David Cohen: Hip-Hop Uses Persuasive Tactics To Aid Social Movements

Hip-Hop has positively impacted social movements by using peripheral route persuasion.   People can be influenced differently by stimuli, and It is very possible to unintentionally communicate the wrong message when developing a medium for reinforcing a social movement’s potency.  This can lead to unforeseen negative outcomes that can tank the progress of a movement.  Fortunately, rappers have been able to contribute to these movements by using this method of persuasion in such a way to make certain that their intended positive message is communicated to the public.  Their music has manifested itself in this way in light of the anti-gun violence movement.

Peripheral route persuasion is one of two forms of persuasion, the other form being central route persuasion.  Unlike central route persuasion, which aims to shift people’s viewpoints by way of fact and logic, peripheral route persuasion takes a more emotional approach.  When somebody arrives at a decision via the peripheral route, they are basing it off of reputation, backstory, looks, the presenter’s manner of communication, and other emotionally charging traits that are not influenced by fact .  To put it simply, the central route is the content of the message, the peripheral route is how that content is communicated.  For example, the New York Times article At the Beach in My Burkini describes the ban on burkini’s (traditional muslim swimwear) in Cannes, France imposed by Mayor David Lisnard.  As Lisnard puts it, burkini’s are “symbols of Islamic extremism” and “creates risks of disrupting public order”.  There are no facts behind this claim.  There has never been any confirmation that an article of swimwear has been responsible for terrorist attacks or has facilitated social unrest.  Lisnard is basing his decision primarily off of his fear of Muslims in light of the association of Muslims and terrorism, often exaggerated by the media. This was enough to convince him that a ban on burkinis was the right move.  It is important to acknowledge that peripheral route of persuasion can often lead to negative results, because it can then be used to positively reverse the results.

When rappers attempt to spread awareness through their music, one of their primary mechanisms are their backstories.  Many of them grew up in crime ridden areas, and were in gangs.  Snoop Dogg is a prime example.  Snoop lived in Long Beach, CA in the 90s, when violent crime rates were at an all time high.  The homicide rate was 65.4% higher than in 2015, while the grand theft auto rate was higher by 60.9%, and aggravated assaults by 66.4%.  He got involved with the crips and received multiple arrests, including one for murder by association when his bodyguard reportedly shot and killed a man who was allegedly trying to stalk Snoop.  He and his bodyguard were later acquitted.  Simultaneously, he produced many tracks about his life in a gang and his experience growing up where he did. Many of these tracks became major hits, such as “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” (#9 on the 1993 Billboard Hot 100) and “Still a G Thang” (#19 on the 1998 Billboard Hot 100).  While many rappers claim their music to be nothing more than an expression of their daily circumstances, these songs have the potential to incite gun and gang violence if taken the wrong way by listeners.  Recognizing this, Snoop decided to act, releasing his 2012 single No Guns Allowed.  Snoop hopes that his reputation of being somebody who initially brought gun and gang violence to the media through his music to being somebody who is contributing to the battle against it will communicate that he empathizes with those struggling in environments like where he grew up, but also that self change is possible, and that gun violence does not have to be part of anybody’s life.

Partnering with Black Entertainment Television (BET) and the League of Young Voters, Snoop Dogg created a campaign against gun-violence stemming from his song.  The results have been an entire conference in 2013 dedicated to his mission, multiple red carpet interviews about it, and a performance of No Guns Allowed on The Late Show With David Letterman.  Several other campaigns using the same peripheral route approach have emerged in response to gun violence.  The Music Vs. Gun Violence campaign, initiated in Chicago, was started by a group of known Chicago rappers.  Among them was Academy Award winner Common who grew up “on the South side” and feels that it is his “duty to raise up the village that (he comes) from. (he) owe(s) that responsibility, especially given the blessings and platforms that (he’s) been able to reach” after seeing “friends who died due to gun violence” .  Like the No Guns Allowed campaign, its primary manner of promotion was through a song made by the artists involved in the movement.  The song, Put The Guns Down, paved the way for a unique campaign where, though no longer active, fans across the country could put their creative skills to work by recording their own verse expressing their reasons for wanting to end gun violence over the song’s instrumental.  Another is the Hip-Hop against Gun and Gang Violence campaign which started in Harlem, NY.  While this movement was not started by hip-hop artists, it has gained much support from prominent public figures.  President Barack Obama acknowledged support for the campaign in 2015, stating that “There are few forms of expression that connect as deeply with an audience as hip-hop music does with our young people. As artists speak to the realities of our society, they also have the power to spark change in the hearts and minds of our youth”.  President Obama is saying here that when hip-hop artists feel empathy for their listeners, especially if those listeners face the same social issues addressed by the music, support for the movements combating the issues can take root.  Combine this empathy with hip-hop music itself, and the listener not only has a relatable voice in their corner, but also a clear blueprint of how they too can inspire others like them.