Tragic Narratives in Popular Culture: Depictions of Homicide in Rap Music

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Gwendolyn C Hunnicutt, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: Homicide is a rare event, but depictions of it are quite common in our culture and discourse. Commercially successful rappers have appropriated homicide as a central theme in their lyrical compositions. The tremendous success of rap music is indicative of its increasing popular appeal and cultural impact. We reveal the ways homicide is constructed within rap music and its frequency of occurrence across time. Employing a cultural criminology framework, we analyze the most popular rap songs over the period 1989–2000, as determined by Billboard music charts, for references to homicide. Using content analysis we explore the emergent themes associated with homicide scenarios in rap lyrics. Results show violent death was constructed in glorified ways, incorporated cautionary tales, or used as an analogy for powerful rhyming. The major themes found in these homicide-related rap lyrics were the normalization of killing, respect maintenance, confrontation with the power structure, vengeance, and masculine confrontation. Gender patterns of killing were surprising and distinct. Homicide was almost always male on male. Careful consideration is given to the multiple meanings of homicide, particularly the ways rappers have appropriated the word “killing” and transformed it into a term that indicates creative success.

Additional Information

Sociological Forum, 24(3), 611-636
Language: English
Date: 2009
cultural criminology, homicide, narrative, popular culture, rap music, violence

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