Beyond the Music A feature story that explores Hip-Hop Music and its impact on emotions and behaviors

It was a crazy night. The music was bumping and free space in the club was nonexistent. Inside it was closet dark but the flashing lights could blind anyone. Drunken club-goers, sipping on what one said were “over-priced” drinks, covering the stage, dancing and being rowdy as ever.

Anna House, 27, and a retail manager at Charlotte Russe, went to see the hype at the club one night. She recalls the night being both one to remember and to forget. Club Rain, once located on 9 W. Bay St. in downtown Savannah, was notorious for pulling in big crowds for a wild night on the town.

The night seemed to be going swell and then out of nowhere, the crowd started tugging in one direction as if a brawl was about to break out. Security moved fast and diffused the situation, but the two fighters were only escorted outside.

House says that the “energy” went down inside the club after that. House, a shy newcomer to the hip-hop club scene, was ready to leave but reluctant to go to her car because she did not know what the parking areas would be like after the scuffle.

“The club was nothing but trouble and I’m so glad they [Savannah city officials] made the decision to close it permanently before somebody got seriously hurt. Anything could have happened, well it did – but it could’ve been worse,” said House.

Savannah is moving into a direction in its night life where the clubs and bars are becoming more mixed, musically. Only a couple night spots remain that primarily play hip hop music, and only hip hop.

Hip hop music, sometimes referred to as rap music, is a genre that was developed in the United States by inner-city African-Americans from the Bronx, New York during the 1970s. An article on defines “hip-hop” as a term name for the “subculture” and states that rap is only a mere component.

Despite conversation where the two terms are used interchangeably, they are not the same. Hip hop is a term that marries the foundation together including elements of hip hop culture – the people, break-dancing or “B-boying,” beat-boxing, DJ-ing, graffiti art and MC-ing. Rap is just a new-age reference for what used to be called MC-ing.

One of the first hip hop acts to debut was a group called The Sugarhill Gang, famous for their 1979 hit, “Rapper’s Delight.” This song is dubbed a classic in hip hop culture and a staple for what hip hop represented at the time – fun, light lyrics that one could dance to. The lyrics chant:

“I said a hip hop, The Hippie to the hippie, To the hip, hip hop, and you don't stop, a rock it out, Bubba to the bang bang boogie, boogie to the boogie, To the rhythm of the boogie the beat”

As hip hop music progressed into the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, it became a bit “rough.” It is often said that artists created songs with deeper “lyrical” content than the rap music being produced currently.

Hip hop heads brought up in the “old skool” like to refer to this version of the genre as authentic because artists addressed issues of social change, racial disparity, and the “hard-knock-life,” through conscious efforts.

Eric Sidall, 38, and a manager at a Victory Car Care Center said he misses when you could listen to rap music and “take something” from it.

“[Rap] music these days doesn’t mean anything, the rappers aren’t talking about nothing. They just get on any beat and say anything,” said Sidall.

Despite the good “rep” in the hood’ among listeners, the genre has always contained elements of violence and vulgar lyrics. One of the most famous hip hop groups known for violent music and imagery was NWA that started in 1986, also known as N***** With Attitude.

Their reign continues today as the group even had a biopic released in 2015, titled “Straight Outta Compton.” The film caused quite a backlash due to the portrayal of negative cop activity during the 80s and 90s. NWA is known for its hardcore lyrics, most of which often attacked the police and acts of police brutality:

“F*** the police coming straight from the underground, A young n*gga got it bad cause I'm brown, And not the other color so police think, They have the authority to kill a minority, F*** that sh*t, cause I ain't the one, For a punk motherf*cker with a badge and a gun, To be beating on, and thrown in jail, We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell”

In contrast, rap music today is not considered to be as “deep”. Although rap artists today still address some of the same issues, violence is still very prevalent in the genre.

The beats are much faster and the artists are creating what has been criticized as “mumble rap” – dumbed down lyrics, that don’t adhere to an old skool culture and heavily influence shooting, killing, drug dealing and drug consumption, illegal weapon possession, rape, abuse of women and other forms of crime.

Today, rap artists are also singing their lyrics which makes it more universal. In a genre where hip hop artists once had a hard time resonating with varieties of audiences due to their hard-core delivery is now global. The art of infusing singing and rapping together was indeed a game changer for the business.

The hottest rap artist in the game right now is Future – almost everything he drops is blasting in somebody’s car, in their earbuds at the gym and more importantly, hip hop clubs. However, he promotes a lot of gang violence, shooting, drug dealing and consumption, promiscuity, heavy partying and other like topics through his music.

Old school hip hop fans have even labeled Future as the “leader” of the “mumble rap generation,” per The Breakfast Club, popular New York radio station, Power 105.1.

Future has one of the number one charting songs in the country right now called, “Mask Off”, where in the chorus he is merely chanting “percocet” and “molly” repeatedly. The first verse goes:

“Two cups, Toast up with the gang, From food stamps, To a whole nother’ domain, Out the bottom, I’m a living proof, They compromising, Half a million on the coupe, Drug houses, Looking like Peru, Graduated, I was overdue, Pink molly, I can barely move”

Hip hop music has sparked controversy in listeners and those opposed to listening for years since its start. Some critics have argued that the genre does more than entertain, influencing hollow minds to engage in negative behaviors such as aggression and violence.

There is a pattern of violent activity occurring in night clubs where mostly hip hop music is played for club-hoppers across different cities.

Just last year, five people were injured in a shooting at a well-known hip hop night spot called “Club Crucial,” on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway in northwest Atlanta, on March 15, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“I went years ago when my favorite Atlanta rapper, “T.I.,” used to promote it on the radio all the time but when I got there [it] was much smaller than I thought it would be and right in the middle of a really bad area,” said Maxine Jenkins, 31, and a server at Maggiano’s Little Italy in Atlanta, GA.

Jenkins said she was uncomfortable the whole time because of the overly aggressive crowd and small space.

“It felt like at any moment things could just go left inside and I was just there to have a good time,” said Jenkins. It was one of her first times ever going to the club after she moved to Atlanta and she has not returned.

Violence in the club scene is not a new phenomenon, especially in Savannah either. A teen club called “Hip Huggers Teen Club” once located on Bay Street in downtown Savannah, closed in early April 2007 after an 18-year-old boy was shot in the leg and a 15-year-old girl was stabbed in the neck and chest, according to

For years, Club Rain, was a night spot in Savannah that played only hip hop music. However, the club recorded 269 public safety calls made to police from 2010 to its closing date in January 2016. Four club-goers were shot in incidents at Club Rain and fights seemed inevitable, according to

Savannah’s city attorney office sent out a notice Dec. 22, 2015, that listed several complaints including noise, litter, crowds, and shooting, according to WTOC-TV News.

The club owners attempted to save the business by adding more security and buckling down on search protocols for guest entry, but after a unanimous decision in a Savannah City Council meeting on Jan. 7, 2016, Club Rain’s liquor license was revoked and the club was shut down immediately.

What Club Rain looks like today. It still has a sign up for the space that says "For Sale."

Just two years’ prior, another hip-hop lounge nearby in downtown Savannah once located on 128 E. Broughton St. called Dosha Ultra Bar and Lounge, was closed on February 25, 2014 by the Savannah City Council for similar reasons. reported that residents staying at hotels and nearby business owners often called authorities and complained about loud music, wild behavior in front of the club, and shootings.

Kennedy Marshall, 22, and a student at Savannah Tech said, “I’ve been to Dosha before and after going I knew instantly that I would never go again – it’s not my type of scene.” Marshall remembers the lounge as an “un-polished environment” where she felt surrounded by club-goers who were not in their right states of mind.

Marshall said she felt unsafe when she heard girls in the bathroom sharing drugs. “The people there were so intense,” said Marshall.

This lounge differed from other hip hop clubs in appearance – there were checkered floors lit up by different shades of green, pink and blue lights which was the main source of lighting in the spot. Dosha was a relatively small space equipped with giant cubes of cushion seating and lights designated as sitting areas alongside a bar.

“Absolutley not, hip hop music does not make people violent. I’m aware of the clubs like Dosha that were shut down, but that’s because of the violence not the music,” said Heather Brown, 36, and a bartender at Dub’s, a bar known for playing mixed choices of music including hip hop, in downtown Savannah on River St. Brown added, “That place attracted a low class of people.”

Heather Brown, bartender.

Dub’s is a bar and lounge laced with pool tables, square booths, and a round bar area that prides itself on being a “public house,” open to all types of people and playing all types of music including hip hop. Dub’s does not have any public violent history.

“It can influence violence depending on the song and the person’s intentions when they’re listening, I’ve definitely witnessed it happen before,” said Julian Ramirez, 28, and a bouncer at The Treehouse, a bar and dance club in downtown Savannah.

Entrance to Treehouse.

The Treehouse maintains an outside exterior that resembles a treehouse with an entrance where guests must “climb up” stairs to get to the main floor and there are two balconies.

One of the balconies at Treehouse.

DJs there play a mix of music from hip hop, reggae, to even pop. Ramirez continued by saying that he doesn’t believe that hip hop music itself is enough to cause acts of violence, but it can intensify anger in people who already have violent intentions.

DJ Booth in Treehouse

“I don’t think hip hop music influences violence, but I think the people who listen to it often feel like they have a point to prove to be tough,” said Brian Dayton, 40, and a bouncer-bartender at On Time Sports Bar and Comedy Grill located across the street from Savannah State University.

Formerly known as Over Time Sports Bar and Grill, the space is known for its lively crowds, hip hop dominated atmosphere, and “College Night” and other festivities.

On Time Sports Bar and Comedy Grill

On Time Sports Bar and Comedy Grill prior to its new owner and name, even now, is no stranger to the police. SSU students who frequent the spot said fights occur all the time – so much in fact, that police officers are always on duty during busy nights.

“One time I was there on college night and a big fight broke out between a group of women, I almost got caught up in the crossfire because I was standing so close,” said Marcus Drummer, 20, and an English major at SSU.

Drummer said the fight was so intense that it took both security and police officers nearly 10 minutes to separate the women and exit the building.

Isaac Ceaser, former owner of what used to be “Overtime Sports Bar and Grill,” said, “I’ve just been tired of it for so long now. [People] just want to violate and cause up a stir, it was stressful.”

During his time owning the place, there were over 150 calls for police service. Ceaser said, “I feel like hip hop music plays a big part in violence because all it talks about these days is violence and young people want to be like the [artists] they listen to.”

Residential neighbors in the area once drew up a petition for the bar’s liquor license to be revoked. The petition failed for two reasons: only 58 out of the desired goal of 1,000 people signed, and because eight officials in a city hearing all voted in favor of the motion not to suspend the license, according to

Bartenders and bouncers alike in Savannah seemed to have a similar consensus about hip hop music and its influence on violence in the night life: the genre is a factor and when in taken by influenceable and angry individuals can be problematic.

“Everybody can’t do hip hop and I mean that in the sincerest way. Some people are built to enjoy the message and others digest the message in ways that may be detrimental to their livelihood,” said Anthony Barnett, 32, and a security guard at The Bar Bar, a night club in downtown Savannah.

Barnett insists that when hip hop music gets into the ears of an idle mind acts of violence and disruption occur because lyrics are taken too literally. The Bar Bar is a hip-hop bar and basement club that is always dimly-lit.

Front wall inside entry of The Bar Bar.

Matthew Kwong, psychology major and graduate of the University of Maryland in Baltimore conducted a study called “The Impact of Music on Emotion: Comparing Rap and Meditative Yoga Music” in 2016, where he determines the degree of music’s influence on aggression using the impact of rap music versus meditative yoga music on emotions.

An avid listener of rap music may not be necessarily inclined to harm another person but evidence did show that they have more of a tendency to use more aggressive language and were more likely to engage in aggressive behavior than someone who does not frequently listen to rap music, according to Kwong.

“I think some people idolize artists so much that they actually live by the words that artists say which can be dangerous listening to rap these days,” said Ebner Valdez, 25, a music engineer, and Savannah College of Art & Design graduate.

Valdez believes that when hip hop initially began it was more “pure” and less violent than the rap music out today. He believes that some hip-hop artists portray a false lifestyle of violence for marketing purposes.

For example, a hip-hop artist could make a song about murdering someone and may have never even shot, or in the least, owned a gun before. Hip hop artists today rap about things that they know can be marketed to a poverty-stricken audience who may live the lifestyle that they haven’t.

The music industry’s business model has changed drastically since hip hop began. Artists are no longer signing with big labels but, instead are staying independent and signing distribution deals through bigger companies that can market their music to a bigger audience. People can now access hip hop artists globally through music streaming sites such as Apple Music or Spotify.

Billboard Music rap charts indicate that the top charting hip hop labels from 1989 to 2014. Despite the ever-growing streaming services that make hip hop music accessible all over the world, it seems as if no one is buying hip hop music anymore, and hip hop artists don't own their rights to their music anymore.

Billboard Music - The Most Successful Labels in Hip-Hop

According to Billboard Music, there were a variety of hip hop artists who reigned at the same time in the past, but now there are only a few. Hip Hop artists today use popularity tactics, social media presence, and "street cred" to remain relevant and tour to earn money.

“I don’t interfere with artists when I’m in the studio recording them or ever try to direct them on what to say but I do wish artists these days were focused on leaving a positive impact – music can be life-altering. Music is universal,” said Valdez.

Valdez also said that the newer rap artists are influencing kids negatively by continuing to advertise violence in their music. “When I hear children sing lyrics about shooting or killing it makes me feel a way. It is impacting them so much and they are not even aware of what’s going on or the power of the words they say,” said Valdez.

Hip hop music’s sound has changed drastically over the past couple of decades but explicit lyrics and violent content in hip hop music are still flourishing, perhaps too much. Rap artists now share an increased tendency to reference drugs, promiscuity, and violence, whereas in the past mentions of these topics were done differently.

More importantly, a lot of the popular hip hop music today glorifies acts of violence including shooting, killing and even abuse of women. This can be problematic because music is often and has since always been used as a tool to set social boundaries – or in other words, what is “cool,” and what is “not cool to do.”

Scholars agree that, “Certain issues are heightened when listening to music depending on the setting, and who an individual may be around while listening to the music,” said Oliver Sacks, the late British neurologist and author.

Sacks wrote in “The Power of Music” that one of the most dramatic effects of music’s power is the induction of trance states – ecstatic singing and dancing, wild movements and even immobility. “Whilst it can be easily achieved by a single individual, it is often and more likely easy to be overcome, for better or worse, in a communal setting,” Sacks stated.

“I’m not going to lie I’ve been involved in a fight before at a party once when I was in high school and the [rap] music playing made me more angry,” said Johnsi Wheeler, 23, and a Nursing major at Clayton State University in Morrow, GA.

Wheeler recalled a high school brawl at a house party where the music played a part in amplifying her intent to harm her opponent.

“The song was an old song, called ‘Knuck If You Buck.’ [I’ve] always thought when that song comes on a fight is going to happen – I just didn’t think it would be my fight to go down in the backyard that night,” said Wheeler.

The two-girl-and-two-boy rap group, Crime Mob, made their debut in 2004 with their club anthem “Knuck If You Buck”, which is still played in hip hop clubs today. The song is exactly what it sounds like – a fighting song. The lyrics of the first verse are:

“Yeah, well I'ma gat totin' pistol holdin', N**** on yo damn street, Stompin' jumpin' bumpin', And we krunck off in this damn thing, Throwin' dem bows up at deez hoes, They screamin' they bleedin' from they nose, But we start to swing we makin' n****s hit the flo', Ain't no game off in this thang, We be deep off yo party, Crime mob n****s gettin started, And we n****s be the hardest”

The parents of her classmate broke up the altercation up and sent her home.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Public Education conducted a study called “Media Education” where researchers suggested that significant exposure to violent music and lyrical content increased the risk of aggressive behavior and desensitized the listeners to violence and acts of violence.

The academy said the normalization and glamorization of violence and other subjects, like drug activity, can lead listeners to “just say yes” and engage in those same behaviors.

Representatives at the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department and the Chatham County Sheriff Department both declined to comment on matters of violence in the night life of Savannah. Reps also declined to comment on the role hip hop music plays in acts of violence in Savannah.

However, Dublin, GA police officer, Tyler Pool said, "Rap music escalates the decision to do things that are not always the best in [night] clubs. Pool believes that the constant need for young people to keep up with trends are also a factor in violence in night events.

"If I listen to a song every week that says 'you do this to me, I'm going to shoot you or fight you' then it makes it cool because everybody is listening to it," said Pool.

Officer Pool believes that violence goes deeper than hip-hop lyrics and is often overlooked through such hard lyrics. “These rappers are rapping about their environments. If you change the poverty and gang lifestyle environment, then that influence wouldn’t be on the rappers,” said Pool.

Hip hop artists tend to spew lyrics about how they “come from nothing” and what it feels like to go through struggles living in low-income and poor areas. Artists market their music by making themselves more relatable and in doing so easily influence impressionable listeners who may be experiencing similar life events.

The New York Times reported on February 5, 2008, that the average teenager listens to two and a half to three hours of music daily where they hear about a number of topics, and after a research study done by the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine, the top two topics mentioned the most in music were drugs and violence.

There’s an old Latin phrase that says, “Repetition is the mother of all learning.” American author and motivational speaker, Zig Zaglar has added to that statement with – “the father of all action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.”

If repeatedly doing the same things lead to better understanding then repeatedly listening to hip hop music about violence is possible to lead to acts of violence.

The late great hip hop icon, Tupac Shakur, said in an interview with Vibe Magazine, 1995:

“If we are really saying rap is an art form, then we got to be more responsible for our lyrics. If you see everybody dying because of what you saying, it don’t matter that you didn’t make them die, it just matters that you didn’t save them.”

Shakur’s explanation is that it’s not what you say but it’s the platform you choose to say it, being rap music. Shakur felt that rap artists forget what type of “power” comes with the platform they have and even if they are speaking about personal experiences when talking about violence in their songs it might be the same reality for those listening.

Shakur is remembered for his “Thug Life” persona and hardcore rap lyrics among most things, but aside from that Shakur was not only a rapper, but also a poet, actor, artist and a “hood” activist.

Shakur fans know him for being vocal about issues of racism, politics, police and their relationship with those who live an urban life, rap music, poverty, and more. Shakur’s legacy is one respected and held to a very high regard in the hip hop community, even still today.

“More than anything, I don’t believe hip hop music is an influence to the minds of smart people but could be used as an escape when you may already be angry,” said Arsenio Key, 25, Savannah State University graduate and drum player.

Key said that rap artists today purposely use instruments like heavy bass and drums because it is the most popular and it gets the crowd “turned up”. Key does not believe that rap music is solely responsible for acts of violence but the “no-consequence” attitude artists carry when rapping about acts of violence is most influential.

Key's drums.

Hip hop club environments are almost always located in more urban areas where acts of violence are already prevalent so naturally those are the crowds of people the clubs invite. Those crowds tend to like loud music and prefer the vulgar version over the clean version of songs. Low lighting, small, sometimes stage equipped, and referred to as “hole-in-the-wall” spots are where you can typically find hip hop crowds gathered.

Certain hip hop songs projects intense waves in clubs and get people really hyped up. The right song will get the whole crowd jumping, yelling and dancing.

“When I see a whole bunch of people jumping up or moving too fast, I just like to be close by the door in case something pops off,” said Portia Watkins, 23, and a mobile hair stylist.

Rodney Hughes, 25, professionally known as DJ A-ROD, and a former Savannah State University student said, “After a certain time when everybody in the club gets hyped the music can play a part in them being provoked [violent]. I’ve noticed that – sometimes when I think I’m just playing ‘hits’ during my set, I unintentionally provoked my audience before.”

From his experience as a DJ, Hughes said that certain songs have the power to provoke anger and admits that DJ’s play a part in that when they are not aware of the energy being put off by people in the crowd of the club.

“I see different types of crowds when I’m traveling all the time and I feel like hip hop music fuels violence and fights depending on how it’s being played to the audience,” said Hughes.

It is often said that “imitation is the highest form of flattery,” but is it still flattering when what you emulate does not project your best self? Acts of violence are normal yes but to normalize them when they occur in unpredictable norms is different.

Hip hop music, to some, does just that to listeners. Hip hop music has been a staple in urban culture for years and is now expanding to bigger audiences who may not be familiar with the genre’s past.

There have been notorious hip hop beefs in the past that have led to the demise of rap artists, for example, Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls – two very huge, impactful artists who are no long here after a rap beef that spiraled out of control.

Both artists released violent songs against each other that led down a slippery slope of violent events. Smalls released “Who Shot Ya” in 1994 where he takes shots at Shakur and threatens his life: “You’ll die slow but calm, recognize my face, so there won’t be no mistake.”

Shakur responded in his 1996 anthem, “Hit Em Up” where he says:

“Biggie Smalls and Junior M.A.F.I.A. some mark-ass bitches, We keep on coming while we running for your jewels, Steady gunning, keep on busting at them fools, You know the rules, Lil' Caesar go ask your homie how I'll leave you, Cut your young ass up, leave you in pieces, now be deceased”

Shakur died Sepetember 13, 1996, and Smalls died shortly after March 9, 1997 – both were shot and killed. The hip hop beef between the two artists split up the whole nation into an East Coast vs. West Coast beef. The two were so influential that small acts of gang violence occurred everywhere. But their beef was just one of many that influenced violent behavior in listeners.

Hip Hop music started as a form of entertainment that was in good faith. It was an escape for inner-city kids living a poverty stricken lifestyle. Over time the genre and the people who create it have evolved.

Music is now one of the most consumed forms of entertainment everywhere. Now that social media presence has taken over, it is easy to effect anybody watching from anywhere in the world. Rap beefs in the industry still occur and are still very impressionable.

The evidence discovered from research about the connection between violence and hip hop music is enough to prove that people should be more aware of the hip hop music they listen to.

Hip hop music has grown to be so influential and potentially brain-washing to the youth and people who may not be able to separate the truth from illusions.

If violence is glorified in hip hop music then listeners who look up to the artists become desensitized to the acts of violence and feel that violent behavior is normal, especially in night club environments that have liquor and are crowded with people.

Hip hop artists romanticize tales of coming from nothing and leading a destructive path to evoke emotions in listeners but often do not realize the damage they really cause when people really adhere to their stories. People go to jail and even lose their life to live up to a certain “street code.” To some, the genre is just music but to others it’s a way to achieve notoriety, no matter how much it costs – risking their life, and freedom.

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