‘It’s what sells’: How music can help influence behavior, including gun violence

Target 3

As told by two local artists working to change the lyrics

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA)– Kids and teenagers are wrapped up in the gun violence across Central Illinois.

The number of teenagers shooting at, and even killing, one another has multiplied in recent years, according to testimony from local officials, including statistics provided by the Champaign County State’s Attorney.

So, what’s influencing kids to pick up guns?

From conversations with those who have been where these kids are, WCIA’s Target 3 investigative team learned it’s often a lack of influence and social programs. When those two things are missing, kids look to their idols, in this case, musicians.

“Sometimes it’s a tragic case of art imitating life, imitating art.”

– Lamont Holden, music producer & u of i music professor

We sat down with up-and-coming artist and Champaign native Jarrel Young. He said somewhere along the line shooting and killing became intertwined with popular rap culture.

“It’s what sells, just being honest with you, it’s what sells,” Young began. “It’s easier to do bad than it is to do good.”

You may recognize Young. He and his producer Lamont Holden are behind the Illini Anthem. Holden runs his own production company, “The Letter L Beats”. He is also a professor of music instruction at the University of Illinois.

“I’m just going to be honest with you, like, I grew up in the hood. I’m far removed from it, right, but I never heard of an extendo clip until I turned on a rap song,” Holden shared. “I never heard of a Draco until I turned on a rap song.”

Jarrel Young and Lamont Holden sit down for an interview in WCIA’s news studio

“The labels and stuff, they don’t really understand what’s happening to the foundation or what’s going on in the schools, because they’re at such a high pedestal that they can’t really see what’s going on down at the bottom and the type of effect that it’s having on the youth and the next generation,” Young added.

“Do they know?” Target 3 investigators asked, referring to the record labels and artists Young referenced.

“I would have to say they do know, but do they acknowledge it? That’s up for debate,” he responded.

Rap music does not stand alone. Music of all sorts has influenced behavior since the dawn of time.

“Sometimes it’s a tragic case of art imitating life, imitating art,” Holden said.

“At first I thought it was the cool thing to do,” Young shared. “It was always pushed to the forefront and always just shown to the masses, but as I got older, I started realizing that, yo, some of these kids are really suffering from trying to live a lifestyle that’s actually not good for them.”

The pair of artists tell me many of the at-risk kids listening to this popular music are talented artists themselves.

“They have this perception of what it looks like to be a rapper, so they feel like they have to fill a role,” Holden explained.

“A lot of these kids these days don’t have somebody to talk to,” Young added. “They don’t have somebody who can simply give them a hug and tell them, ‘I love you.'”

Young looks at his young daughter who gives him a stake in the next generation. He and Holden are on a mission to be there for them and to change the lyrics.

“A lot of the gun violence and things that are going on around this town and this community, it has really shined some type of dim light on us,” Young said.

“But with this Illini project, we’re showing kids from the town, from Champaign-Urbana, from all of Central Illinois, that a person from here can actually do something like this and actually make some type of change.”

Jarrel Young and his daughter visit Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois ahead of Saturday’s season opener.
Courtesy: Jarrel Young

“I think one, a solution is to make music more uplifting, right? But two, work as a society to support kids who have fallen through the cracks,” Holden concluded.

The pair are providing that. Young is a youth coordinator for Macon County 4-H. He and Holden also teach at the Illinois Summer Youth Music Program. There, kids can learn all about performing and writing lyrics.

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