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Study shoots down narrative about hip-hop and violence

Fights, damage to property, assault, rampant and obscene alcohol abuse. The downtown campus area in Madison – especially State Street and Langdon Street – has kept police departments very busy every night and every weekend for decades and decades. The number of sexual assaults reported to a campus resource rose from 217 reports in 2015 to an astonishing 325 last year. And that’s just sexual assaults reported.

Not much, if anything, has ever gotten shut down or banned because of all of this chronic malfeasance. But that’s just because it’s “boys being boys.” Kids being kids. Blowing off some steam. Nothing to see here.

On the other hand, Hip-Hop, the most popular genre of music for young people today, has been effectively shut down and shut out in Madison due to the mainstream – and heretofore unchallenged – stigma around its perceived relationship with violence. However, Karen Reece, the president of the Urban Community Arts Network and lifelong lover of Hip-Hop, is pretty happy about the results from a new study from UW-Madison researchers that shows that Hip-Hop events are no more a magnet for trouble than shows featuring other kinds of music. She hopes that this could be the beginning of an awakening for the people of Madison.

“The study shows that Hip-Hop is not different from other genres. The data supports that. To me, that’s exciting … but also very interesting,” Reece tells Madison365. “This just points out how unfounded bias has such a profound effect on different groups and gets at why Madison has such extreme racial disparities … because we’re willing to accept stereotypes without having the facts to back it up.”

Madison’s perception of Hip-Hop has always been pretty simple: big trouble. But this new study released on Tuesday, the first of its kind, by UW-Madison sociology professor Randy Stoecker and his class, had his students scouring through 8 years of police data to see more clearly the extent to whether Hip-Hop is associated with violence in the real world or just a lazy stereotype in white people’s minds.

They found the latter.

“Part of our concern in this analysis was whether there is any support for the belief that Hip-Hop requires extra security and policing compared to other genres,” the study stated. “If that was the case, we would expect to see higher proportions of charges for Hip-Hop than other genres. But that does not appear to be true for either Live Hip-Hop or Hip-Hop All, and it is at least not true more than for Jam Band Mix, Country Mix, and EDM.”

Reece points out that while everybody is so worried about and afraid of Hip-Hop, that there were 11 total police calls for weapons violations out of the almost-5,000 police calls in the 8 years researched in the new study.

“Thirteen offenses charged as weapons violations … out of 5,000 over 8 years. Is that really an issue?” she asks. “Then you compare that to the number of assaults in just one year on the UW-Madison campus and that’s not looked at seriously. We haven’t shut down Langdon Street.”

The new UW study was conducted in partnership with Urban Community Arts Network, which organizes a variety of Hip-Hop events and advocacy efforts including the annual Madison Hip-Hop Awards (MHHA) and a Summer Concert Series featuring local artists. Professor Stoecker and his students from the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology thoroughly examined the correlation between live music performances and police calls in Madison over eight years.

“It was literally hundreds and hundreds of hours that students spent on this,” Reece says. “It was so time consuming. That really speaks to the University of Wisconsin for doing this. It’s really a good example of how a community/university partnership can work in a way that is both beneficial to the university and the community.”

To come up with the data, Stoecker and his students analyzed Madison Police Department records of 4,624 police calls to 46 live-music venues between 2008 and 2016.

“The students went through all of the newspaper articles, websites and all kinds of things to match whether there was a live music performance on that specific date,” Reece says. “That was really exhaustive. Once we got the live-music performances, it was all about coding the genre. Then we looked at how often police calls for certain genres happened at individual venues.

“Not only the police calls, but we also looked at violent versus non-violent calls,” she adds. “There was just no evidence to say that Hip-hop is more violent. Every genre looks to be pretty much the same.”

The most police calls were made to student bar Whiskey Jack’s on State Street that older people might remember as “The Pub.” The clientele is a pretty solid college-aged, white crowd.

“The mainstream cultural hypothesis we are testing — that Hip-Hop is a medium associated with greater violence — is also a racialized hypothesis because of the genre’s association with African Americans, who are also believed to be more violent,” the study notes. “Yet, our initial analysis shows the highest concentration of calls to bars to be concentrated where the vast majority of patrons are white. But this analysis remains at a pretty superficial level.”

The study runs against the common belief in Madison that Hip-Hop is very dangerous. As a result of this belief, not only have they gotten rid of the Hip-Hop venues in Madison, but this study comes at a time when downtown bars have created and are enforcing dress codes focused on racialized attire associated with Hip-Hop such as banning baggy clothes, do-rags, plain white t-shirts and more. Moreover, a recent article in the Daily Cardinal student newspaper showed how several downtown bars have eliminated Hip-Hop from their TouchTunes jukebox playlists.

When we talk about downtown Madison venues’ concern about Hip-Hop, Reece puts the “Hip-Hop” in air-quotes.

“That’s definitely code for ‘black people’ or ‘people of color.’ We know it’s coded language. When people of color gather, that’s scary for a lot of people in this city,” Reece says. “The really interesting thing is that we have this perception of Hip-Hop being violent and drawing violent crowds and it’s so believed that it is fact – rock solid – across many levels. Even some people in the Hip-Hop community will buy into this overwhelming perception. This data does not support that notion at all. Not even a little bit.”

Media coverage was a huge factor fueling the stigma and skewed perceptions attached to Hip-Hop in Madison.

“A lot of it is media,” Reece says. “The spin changes public perception and it also pits individual agencies and groups against each other.

“The painful part is just how frustrating it is when we have this conversation over and over and we know how rich and diverse and talented the Hip-Hop artists are in this community and every table that we are invited to in order to talk about Hip-Hop, we can’t talk about the art … we have to talk about public safety for hours,” she adds. “That is extremely frustrating and painful.

“Sometimes we’ll be sitting with festival organizers and we mention, ‘Hey, we should really do a little Hip-Hop at this event’ and the first comment I get is, ‘Well, this is really a family event,’” Reece continues. “Well, yes, I’m aware. It’s in a park in the middle of the day! Even though we’ve been doing a summer concert series for 5 years – 8 shows outside in the middle of the day – people still think these things. Because no rappers have children, right?”

The study concluded that there seems to be no empirical justification for restricting live Hip-Hop performances more than other genres in Madison that rests on a belief of Hip-Hop as a more violent genre.

“Safety for the public is, of course, always a concern, and venue owners and the police are right to care about people’s safety,” the study says. “But we believe this research shows that caring about people’s safety should not be limited to Hip-Hop and, in fact, there may be other music genres that present more threats to safety than Hip-Hop.”

Reece says that she is not naïve enough to think that the data from this new study will be a game-changer, but she hopes that it will be starting more important conversations here in Madison. Hip-Hop artists and fans in Madison have long been talking about how crazy it is to attribute more violence to one genre of music than to another. Now they finally have something to back them up.

“It at least gives us a leg to stand on. Part of the frustration has been not being able to support factually what we are saying and it makes it difficult to refute things,” Reece says. “It’s already tough for Hip-Hop artists because they tend to be in a group of people who are not in the top income bracket and don’t have political connections. They don’t have a lot of leverage so there is no real reason for this to be a top priority for people.

“Trying to convince people why they have a stake in this for Madison as a whole and why it is important … that has been difficult,” Reece adds. “This study won’t get us there, but it will at least get us past the first hurdle – which is beyond the long discussion about ‘public safety.’ So, hopefully, next time we get invited to talk about Hip-Hop we can skip the hours of talking about public safety and we can get to talking about the art of Hip-Hop a little bit faster. That’s what we want to talk about.”


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