Skip to main content

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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

References

  • Alim, H., Ibrahim, A., & Pennycook, A. (2008). Global linguistic flows. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Alvarez, T. (2012). Beats, rhymes and life: Rap therapy in an urban setting. In S. Hadley & G. Yancey (Eds.), Therapeutic uses of rap and hip-hop (pp. 99–114). New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bakagiannis, S., & Tarrant, M. (2006). Can music bring people together? Effects of shared musical preference on intergroup bias in adolescence. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 47, 129–136.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Benard, B. (2006). Using strengths-based practice to tap the resilience of families. In D. Saleebey (Edn.), Strengths perspective in social work practice (4th ed., pp. 197–220). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bhar, S., Ghahramanlou-Holloway, M., Brown, G., & Beck, A. (2008). Self-esteem and suicide ideation in psychiatric outpatients. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 38(5), 511–516.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bowers, E., Li, Y., Kiely, M., Brittian, A., Lerner, J., & Lerner, R. (2010). The five Cs model of positive youth development: A longitudinal analysis of confirmatory factor structure and measurement invariance. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39, 720–735.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chang, J. (2005). Can’t stop won’t stop: A history of the hip-hop generation. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chavis, D., Lee, K., & Acosta J. (2008). The sense of community (SCI) revised: The reliability and validity of the SCI-2. Paper presented at the 2nd International Community Psychology Conference, Lisboa.

  • Chin, T., & Rickard, N. (2012). The music (MUSE) questionnaire: An instrument to measure engagement in music. Music Perception, 29(4), 429–446.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clay, A. (2006). “All I need is one mic”: Mobilizing youth for social change in the post-civil rights era. Social Justice, 33(2), 105–121.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cox, W., Devine, P., & Hollon, S. (2012). Stereotypes, prejudice, and depression: The integrated perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(5), 427–449.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Delgado, M., & Staples, L. (2008). Youth-led community organizing: Theory and action. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dixon, T., Zhang, Y., & Conrad, K. (2009). Self-esteem, misogyny and Afrocentricity: An examination of the relationship between rap music consumption and African American perception. Group Processes Intergroup Relations, 12(3), 345–360.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Elligan, D. (2004). Rap therapy: A practical guide for communicating with young adults through rap music. New York: Kensington Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Elligan, D. (2012). Contextualizing rap music as a means of incorporating into psychotherapy. In S. Hadley & G. Yancy (Eds.), Therapeutic uses of rap and hip-hop (pp. 27–38). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Emdin, C. (2010). Urban science education for the hip-hop generation: Essential tools for the urban science educator and researcher. Boston: Sense Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Evans, S. (2007). Youth sense of community: Voice and power in community contexts. Journal of Community Psychology, 35(6), 693–709.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Flanagan, C., & Levine, P. (2010). Civic engagement and the transition to adulthood. Future of Children, 20(1), 159–179.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Flores-Gonzalez, N., Rodriguez, M., & Rodriguez-Muniz, M. (2006). From hip-hop to humanization: Batey urbano as a space for Latino youth culture and community action. In S. Ginwright, P. Noguera, & J. Cammarota (Eds.), Beyond resistance: Youth activism and community change (pp. 175–196). Oxford: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gambone, M. A., Yu, H., Lewis-Charp, H., Sipe, C., & Lacoe, J. (2004). A comparative analysis of community youth development strategies. Medford: Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gibbs, J., & Bankhead, T. (2000). Joblessness and hopelessness: The case of African American youth in south central Los Angeles. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work: Innovation in Theory, Research & Practice, 9(1–2), 1–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ginwright, S., & James, T. (2002). From assets to agents of change: Social justice, organizing, and youth development. In B. Kirshner & J. L. O’Donoghue (Eds.), Youth participation: Improving institutions and communities. New directions for youth development (pp. 27–46). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ginwright, S., Noguera, P., & Cammarota, J. (2006). Beyond resistance: Youth activism and community change. Oxford: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gomes, K., & Speizer, I. (2010). Longitudinal study on self-esteem among recently pregnant Brazilian adolescents. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 28(4), 359–371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Guerra, N., & Bradshaw, C. (2008). Linking the prevention of problem behaviors and positive youth development: Core competencies for positive youth development and risk prevention. In N. G. Guerra & C. P. Bradshaw (Eds.), Core competencies to prevent problem behavior and promote positive youth development. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 122, 1–17.

  • Hadley, S., & Yancey, G. (Eds.). (2012). Therapeutic uses of rap and hip-hop. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Herd, D. (2009a). Changing images of violence in rap music lyrics: 1979–1997. Journal of Public Health Policy, 30(4), 395–406.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Herd, D. (2009b). Changes in drug use prevalence in rap music songs, 1979–1997. Addiction Research and Theory, 16(2), 167–180.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hicks-Harper, P., Rhodes, W., Thomas, D., Leary, G., & Quinton, S. (2007). Hip-Hop development: Bridging the generational divide for youth development. Journal of Youth Development, 2(2) (Fall).

  • Hulme, N., Hirsch, C., & Stopa, L. (2012). Images of the self and self-esteem: Do positive self-images improve self-esteem in social anxiety. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 41(2), 163–173.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Iwamoto, D. K., Creswell, J., & Caldwell, L. D. (2007). Feeling the beat: The meaning of rap music for ethnically diverse Midwestern college students—A phenomenological study. Adolescence, 42, 337–352.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Jain, S., Buka, S., Subramanian, S., & Molnar, B. (2012). Protective factors for youth exposed to violence: Role to developmental assets in building emotional resilience. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 10(1), 107–129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jay-Z. (2010). Decoded. New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jelicic, H., Bobek, D., Phelps, E. D., Lerner, J. V., & Lerner, R. M. (2007). Using positive youth development to predict contribution and risk behaviors in early adolescence: Findings from the first two waves of the 4-H study of positive youth development. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 31(3), 263–273.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jenkins, T. (2011). A beautiful mind: Black male intellectual identity and hip-hop culture. Journal of Black Studies, 42(8), 1231–1251.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Juslin, P., Liljestrom, S., Laukka, P., Vastfjall, D., & Lundqvist, L. (2011). Emotional reactions to music in a nationally representative sample of Swedish adults: Prevalence and causal influences. Musicae Scientiae, 15(2), 174–207.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kitwana, B. (2005). Why white kids love hip hop: Wankstas, wiggers, wannabes, and the new reality of race in America. New York: Basic Civitas Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kobin, C., & Tyson, E. (2006). Thematic analysis of hip-hop music: Can hip-hop in therapy facilitate empathic connections when working with clients in urban settings? The Arts in Psychotherapy, 33, 343–356.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kubrin, C. (2005). Gangstas, thugs, and hustlas: Identity and the code of the street in rap music. Social Problems, 52(3), 360–378.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Laiho, S. (2004). The psychological function of music in adolescence. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 13(1), 47–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lashua, B., & Fox, K. (2006). Rec needs a new rhythm cuz rap is where we’re livin’. Leisure Sciences, 28, 267–283.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leafloor, S. (2012). Therapeutic outreach through Bboying (break dancing) in Canada’s arctic and first nations communities: Social work through hip-hop. In S. Hadley & G. Yancey (Eds.), Therapeutic uses of rap and hip-hop (pp. 129–152). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lee, F., Lewis, R. K., Sly, J. R., Carmack, C., Roberts, S. R., & Basore, P. (2011). Promoting positive youth development by examining the career and educational aspirations of African American males: Implications for designing educational programs. Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, 39, 299–309.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leipold, B., & Greve, W. (2009). Resilience: A conceptual bridge between coping and development. European Psychologist, 14(1), 40–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lerner, R. M., Lerner, J. V., Almerigi, J. B., Theokas, C., Phelps, E., & Bobek, D. L. (2005). Positive youth development, participation in community youth development programs, and community contributions of fifth-grade adolescents: Findings from the first wave of the 4-H study of positive youth development. Journal of Early Adolescence, 25(1), 17–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lerner, R., von Eye, A., Lerner, J., & Lewin-Bizan, S. (2009). Exploring the foundations and functions of adolescent thriving within the 4-H study of positive youth development: A view of the issues. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30, 567–570.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lewin-Bizan, S., Lynch, A., Fay, K., Schmid, K., McPherran, C., Lerner, J., et al. (2010). Trajectories of positive and negative behaviors from early- to middle-adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39, 751–763.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lightstone, A. (2012a). The importance of hip-hop for music therapists. In S. Hadley & G. Yancey (Eds.), Therapeutic uses of rap and hip-hop (pp. 39–56). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lightstone, A. (2012b). Yo, can ya flow! Research findings on hip-hop aesthetics and rap therapy in an urban youth shelter. In S. Hadley & G. Yancey (Eds.), Therapeutic uses of rap and hip-hop (pp. 211–251). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Luthar, S., Cicchetti, D., & Becker, B. (2000). The construct of resilience: A critical evaluation and guidelines for future work. Child Development, 71(3), 543–562.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mandara, J., Richards, M., Gaylord-Harden, N., & Ragsdale, B. (2009). The effects of changes in racial identity and self-esteem on changes in African American adolescents’ mental health. Child Development, 80(6), 1660–1675.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martins, N., & Harrison, K. (2012). Racial and gender differences in the relationship between children’s television use and self-esteem: A longitudinal panel study. Communication Research, 39(3), 338–357.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Masten, A. (2001). Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American Psychologist, 56(3), 227–238.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mindlin, G., Durousseau, D., & Cardillo, J. (2012). Your playlist can change your life. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.

    Google Scholar 

  • Miranda, D., & Claes, M. (2009). Music listening, coping, peer affiliation and depression in adolescence. Psychology of Music, 37(2), 215–233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Morgan, J., & Neal, M. (2006). A brand-new feminism. In J. Chang (Ed.), Total chaos: The art and aesthetics of hip-hop (pp. 233–244). New York: Basic Civitas Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Morgan, G., & Warren, A. (2011). Aboriginal youth, hip hop and the politics of identification. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 34(6), 925–947.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nair, A., & Balaji, M. (2008). Desi rap: Hip-hop and South Asian America. New York: Lexington Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Newman, M. (2007). “I don’t want my ends to just meet; I want my ends overlappin”: Personal aspiration and the rejection of progressive rap. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 6(2), 131–145.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ogbar, J. (2007). Hip-Hop revolution: The culture and politics of rap. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

    Google Scholar 

  • Orange, C. (1996). A source of undesirable vicarious empowerment for African American males. The High School Journal, 79(4), 281–292.

    Google Scholar 

  • Payne, Y. (2011). Site of resilience: A reconceptualization of resiliency and resilience in street life-oriented black men. Journal of Black Psychology, 37(4), 426–451.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Petchauer, E. (2011a). Knowing what’s up and learning what you’re not supposed to: Hip-hop collegians, higher education, and the limits of critical consciousness. Journal of Black Studies, 42(5), 768–790.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Petchauer, E. (2011b). I feel what he was doin’: Responding to justice-oriented teaching through hip-hop aesthetics. Urban Education, 46(6), 1411–1432.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Prier, D., & Beachum, F. (2008). Conceptualizing a critical discourse around hip-hop culture and black male youth in educational scholarship and research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 21(5), 519–535.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pulido, I. (2009). “Music fit for us minorities”: Latinas/os’ use of hip hop as pedagogy and interpretive framework to negotiate and challenge racism. Equity and Excellence in Education, 42(1), 67–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rose, T. (2008). The hip-hop wars: What we talk about when we talk about hip-hop. Philadelphia: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Saarikallio, S. (2011). Music as emotional self-regulation throughout adulthood. Psychology of Music, 39(3), 307–327.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Scales, P. C., Benson, P. L., & Mannes, M. (2006). The contribution to adolescent well-being made by nonfamily adults: An examination of developmental assets as contexts and processes. Journal of Community Psychology, 34(4), 401–413.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seidel, S. (2011). Hip hop genius: Remixing high school education. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Smith, E., & Jackson, P. (2005). The hip-hop church: Connecting with the movement shaping our culture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Southern California Step Session. (2000). Types of social change. Unknown.

  • Squires, C., Kohn-Wood, L., Chavous, T., & Carter, P. (2006). Evaluating agency and responsibility in gendered violence: African American youth talk about violence and hip hop. Sex Roles, 55, 725–737.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stets, J., & Burke, P. (2000). Identity theory and social identity theory. Social Psychology Quarterly, 63(3), 224–237.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Swanson, D., Spencer, M., Dell’Angelo, T., Harpalani, V., & Spencer, T. (2002). Identity processes and the positive youth development of African Americans: An explanatory framework. New Directions for Youth Development, 95(Fall), 73–99.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tillie Allen, N. (2005). Exploring hip-hop therapy with high-risk youth. Praxis, 5, 30–36.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tinsley, B., Wilson, S., & Spencer, M. B. (2010). Hip-hop culture, youth creativity and the generational crossroads: A commentary from a human development perspective. In C. Milbrath & C. Lightfood (Eds.), Jean Piaget Society volume: Arts and human development (pp. 83–95). New York: Psychology Press, Taylor and Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Torres-Fleming, A., Valdes, P., & Pillal, S. (2011). 2010 Youth organizing field scan. Brooklyn: Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Trapp, E. (2005). The push and pull of hip-hop: A social movement analysis. American Behavioral Scientist, 48(11), 1482–1495.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Travis, R. (2010). What they think: Attributions made by youth workers about youth circumstances and the implications for service-delivery in out-of-school programs. Child & Youth Care Forum, 39, 443–464.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Travis, R., & Bowman, S. (2011). Negotiating risk and promoting empowerment through rap music: Development of a measure to capture risk and empowerment pathways to change. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 21, 654–678.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Travis, R., & Bowman, S. (2012). Ethnic identity, self-esteem and variability in perceptions of rap music’s empowering and risky influences. Journal of Youth Studies, 15(4), 455–478.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Travis, R., & Deepak, A. (2011). Empowerment in context: lessons from hip-hop culture for social work practice. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 20, 203–222.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Travis, R., & Leech, T. (2012). Empowerment-based positive youth development: A new understanding of healthy development for African American youth. Manuscript submitted for publication.

  • Tynes, B., Umana-Taylor, A., Rose, C., Lin, J., & Anderson, C. (2012). Online racial discrimination and the protective function of ethnic identity and self-esteem for African American adolescents. Developmental Psychology, 48(2), 343–355.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tyson, E., Detchkov, K., Eastwood, E., Carver, A., & Sehr, A. (2012). Therapeutic uses of rap and hip-hop. In S. Hadley & G. Yancey (Eds.), Therapeutic uses of rap and hip-hop (pp. 99–114). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ungar, M., Brown, M., Liebenberg, L., Othman, R., Kwong, W., Armstrong, M., et al. (2007). Unique pathways to resilience across cultures. Adolescence, 42(166), 287–310.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Urban, J., Lewin-Bizan, S., & Lerner, R. (2009). The role of neighborhood ecological assets and activity involvement in youth development outcomes: Differential impacts of asset poor and asset rich neighborhoods. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30, 601–614.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Veltre, V., & Hadley, S. (2012). It’s bigger than hip-hop: A hip-hop feminist approach to music therapy with adolescent females. In S. Hadley & G. Yancy (Eds.), Therapeutic uses of rap and hip-hop (pp. 79–98). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Viega, M. (2012). The hero’s journey hip-hop and its applications in music therapy. In S. Hadley & G. Yancy (Eds.), Therapeutic uses of rap and hip-hop (pp. 57–78). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wagaman, M. (2011). Social empathy as a framework for adolescent empowerment. Journal of Social Service Research, 37(3), 278–293.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Watts, R. J., & Guessous, O. (2006). Sociopolitical development: The missing link in research and policy on adolescents. In S. Ginwright, P. Noguera, & J. Cammarota (Eds.), Beyond resistance: Youth activism and community change. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Watts, R., Williams, N., & Jagers, R. (2003). Sociopolitical development. American Journal of Community Psychology, 31(1/2), 185–194.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weitzer, R., & Kubrin, C. (2009). Misogyny in rap music: A content analysis of prevalence and meanings. Men and Masculinities, 12(1), 3–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Windle, G., Bennett, K., & Noyes, J. (2011). A methodological review of resilience measurement scales. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 9(8), 1–18.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Raphael Travis Jr..

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Travis, R. Rap Music and the Empowerment of Today’s Youth: Evidence in Everyday Music Listening, Music Therapy, and Commercial Rap Music. Child Adolesc Soc Work J 30, 139–167 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10560-012-0285-x

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10560-012-0285-x

Keywords

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