Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 139-167

First online:

Rap Music and the Empowerment of Today’s Youth: Evidence in Everyday Music Listening, Music Therapy, and Commercial Rap Music

  • Raphael TravisJr.Affiliated withSchool of Social Work, Texas State University—San Marcos Email author 

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Pioneers of various elements of Hip-Hop culture have been empowered through the ability to voice their reality and find a meaningful identity alongside others who found purpose and function in embracing Hip-Hop culture (Chang, Can’t stop won’t stop: A history of the hip-hop generation, 2005). This empowerment persists in various reinventions of the culture within the United States and worldwide. The present study examines whether evidence exists in research to support the value of esteem, resilience, growth, community and change as empowering dimensions outlined in the individual and community empowerment framework. Research questions ask: (1) Does youth self-expression in rap music created within music therapy sessions reflect framework dimensions? (2) Does content in commercially recognizable rap music reflect framework dimensions? (3) How well does the framework align with a model of empowerment-based positive youth development? First, data collected to examine the validity of the framework were reviewed. Next, two peer-reviewed research studies published after articulation of the original framework, were examined to investigate commonality between themes and framework dimensions. One study was in a music therapy context and another explored themes in commercial Hip-Hop recordings. Original framework data supports theorizing that rap music content actually comprises developmental narratives (Travis and Deepak, 2011; Travis and Bowman, 2012). Data in the present study further suggest that these developmental narratives are relevant for Hip-Hop in every day music engagement, in therapeutic self-expression, and within commercially available musical content. Framework dimensions also aligned with a conceptual model of positive youth development that allows specification of intervention pathways and empirically testable outcomes for Hip-Hop integrated change strategies. Results suggest that rap music is a discourse in lifespan development. Rap music’s developmental narratives may be used by practitioners, parents and researchers. The narratives exist within a framework and model that (a) provides a template for better understanding these narratives and (b) positions this understanding for use as a tool to promote and research positive change strategies for individuals and the communities that they value.


Positive youth development Resilience Hip-Hop Culture Risk Empowerment Identity Health Self-esteem Youth organizing Rap music Music therapy