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Rap Music Glorifying Drug Use

Study finds sixfold increase in positive portrayal of substance abuse over last 20 years

TUESDAY, April 1 (HealthDay News) -- Rap music is glamorizing drug use, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, who found a sixfold increase in drug references in songs over the past two decades.

"Positive portrayals of drug use have increased over time, and drug references increased overall," study author Denise Herd, associate dean of students at the School of Public Health, said in a prepared statement.

"This is an alarming trend, as rap artists are role models for the nation's youth, especially in urban areas. Many of these young people are already at risk and need to get positive messages from the media," Herd said.

She and her colleagues analyzed 341 lyrics from the most popular rap songs between 1979 and 1997. During that time, references to drugs increased sixfold, and there was an increase in songs featuring positive attitudes toward drugs and the consequences of drug use, and an increase in references of drug use to signify glamour, wealth and sociability. In addition, there was a significant change in the types of drugs mentioned in rap songs.

Of the 38 most popular rap songs between 1979 and 1984, only four (11 percent) contained drug references. By the late 1980s, that increased to 19 percent and by 1993, to 69 percent.

These findings indicate "a shift from cautionary songs, such as those that emphasized the dangers of cocaine and crack, to songs that glorify the use of marijuana and other drugs as part of a desirable hip-hop lifestyle," Herd said. "This is alarming, because young children are exposed to these messages. I don't think this is a story we as a society want them to absorb."

For example, she noted that references to cough medicine abuse in lyrics from Southwestern groups performing an underground rap genre called "Screw Music" may be linked to high numbers of Houston teens abusing codeine-laced cough syrup.

"Rap music is like CNN for black teens. But much of what is discussed in rap is in code. The kids understand, but parents don't," said Herd, who recommended parents monitor their children's music and learn about the terms used in popular songs.

The study was published in the April issue of Addiction Research & Theory.

Earlier research by Herd found that alcohol use is increasingly glorified in rap music.

More information

The Nemours Foundation offers advice to parents about discussing drugs with their children.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Addiction Research & Theory, April 2008

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