The Influence of Music

By Todd A. Smith

            Most young adults can remember their parents criticizing their taste in music during their childhood.  If you grew up during the hip-hop explosion of the 1980s and 1990s, rappers and some sexually provocative R&B singers were blamed for the “lack of morals” amongst the younger generation.

            The influence of music was blamed for everything from teenage pregnancy, inner-city violence and the rise of promiscuity amongst youth, which led to an explosion of sexually transmitted diseases.

            The influence of music continues to be blamed for many of society’s ills 20 to 30 years later.  But has music become that negative over recent generations, or are the complaints from older generations over-exaggerated and simply a nostalgic recollection of their youth?

            Over the last couple of years I have become a huge fan of TV One’s documentary series “Unsung,” which takes a look at groups who achieved critical acclaim but failed to maintain a lasting influence on the pop charts.

            This season, the program took a look at the Bar-Kays, among other groups, who overcame tragedy before becoming triumphant funk stars during in the 1970s and 1980s.  I vividly remember jamming to “Freakshow on the Dance Floor” as a youngster in elementary school, oblivious to the actual message in the song.  The same promiscuity that can be heard in that 1984 classic can be heard in songs by newer artists such as Drake or Nicki Minaj.

            While these newer artists are definitely more profane than their predecessors, if you were talk to someone of an older generation, they would almost always completely ignore the blatant promiscuity in songs such as Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell,” Rick James’ “Super Freak,” or Prince’s “Head.”

            Around the same time that “Freak Show on the Dance Floor” was tearing up the R&B charts, I can remember my mother forbidding my sister and me from listening to “Darling Nikki” by Prince because he mentioned such things as masturbation.  At 5-years-old, and not even knowing what masturbation was, my mother made a conscious effort that the influence of music was not going to trump her influence over her children.

            Nevertheless, those negative images were present 30 years ago, just as they are present in 2010.  The influence of music did not mysteriously become negative after generations of wholesomeness; it has always had its negative elements.  The thing that is different between today’s generation and generations of yesteryear is that our parents were determined to become the main influence in our lives.

            When I hear older men and women talk down to younger generations because of their taste in music or fashion, I want to inform them that their taste at a young age was not much better, and everything they were a part of was not as wholesome as they want their children to believe.

            The influence of music and other forms of media will always be prevalent, just as the influence of one’s peers and parents will always be relevant.  It is very important that everyone in the public eye realize that young eyes are watching at all times, and we are constantly influencing the development of young minds.

            However, it is also wise to remember that we were all young once, and the things we were exposed to at a young age was not always that innocent and most of us turned out just fine, despite the negative influences.

Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.

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