Y is for Youth

| April 8, 2014

In continuing with the exploration of the aesthetics within music and the discussion of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”, I found a relation between this song’s lyrics and Merton’s theoretical framework, which discusses the American Dream in detail. As Merton stated, the American Dream simply may not be attainable for some as the road to success can be impossible; this depends on where one lies in the socioeconomic structure. While the poor and the rich may have the same desires, the poor are not in a position to achieve success. If one has failed to attain one’s particular goals and desires, he will necessarily respond in a certain way. The character in “99 Problems” is still in pursuit of the American Dream; however, he has “rejected the ‘accepted’ and legal means for doing so” with the intent of selling illegal drugs (148). It seems as if the character has resorted to this as his way to cope with the injustice he experiences from the police and the authorities because he believes that that is the only way to make a living as part of a prejudiced society. The examination and the discussion of the strain elements within “99 Problems” and other rap songs provide great insight into the youth culture of disadvantaged communities. These lyrics give listeners an idea of what life is like in urban neighborhoods. In Andy Bennett’s article, “‘Still Talking About My Generation!’ The Representation of Youth in Popular Music”, the author states, “From the outset, rap’s strong associations with the street and the fixation of its lyrics on urban problems such as crime, drugs, and gang violence gave the music a crucial resonance with its youth audience” (73). Rap’s importance is found in its engagement with the issues of ethnic minorities. Through assessing the lyrics of rap songs, psychologists, sociologists, and educators can have a better understanding of the obstacles these children face as a product of living in the streets. Having teachers create a dialogue in school with rap lyrics as the focus will provide students a closer connection to the world around them.