Talking to teens
With hip-hop still on the rise new artists are emerging every day, adding their derogatory, inflammatory and controversial lyrics to the list of things which influence our black youth. Curious as to what effect hip-hop really has on young black men, I had an enlightening conversation with three male Austin High School students. I set out to get answers to several questions in addition to querying their opinions on what makes a responsible black man.

I asked the young men about the hip-hop lyrics and if they thought the inflammatory language had a major influence on shaping the behavior of young black men. I was particularly curious as to whether or not they thought the artists’ images had a negative effect on the maturation of young black men.

Navin Morgan, a 17-year-old senior, said, “I think sometimes they can be a bad influence like when they wear the sagging pants. They (the artists) make little kids think it is OK to do it, when it’s not. They make them think about doing things they are not capable of doing.”

When asked if he thought the lyrics influence what young black men wanted to be, Morgan replied, “Some artists have clean lyrics, some don’t; it depends upon who you listen to. I can’t agree that lyrics shape a young black man’s future because all they talk about are girls, money and cars.”

Turning the conversation to the idea that hip-hop promotes images and admiration of “being a thug” or living a “thug life,” especially in regards to the wearing of sagging pants, doo rags and oversized shirts, Morgan said he was not influenced by the sagging pants and other hip-hop gear because he grew up in a house where they were required to wear belts. Morgan, as the other two young men agreed that “a person should be able to wear what he wants and not be judged to be something, especially a thug.”

Admitting that to his knowledge, no one has ever mistaken him for a thug, Morgan added, “I can’t do anything about people’s thoughts. I carry myself to be how I am, not how they think I am.”

Morgan had a very clear idea as to what makes a responsible black man.

“What makes a responsible black man is taking care of your responsibilities,” he said. “If you got a baby, take care of your baby. Try to be a leader instead of a follower, and try to be successful.”

Contrary to Morgan’s opinion of the hip-hop images and influences on young black men, 15-year old sophomore Andre McBride, feels the lyrics and images portrayed are positive.

“I think they (the images and lyrics) are good because they give a lot of kids’ good influences,” he said. “They give the kids a lot of information. They (the artists) give you knowledge such as definition of the words used in their songs. I think it’s cool. I can’t blame them (the artists) by the way they dress.”

McBride thinks LL Cool J is an example of a good rapper. On the flip side, although he does not consider him a positive artist, he said another artist, Little Wayne, “gives you a lot of definition to the words and things he is talking about. He helps you to understand it.”

When asked about what constitutes a thug and why the thug life is of interest or appealing to young black men, McBride declined to answer, not wanting to pass judgment. On the other hand, his idea of what makes a responsible black man was concise and to the point.

“In order to be a responsible black man one must be able be able to live by yourself and take care of your own, and stay in school,” McBride said.

Desholion Curtis, a 17-year-old senior, was much more talkative, quite opinionated but reluctant to judge the artists.

“My feelings are kind of neutral towards it (hip hop) because it may not be right, but it is necessary for the people to rap,” he said. “It’s like a person has to do a job in order to make money. The artists may not be thugs, but it’s the image they have to portray. You can’t be poor. If you have the opportunity to make money, you have to go after it, especially if there is a lot of money at stake.

“It (hip hop) sends a mixed image to young people,” he continued. “I don’t have a problem with rap music or the artists, but with the images and the ladies they use. They should think about who listens to it. They need to try and have more control over who listens to it.”

Curtis’ definition of a thug and what a community could do to try and lessen the effect of a thug on influencing young black men made sense.

“A thug is the person who is branded as the bad person in the community, the robber,” he said. “A community can have discussions about rap music and the negative images and alternative to being a thug. They can talk about how to help young people separate the image from the truth and who they are or want to be.”

Adding his opinion on what makes a responsible black man, Curtis said, “A responsible black man is a person who can take full accountability for their actions, a person who is a strong believer in who they are and what they stand for. A responsible black man is especially a person who is strong in their own respective religion or group.”