Berkeley -- A new study finds that references to illegal drug use in rap music jumped sixfold in the two decades since 1979, the year Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" hit the charts and introduced to a mainstream audience a music genre born from inner-city America.
Moreover, illegal drug use became increasingly linked during this time period to wealth, glamour and social standing, marking a significant change from earlier years, when rap music was more likely to have depicted the dangers and negative consequences of drug abuse, according to the study authored by Denise Herd, associate professor in the division of Community Health and Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Public Health.
"This trajectory in rap music raises a number of red flags," said Herd, who also is associate dean for student affairs at the School of Public Health. "Rap music is especially appealing to young people, many of whom look up to rappers as role models. As a public health researcher, and as a parent of a 7-year-old, I'm concerned about the impact that long-term exposure to this music has on its listeners."
The new study, published in the April issue of the peer-reviewed journal Addiction Research & Theory, is the first scientific survey to analyze the content of rap music over two decades.
Herd and her team examined the lyrics of 341 of the most popular rap songs - as determined by Billboard and Gavin music rating services - from 1979 to 1997. Researchers coded songs for drug mentions, behaviors and contexts surrounding the mention of drugs, as well as the attitudes and consequences stemming from illicit drug use.
Of the 38 most popular rap songs between 1979 and 1984, only four, or 11 percent, contained drug references. In the early 1990s, the percentage of rap songs with drug references experienced a sharp jump to 45 percent, and steadily increased to 69 percent of the 125 top rap songs between 1994
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University of California - Berkeley