Marching to the Beat of Hip Hop’s Drum: 3 Ways to Navigate Teens and Music

August 1st, 2017

It is inevitable; hip hop music that is. It is of most certainty that your youth listen to and interact with hip hop in its vast shades- the music, the artists who create them, the culture built within it, and the facades created around it. For some hip hop music, the message offer strokes of hope to overcome, to “see better days,” and to empower the listener to reach full potential.

For other hip hop expressions, the messages are subliminal in its tact and send a message that can be dangerous to the adolescent mind that is still working to form itself into its own identity. Messages of drugs, violence, money and improper views of women can echo louder than we as youth workers may like if not approached with love and strategy.

And so, I leave you with 3 things to remember as you continue to help shape the lives of youth who also interact with the world of hip hop:

1. Hip Hop can be a great teacher.

There is such a thing as great hip hop music. Before Kanye went off the rails, he produced some amazing music that shared much about his life, his struggles and his desire to confront and overcome those struggles. Even with the hip hop that may not be listener friendly, it can still teach well on the subject matter it may not be grasping as well. Take the time to help students really listen to the lyrics of the song. Ask them thought-provoking questions that make them actually think intentionally about what they hear rather than listening for the sake of merely filling headspace. God is sovereign and can speak through any avenue he chooses so help kids hear his voice in the music of hip hop.

2. Hip Hop needs some buffer.

I believe that much of the music we hear in today’s hip hop culture is getting away from the original posture from which hip hop derives. Because of this, some of the music truly isn’t music that our kids should be putting into their hearts. The tricky part, though, is not telling them that they shouldn’t be listening to the music. Instead, our responsibility is to help teens lead themselves to the reasons why certain hip hop messages aren’t healthy. The goal becomes to inspire a deeper sense of personal understanding and responsibility towards what they decide to listen to thus raising up students who make righteous decisions on their own and will eventually lead others in developing this trait as well.

3. Hip Hop isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Don’t spend your time wrestling with students who enjoy listening to an artist whose stage names remind you of WWE wrestlers. Instead, embrace your student and their love for the music that they listen to. Request an invite to join your students on a listening party of one of the artists that they may be engaging with. Instead of wishing it away, use the ways mentioned above as a means to build a bridge between it, you and your student. Hip hop is going to be with us for the long haul, so we may as well use it as a tool to enhance and deepen our youth ministries, right?

One of our interns here at Preston Taylor Ministries with our middle school program teaches students reading. Instead of drowning their heads in a book, she developed different ways for students to enhance their reading skills and one of those vehicles was hip hop. She used lyrical content from songs produced and written by hip hop artists across the board and what we saw was that it not only inspired an atmosphere for reading development, but sparked an atmosphere for students to critically think about the connections between the music, their culture and their walk with Jesus. We used the “classroom” as an opportunity to build connections from the music to current events, to how it shapes the student’s lives individually. Kids lit up during those conversations and shared honest, thought-provoking things in that space.

Hip hop can sometimes feel like the villain that is eating away at your every attempt to help students draw closer to Jesus. The realities that music can create are far from fantasy and every bit real. You, however, can use musical genres like hip hop to help students develop their walks with Jesus by inviting yourself into the conversation. Don’t let the fear of these messages keep you on the outside; come into the fold by investing into the very things that your students invest in and provide the guidance they long for.

Dwight Johnson is the Director of Youth at Preston Taylor Ministries in Nashville, Tennessee, and a youth ministry coach for the Center for Youth Ministry Training. He is originally from Mississippi where he graduated from Millsaps College before moving to Nashville to pursue his Master’s in youth ministry through the Center for Youth Ministry Training and Memphis Theological Seminary. Dwight has been in youth ministry for over 5 years in both Tennessee and Mississippi and his favorite part has been building relationships along the way! Connect with Dwight on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.