Mississippi Senate candidate Chris McDaniel once said that rising gun violence was a function of "hip-hop culture." Nope. If anything, hip-hop is saving America from crime.
Several years before he decided to challenge Mississippi's incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran this year, McDaniel hosted a conservative talk radio show. Mother Jones, which has a pretty solid track record of uncovering embarrassing audio files recently, came across (via Dark Horse Mississippi) a teaser promo from McDaniel's radio show, which he hosted from 2004 to 2007. In it, McDaniel made the claim.
"Let's be very outspoken about what we're talking about here. The reason Canada is breaking out in brand-new gun violence has nothing to do with the United States and guns. It has everything to do with a culture that is morally bankrupt. It's called hip-hop."
"Before you get carried away," he continues, "this has nothing to do with race. There are just as many hip-hoppin' white kids and Asian kids as there are black kids." The hip-hop culture, he said, can't get control of itself.
Well, let's consider this. First of all, we'll accept for the sake of argument that McDaniel, who was last in the news when his links to pro-Confederate groups came to light, doesn't consider this is a racial issue. We will also set aside the lack of any "redeeming qualities" of the genre; that's subjective. And we'll even ignore the claim that Canada is breaking out in new gun violence. In 2005, the country saw a sudden increase in gun-related homicides — that brought the national total to 223. The next year, it was back down to 190.
Let's just focus on McDaniel's argument that hip-hop causes crime. If anything — if the data offers us any indication at all — the opposite is true. As the popularity of rap music increased, crime in the United States fell, particularly at the point in which violent, gangsta rap took hold. And if we use McDaniel's criterion — I think there's a relationship, therefore there is — we've proven him wrong.
To demonstrate this, we pulled crime data compiled by the FBI as a function of population to track how crime has evolved in this country. We focused on the total number of crimes and the amount of violent crime. Then, to gauge the popularity of hip-hop, we turned to the Whitburn Project, an ongoing, underground tabulation of the popularity of singles dating back to 1890. (You can read about it here.) The Whitburn Project indicates the top charting tracks for each year and, for an extensive period, categorizes them by genre. So we took the period of 1980 to 2005 — from just after rap's birth to the point at which Whitburn's genre data is less complete — and assessed how much of popular music was dominated by rap. Giving us these charts.
As rap became more popular, overall crime declined.
As rap became more popular, violent crime declined.
It's worth noting that the "hip-hop culture" McDaniel decries wasn't based on the Fresh Prince / Run DMC rap of the 1980s. He means the heavy stuff, which appeared at the end of that decade. In fact, violent crime peaked in 1991 — the same year as NWA's seminal Efil 4 Zaggin* was released. So, can we thank Mssrs. Ice Cube, Dre, Eazy, and Ren for saving America? Well, no. Crime and music, nearly anyone will tell you, are not linked. "Hip-hop culture," such as it is, had nothing to do with the amount of crime in U.S., or Canada, at least if actual hip-hop music is any indicator.
You know what kind of music does correlate with America's increase in crime? Rock music. But that has nothing to do with race. There's just as many black and Asian kids that were into rock as white kids. Don't blame them for rock culture.
* Not its actual name.