THE PATHOLOGIES usually associated with being a teen-ager in urban America -- gang membership, violence, drug abuse, promiscuity -- can destroy a young life. For many, peer pressure to participate in those activities is intense. And it doesn't help that popular culture, through music and fashion, seems to promote these dangerous lifestyles. So-called "gangsta rap," in particular, often romanticizes drug dealers who boast about the money they make and the women they seduce while occasionally lamenting the death of a partner who fell victim to one of the inevitabilities of street life.
The makers of these songs defend them by claiming they are only portraying what is everyday life for many of America's young people. Indeed, the most popular rappers are those who look like they actually live the lives they sing about. They say they are play acting, but it's sometimes hard to tell where their pantomime ends. Rapper Eazy-E died this year of AIDS. Tupac Shakur, convicted of sexual assault this year, was shot five times outside his recording studio. He survived. Snoop Doggy Dogg is currently a defendant in a murder trial.