Recording a bad rap

Mar 20, 2003, vol. 26, no. 6
By Marianne Meadahl

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A contentious form of music may be getting, well, a bad rap.

SFU criminology graduate student Camilla Sears found minimal support for the criminalization or censorship of rap music, after conducting in-depth interviews with 19 participants in a study of how rap music is perceived.

No one in her study group, which included young people, parents, academics, police officers and musicians, felt the music broke any laws. But while participants noted that some artists push the borders of the genre, Sears found no consensus about where the boundary lies between licit and illicit, or acceptable and unacceptable, suggesting the music, like all forms, remains open to interpretation.

Some participants did, however, agree that parental warnings on labels should continue.

Interviews were conducted with participants after each listened to the same songs of four artists, including Ice Cube, Lil' Kim, Eminem, and Maestro. “The majority of respondents felt that the music could sometimes be viewed as having a potential negative impact, but that feeling did not increase their hostility toward rap music,” says Sears, an admitted rap fan from London, England. “They also saw rap music's potential as a form of cultural resistance, particularly through underground music, and did not feel that its creation should be restricted in any way.”

Rap music has been the focus of much controversy since its inception in the 1970s. The lyrics of some rap songs have even been implicated as factors behind crimes.

The genre has been studied in the U.S. but Sears found little research done in Canada, despite the rapid growth of rap music's popularity. She describes her research as exploratory and hopes larger participant groups can be studied.

Sears concedes that some participants, listening to rap for the first time, were taken a little aback, but after a second sitting softened their stance.
“It's a form of music that continues to be a catalyst for arguments regarding youth culture and crime. It also fuels the idea that culture can be a means through which people can converse about societal and political issues,” notes Sears, who hopes her findings will contribute to ongoing debates about the role of rap music in youth culture.

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