The effect of today’s Hip Hop on the psychology of young Black America

Dr.-Jaseon-Outlaw, The effect of today’s Hip Hop on the psychology of young Black America, Culture Currents Featured News & Views
“The problem isn’t necessarily in reality/gangsta rap itself; it’s in the lack of diversity in music marketed to our young people,” says Dr. Jaseon Outlaw.

by Minister of Information JR Valrey

The 50th anniversary of Hip Hop is being celebrated without addressing the fact that there is a difference between Hip Hop in the streets and corporate Hip Hop. Most acknowledge that rapping started out with people like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5’s “The Message,” ignorant to the fact that the forefathers are people more like H. Rap Brown, the Watts Prophets, the Last Poets, Gil Scott Heron, Nina Simone, Sonia Sanchez, Amiri and Amina Baraka; these were rhymesayers with revolutionary politics that preceded the Hip Hop era. 

Because most Hip Hop practitioners and fans do not know the true historical roots of the art form and culture, Hip Hop is allowed to roam freely like an aging adult that hasn’t had order and stability in their life since they were in their adolescent years. 

Now that revolutionary rap was watered down to conscious rap, and reality/gangsta rap has been weaponized into Trap and Drill Music, we have a serious problem culturally that is being driven by the big dollars and bigger decisions of record label and distribution bosses, like Interscope and Empire.

In Oakland, there is an epidemic of young Black boys missing, never to be found, as well as young Black girls being kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Has Hip Hop culture hurt or helped the Black community in these scenarios? Do the songs that we love and champion empower us to solve the issues in our communities, or do they tell us that it’s ok to abuse our people and allow our people to be abused by others? 

I, JR Valrey, am not a person speaking from outside of the culture about its detriment to society. I am somebody with a platform that was born into the culture and grew up with it, since corporate Hip Hop is only 50 years old. I remember when “Sex Packets” came out, when 41 fivin’ came out, when “Ward of the State” came out. I remember when Pac dropped “Me Against the World.” I remember when “Fuckin wit’ Dank” by MC Pooh was Oakland’s favorite weed song years before the Luniz released their smash hit “I Got 5 on It.” 

I remember when the Oakland rapper Seagram got murdered two weeks after I interviewed him, and Rappin’ Ron died in a car crash right around the same time, and I had interviewed him days earlier. I remember Donny Simpson hosting on BET. I used to religiously watch Soulbeat and YO! MTV Raps. I remember LL Cool J coming to the Coliseum for the first time singing “I Need Love” with the bed on the stage, The Festival at the Lake, The Festival at the Lake Rebellion against OPD, the Carijama rebellion against the police, the Dogg Pound concert and rebellion at Eastmont Mall, Rock the Bells in San Francisco when “A Tribe Called Quest” got into a fight with each other and broke up, and much more. That’s just to give you a little bit of where I have been and what era I am from.

I wanted to examine psychologically how rap music is affecting us currently as a people. My grandfather once told me that he used to sneak to listen to the music legend “Chubby Checker” in his day, and my Great Granny used to smash and make him turn it off, calling it devil’s music. Is that statement truer now than it was then? Or am I just now reaching a maturity where I can recognize the odious effect that the music being pushed has on the teenagers and young adults in society? I don’t know, but I am sure that having children has definitely opened my eyes quicker to the extent of the programming being pushed than if I didn’t have children.

I talked to psychologist Dr. Jaseon Outlaw about his views on how Hip Hop has affected the psychology of Black America. Check out this very important and candid discussion. 

JR Valrey: What effect does the music we listen to, and the movies and shows that we watch have over our consciousness?

Dr. Jaseon Outlaw: The “information” we expose ourselves to – entertainment is a form of information – has a direct impact on both what we are conscious of, as well as what is beneath the surface of consciousness. What is considered “normal” in our lives is highly influenced by music, movies, news, television shows and organizations in which we participate. 

Take, for example, a church that you attend weekly. The teachings, philosophies, scriptures and topics are a form of data and human beings can’t help but be influenced by those teachings, for better or worse. If you were to have grown up in Salt Lake City, Utah, Mormonism and the tentacles of Mormonism will have influenced your opinion about marriage as well as the inclusion/exclusion of people of African descent into priesthood. 

If you were to have grown up in the 1990s when a number of movies emerged depicting life in the inner city (“Boyz in the Hood,” “Menace II Society,” “Belly,” “Dead Presidents”), the consideration of using a firearm as a method of handling “disrespect” or protection of your neighborhood may have been influenced in part by one of the aforementioned forms of entertainment. The rules of the streets and how you are to behave in specific situations is very clearly depicted in music and movies. Pair that concept with one of your favorite actors or actresses being the one providing these blueprints and the entertainment now serves as an effective form of marketing. 

JR Valrey: We all grew up in our generation listening to reality/gangsta rap. Today’s youth listen to trap and drill music. When is too much too much?

Dr. Jaseon Outlaw: The problem isn’t necessarily in reality/gangsta rap itself; it’s in the lack of diversity in music marketed to our young people. In the earlier days of rap, there was Souls of Mischief, Tribe Called Quest, X-Clan, Digable Planets etc., who provided an alternative to N.W.A., Notorious B.I.G., Ice T etc. Young people got a dose of several forms of Hip Hop, unique in their messaging that people related to at different levels. What we appear to have now in Hip Hop is largely void messaging outside of “trap,” “trill,” and/or gangsta at least at the mainstream level. Moreso, Hip Hop music has found its way normalizing drug usage as an everyday part of life, for people of color. 

One might argue that we no longer have a balance of content and from a psychological perspective, music serves as a direct form of propaganda, influencing values, thoughts, beliefs and the way one handles situations in life. In the song “Rockstar” by DaBaby, he exclaims, “Let’s go/Brand new Lamborghini/fuq* a cop car/With the pistol on my hip like I’m a cop/Have you ever met a real nigga rockstar? This ain’t no guitar, bit**; this a Glock. My Glock told me to promise you gon’ squeeze me/You better let me go the day you need me/Soon as you up me on that nigga, get to bustin’/And if I ain’t enough, go get the chop.” 

One can see in this one verse we witness an influence of materialism, self-hate and gun play. While it is a snippet of one song, one can deduce the Hip Hop content of this artist is permeated with such topics. Once again, in a world of diversity with respect to music content, our concern is minimal. However, if this and the like is all of what we are exposed to, this begins to sculpt cognitive and behavioral norms. Music that appeals to our emotions tends to connect us to the music as a form of art. 

If music was unable to create feelings of anger and aggression, we would not have Kelis “Caught Out There,” which is an ode to women who have been lied to and cheated on. Nor would we have N.W.A’s “Fuck the Police,” which clearly communicates the feelings and frustrations inner city youth had and have about police relations regarding mistreatment. However, in the absence of addressing other emotions, such as love, respect and motivation, what are we left with? This question is not rhetorical and can be easily answered by all.

JR Valrey: A radio station’s schedule for what is going to be on the air is called a programming schedule, why is what a radio station puts on the air called programming?

Dr. Jaseon Outlaw: The word programming itself certainly creates a sense of programming the individual, programming the masses and a feeling of propaganda. I do not, however, think that this was the intent behind the word usage of programming. The creation of a set of instructions is another way to define programming. But it does make you wonder, as the effect of this type of a schedule can and does feel more like “programming.”

JR Valrey: A lot of music executives are being blamed for signing and promoting mostly negative artists. Do you think that these businessmen are partly responsible for the mayhem in most metropolitan cities because of what they are programming the people with?

Dr. Jaseon Outlaw: It is difficult to avoid theorizing that there is a conspiracy to sign and promote artists who fit the “negative” image of a Hip Hop artist. While I am unsure if there is data out there to determine the percentage of artists being signed who fit the image or persona we are discussing in this interview, I’d guess it is extremely high. 

Now, if we really look at capitalism and money making tactics of big business in America, one conclusion we can draw is that whatever makes money, big business will promote and push to the forefront. Therefore, if a particular type of music is more profitable, that may explain the reason for signing and promoting such artists in high numbers. 

An interview with ironically named Lyor Cohen, a Jewish-American music executive, does provide some context. In a 2018 interview with the Breakfast Club, when asked why he would sign an artist that promotes the opioid drug culture, Lyor Cohen stated that talent (money making) is more important than addressing societal issues, despite a point he made earlier in the interview that the opioid crisis “is the most dangerous thing facing our society.” 

What this means to me is money-making, to certain powerful music executives, is more important than the negative impact such content has on its consumers. This is a disappointing, yet very real reality we face, which has an even larger and deleterious effect on our youth. 

I do think music businessmen are partly responsible for what is happening in every major city in the United States, and potentially the world. I also see there are other factors influencing our inner cities as well, such as the power of white supremacy as an active agent. Aside from the problem of white supremacy, we have capitalistic goals that do not align with human morals. One can make a lot of money when one puts basic respect for humans aside. 

JR Valrey: Is there a correlation between what a person mentally digests and what they usually can psychologically produce? If so, what is it?

Dr. Jaseon Outlaw: Exposure counts. If you are exposed to people thriving in your environment you have a higher chance of thriving yourself. Now this is a very simplistic way of looking at it and there are more factors that account for the success or failure of an individual, but alternatively if we were to expose a child to models who self-isolate and produce very little, that individual’s motivation is likely to be impacted and have a higher likelihood of mimicking the model’s behavior. Therefore, we must be careful of what we expose ourselves and our family to, particularly if it is negatively unidirectional. 

JR Valrey: After 50 years of recognized Hip Hop culture, do you think that Hip Hop culture has been more beneficial or detrimental to the psychology of Black America and the world than prior Black music forms? Why?

Dr. Jaseon Outlaw: That is a really good question. On one hand, Hip Hop has allowed African-Americans a protected form of expression to communicate our unique struggles in this country and in the world. It has employed thousands and made many entertainers independently wealthy based on their artistic and technical talents. However, what we now experience is a direct assault on the psychological fitness of Black people in the form of music. Too much of Hip Hop music today glamorizes drug usage, gun toting, and violence against any and all things Black. There is no other genre of music or even another ethnicity of music where the likes of killing niggaz is an acceptable or even attempted form of entertainment. So while I would agree that the 50 years of Hip Hop culture has been more beneficial to the psychology of Black people, the detrimental side is quickly catching up and has the potential to erase all gains to date. 

JR Valrey: What do you recommend that parents do when their children are caught up imitating their favorite drill rapper?

Dr. Jaseon Outlaw: My recommendation is for parents to understand that just because their children are imitating a “drill” rapper, for example, does not mean that their life will all of a sudden be lost to the streets. However, it does make logical sense to diversify what our children listen to and introduce them to other forms or genres of music and entertainment as well. This not only addresses the issue of high exposure to unilateral and negative content, but also provides an opportunity to get to know your child(ren) better through inquiry. 

“What is it about this type of music that interests you?” “Does the content of this music represent your life and the struggles you experience?” “What do you think of someone who sells street pharmaceuticals for self profit?” “Is that morally right to benefit from the emotional struggles of others?” “Do you think other forms of work are morally abject as well?” “What do you think it is I do for work?” “What requirements are you aware of that qualified me for the position?” Although these are mere ideas as opposed to a comprehensive list of questions, we can see how this might benefit the parent-child relationship in insight, at minimum. 

JR Valrey: Many people believe that mental health treatment is not affordable in today’s society. It costs a lot of money to go see therapists and psychologists. What would you say to them?

Dr. Jaseon Outlaw: I’d say it depends on who you see. There are therapists who charge a rather large amount of money to benefit from their services, but there are also therapists who accept health insurance and the cost to the client can be $0 or a small copayment. It makes sense to do some research on your potential therapist and find someone who is a match in terms of understanding your demographic and the unique challenges you experience. 

JR Valrey: What kinds of services do you offer? 

Dr. Jaseon Outlaw: My clinic offers outpatient services in the form of individual therapy and healing circles. We accept many forms of insurance and serve a wide range of presenting concerns. 

JR Valrey: How can people access your services?

Dr. Jaseon Outlaw: Visit our website at, where we have staff profiles and information about our services. 

JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, is also the editor in chief of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. He teaches the Community Journalism class twice a week at the San Francisco Bay View newspaper office.