PyInfamous (née Jason Thompson) performs at a hip-hop show in Memphis.

Earlier this year, Grammy-award winner Kendrick Lamar became the first rapper to win a Pulitzer Prize.

In 2017, Nielsen reported that hip-hop had become the most widely listened to genre of music, representing a quarter of all music consumption.

Despite hip-hop’s emergence as the most popular music genre, the culture still gets blamed for societal problems like violence and substance abuse.

U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Ellisville, again brought that blame game into focus last week during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Eddie Glaude Jr., a Princeton professor and Mississippi native, asked what McDaniel would do for African Americans if elected given the state’s senator’s past statements about hip-hop as “morally bankrupt” and responsible for gun violence in America.

U.S. Senate Republican candidate Chris McDaniel speaks to media after speaking during the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss. Thursday, August 2, 2018.

“The story which you talked about — the hip-hop connection to violence — that was a study from Berkeley,” McDaniel told Glaude. “Berkeley’s not exactly a conservative institution, but it did link hip-hop to violence.”

The 2006 study McDaniel cited surveyed 1,056 community college students in central California. But the findings came from a Maryland-based research group with a Berkeley office called Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation not the University of California-Berkeley, as McDaniel implied, which has a reputation as a liberal institution.

The study found a relatively strong correlation between alcohol and drug consumption, aggression and listening to rap compared to other music genres, but the authors also cautioned against making broader conclusions.

“Researchers emphasize that the survey results cannot determine whether listening to certain music genres leads to alcohol or illicit drug use or aggressive behavior,” a press release about the study states. “Young people with tendencies to use alcohol or illicit drugs or to be aggressive may be drawn to particular music styles.”

McDaniel’s original comments about hip-hop came in 2014 during his first run for the U.S. Senate. “The reason Canada is breaking out with brand new gun violence has nothing to do with the United States and guns,” McDaniel said in an ad for a program he hosted from 2004 to 2007. “It has everything to do with a culture that is morally bankrupt. What kind of culture is that? It’s called hip-hop.”

In interviews with Mississippi Today, Mississippi hip-hop artists and experts took aim at what they described as a racist premise for McDaniel’s argument, adding that the study McDaniel cited ignores the role of poverty and education in perpetuating violence in America.

“People tend to not want to deal with the elements of our social fabric that are corrupt and distorted,” said Jason Thompson, a.k.a PyInfamous, a Crystal Springs-born rapper who now lives in Jackson. “If you can say it’s hip-hop’s fault or rock-and-roll’s fault or poor people’s fault, then you don’t have to deal with the fact that we have to deal with the legacy of institutions like slavery, the legacy of a patriarchy.”

Garrad Lee, a professor at Hinds Community College who teaches lessons on the Civil Rights era as well as hip-hop, said there’s no discernible proof that hip-hop is more violent than other kinds of music.

“You listen to old country songs, they’re about hitting women and killing people and getting drunk. Violence is part of a lot of pop culture music. But with hip-hop there’s a racial element — the black male stereotype. People will look for what they want to see when it comes to that.”

Brad “Kamikaze” Franklin, member of the former hip-hop group Crooked Lettaz, is a pioneer of hip-hop in Mississippi.

Brad “Kamikaze” Franklin, a member of an early Mississippi hip-hop group, Crooked Lettaz, pointed to another remark McDaniel made on “Morning Joe” that also stirred controversy.

“He recently said black people should stop begging the government and that we all have our hands out, and that’s nothing but the same Southern conservative mindset that we’ve been dealing with in this state,” Franklin said of McDaniel.

“The notion that he would have any idea what the black community needs to do to fix itself or heal itself is laughable at best. He has shown on numerous occasions that he does not have any understanding of the black community.”

Other artists said that while the themes brought up in the study do exist in hip-hop music, people need to understand the context around them.

“Only a fool would argue that there isn’t violence and drugs in hip-hop,” said Joecephus Martin, a.k.a Skipp Coon, a rapper from Jackson. “This is the issue with that analysis though — what else would those people talk about? I was born in 1980. I lived in Jackson my whole life. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there were a whole lot of drugs. There were a whole lot of gangs. A whole lot of stuff happening in Jackson. How would that not influence my music?

Joecephus Martin, a.k.a Skipp Coon, a rapper from Jackson
Joecephus Martin, a.k.a Skipp Coon, a rapper from Jackson.

“What people like Chris McDaniel do is not acknowledge the impact that society and culture has on things, because they want to believe that they themselves have made themselves. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Amanda Furdge, a spoken-word artist from Jackson, believes music is a reflection of issues happening within culture rather than a cause of them.

“Nobody’s making music in any genre that is making people feel like, ‘Let me go stand in a welfare line or let me get some food stamps,'” she said. “That’s not happening.”

Artists agreed that there is a double-standard when it comes to blaming issues on hip-hop.

Amanda Furdge, a poet who lives in Jackson.

“Nobody has blamed any of the behaviors connected with the opioid epidemic on any cultural thing. Nobody said it was country music or rock-and-roll music or reality TV because it primarily impacts white Americans,” Thompson said.

“It’s joblessness, it’s the changing economy, it’s the lack of education. The same things we know have impacted communities of color forever. But now (in criticizing hip-hop) we’re willing to look at cultural things as the problem because people want to say — and this is the narrative from the 1600s — that there is something inherently inferior about people of color. This is not a new argument. So if something is inferior about them as a group, then something is inferior about their culture.”

Said Franklin: “There has always been poverty, always been drug use, always been crime. To put it on hip-hop is lazy. I can’t think of any other way to put it. You can outlaw hip-hop tomorrow, and the problems that exist will still exist.”

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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.