findings saying?

Ms. DENISE HERD (Associate Professor, University California School of Public Health): Some recent studies have begun to show that some segments of that youth group may be starting to drink more. And I would look to alcohol advertising as one of the factors that may be influencing the change in trend.

GORDON: Now, I know you've done extensive study in terms of hip hop music and the tie to alcohol related references within the music and whether or not that bolsters the idea of young people drinking. We can get go chapter and verse with songs about that or ties in the marketing between a rapper and particular ale or distilled drink. But talk to me about what you're findings showed in terms of the strange marriage between hip hop, alcohol, and today's youth?

Ms. HERD: Well, I think what this song shows that there's been a very strong increase in the amount of alcohol in hip hop music. And if you talk about a chicken and egg argument, early hip hop did not have much alcohol in it. Early rap music was not an alcohol-soaked music. Early rap music practically had no alcohol references.

The music wasn't exhibiting alcohol in it from the inception. Rather, over time, the number of alcohol references has grown tremendously. And I think we have to look at the role of rappers and as in advertising malt liquors, and look a role of the exposure, as David mentioned.

The rapper's a very powerful role model. They are also people that were trying to get a head and trying to get underwriting for their music, and alcohol advertisers provided some of that--some of those resources. So that almost every major rapper had some kind of a relationship with an alcohol company.

GORDON: David Jernigan, we saw the idea some years ago of looking at attempting to deglamourize, if you will, smoking with Hollywood and those efforts, and it really gave a hit to the tobacco industry. We are not seeing that with alcohol on the other end today. It is being not only glamorized, but it is quite often the personification of cool for many young people.

Mr. JERNIGAN: In fact, we have an absolutely tiny public service announcement to campaign on alcohol and young people's drinking happening funded by the federal government at the level about $800,000 a year. Compare that to more than a $100 million a years that we're spending on illegal drugs, and roughly that amount that amount we're spending on tobacco. So you're right, there's very little out there to counter this glamorization.

And we just find, over and over, again, that kids--and African American kids, in particular--are exposed to a lot of that glamorization. Denise Herd talked about the rap music, and you know, one of the main vehicles for that is radio. When we looked at African American youth's exposure to alcohol ads on radio compared to youth in general, African American youth are hearing 56 percent more ads for distilled spirits on the radio than youth in general.

And when we compared youth in general to adult exposure on the radio, youth are overexposed. That is youth in general hear more of this kind of advertising— under-aged youth, hear more of this kind of advertising--than adults. So you have African American youth hearing even more than adults.

GORDON: How do you justify to a young person that this is something that they need to look at when they look across the table and see the older generation stumbling the same way?

Ms. HERD: I think the youth are right, it is a societal problem, and that in part, hip hop in reflecting society is picking up on norms across the country. And I think that when we look at hip hop and that relationship to black youth--I mean, my concern is that African American youth are more vulnerable, due to social status; due to not having the political opportunities in expression; the educational opportunities. So this is a more vulnerable population.

And I also think that, in contrast to the way the people often think about it, this community has had strengths in protecting their youth from over indulgence in alcoholic beverages. So that protective factor, I believe, is being torn away by the increasing targeting of the community in the advertising and so forth.

GORDON: The idea though, that as we see a continuing growth of violence if young people across the board--not just African American youth, but youth in America--the mix of violence and alcoholism is deadly, as we know. How do you get America to look at this and say, if nothing else, if you see drinking as a non-issue because we kind of wink and nod at alcoholism in this country, how do we convince them that violence and alcoholism is a toxic mix for youth?

Mr. JERNIGAN: Partly, we have an educational mission that we basically abandoned around alcohol, that we are not getting the word out about what we know about what the consequences of alcohol are going to be. And it's particularly important with young people, that we have, again, more and more research that shows that the younger a person starts to drink, the greater the consequences. Young people who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcohol dependent than those who wait until they're 21; seven times more likely to be in an alcohol rated motor vehicle; 11 times more likely to suffer from violence, to be involved in a fight after drinking.

So we want to delay kids drinking as long as possible. That's sort of the health and safety issue here. And then when we talk about African American young people, I think Denise Herd is right, what we find is that although African Americans drink less, they suffer the consequences more.

GORDON: All right. I think you both.

Mr. JERNIGAN: Thank you.

Ms. HERD: Thank you very much.

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