Our world today is plagued by violence-centered media-- stories of school shootings, military strikes, and senseless crime. Former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said in a recent interview with Rolling Stone while lobbying for gun control, that handguns kill 12,000 people every year. When you add another 19,000 who die from suicide involving handguns this staggering number still fits within the statistic that guns only account for 1% of murders nationally. USA Today reported last year that there have been nearly 200 mass killings since 2006. Sadly, these tragedies have become a part of our history—and gradually, a cultural norm.
As our country struggles to end this violence, governmental forces say the solution lies within combating mental illness and restricting gun use are the keys to saving lives there is no doubt that cultural institutions, like the influence of music, can lead activism as well.
In the past, rap, hip-hop and rock music, through different eras, have been greatly criticized for provoking violent behavior in American youth. In the early 2000s, numerous studies were published claiming misogynist themes in music influenced youth to act out, glorifying guns and violence. While this may hold true in some cases, since the most publicized mass killings of the last few years many artists are now taking it upon themselves to harness their popularity and create a platform for change.
The earliest example of anti-violence music is Black Eyed Peas’ 2003 Grammy-nominated hit “Where is the Love?” The message of this song is easily digested: stop the hate and increase the peace. It would be naïve to say that the song’s success comes solely from its beats. The hymn-like lyrics essentially beg society to question why we constantly resort to violence and encourage us to stop the cycle. As a stand-alone track against violence in the early 2000s, it surely laid the groundwork for future artists to follow suit.
Fast-forward to 2011 when Foster the People released the sleeper hit “Pumped Up Kicks” with the intention of “getting inside the head of an isolated, psychotic kid,” to “bring awareness” to the issue of youth gun violence. While the intentional message of “Pumped Up Kicks” is honorable, it takes a music critic or a super-fan to immediately recognize the sinister situation behind the upbeat instrumentals. Still, Mark Foster explains that his inspiration for the song came after extensive research on a growing epidemic. His goal was to create an ongoing dialogue to hopefully motivate change in the next generation. Interestingly enough, the band’s bassist, Cubbie Fink, had a cousin who was a student at Columbine High School during the shooting in 1999. This close connection forged a deep connection between the band and the incident, so they were particularly keen on the creating a song with this message. Ultimately, the band is happy with the attention the song has received, both negative and positive.
Snoop Dogg (Uncle Snoop, Snoop Lion, or whatever else you wanna call him) openly disparages the devastatingly regular occurrence of school shootings in America in his 2013 single “No Guns Allowed” recorded with his teenage daughter, Cori B. The accompanying music video even intersperses news b-roll of the Columbine and Sandy Hook massacres—and some disturbing clips of children handling guns. He told Rolling Stone in 2013 he decided to involve Cori because she’s a relatable character. “She’ll be able to go with me on this journey to be able to speak to people about gun violence because she’s a kid and she goes to school…we just want to prevent the next one from happening. That’s what it’s all about, trying to bring awareness and push love and peace.” Drake’s verse in the song is arguably the most poignant. He raps about a personal experience with a shooting in his hometown and dedicates the song to two people involved in it. It is pretty eye-opening that Snoop, one of the biggest names in rap history who’s known for his rashness and straight-from-the-streets attitude, has taken this very public stance against gun violence.
It seems that after years of research proving music’s influence on the human psyche, artists and bands are finally doing what they can to promote non-violence, especially on behalf of American youth. Bono, one of the greatest musical peacemakers of our time, once said, “Music can change the world because it can change people.” This is not just the beginning of the conversation nor is it the end of all hope for a non-violent future. But for all the people who believe in the power of music as the heart and soul of our culture, an anti-violence movement rooted in music holds great potential for change.
Edited by Valerie Reich
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