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Criminological Literature review of the research question " content analysis of rap music and the influence on adolescents" talk about on the prominence of some musical forms ( rap music / uk grime / uk drilla music ) influencing and being adopted by 'gang involved' and other adolescents and theories about how this can act as a facilitator for crime, including serious violent crime.

Youth violence and Rap music

Rap music has a significant role in shaping the adolescent behaviour. As a recent emerging trend of hip-hop and rap music has become popular among the adolescent, this research will help in gaining useful insight and relating the choice of expression, behaviour, emotion, language of the youth with the effect of such music.

The popular music and its impact on adolescent has emerged through the history as the adolescent groups are always fond of identity. Rap music is used as a medium by the adolescent to gather a place for themselves in the society and express their identity. The acceptance and popularity of rap music has increased among the youth after the enhancement and development of technologies and has become an influence to the youth to acquire lifestyle, role models, ideals and choices. In this research the impact of rap music on the violent activities of the adolescent shall be identified and discussed thoroughly with the help of analysis of some literature.

Adolescent: As defined by Blakemore & Mills (2014), adolescent is the period of formative social and biological transition. Functional and structural developments occur in the brain in a human being during this time. This paper refers adolescents to the youth group. For the purpose of this paper adolescent will include all the young adults who are effected by the contents of rap music.

Rap music: Rap music is a specific genre of music which includes vocal or musical delivery of rhythmic speech, rhymes and the street vernacular. Rap is an element of hip-hop.

Illicit content: Illicit means a subject that is not allowed or permitted by law. In this paper illicit contents to the rap music refers to the substance, theme, lyrics, language or background portrayed in a rap music.

Violence: Violence is the behaviour that involves the physical force with the intention of hurting, causing damage or injury or killing someone.

Identity: Identity is defined as the confidence of the ability of a person to maintain his inner sameness and continuity, which can be defined along with the tendency of a person to be like someone in several ways, like, the tendency to think or look or act like a particular person.

Gangsta rap: A style of rapping that incorporates such lyrics, which explicitly portray the violence of the American inner-city gang life.  

Rap music was first introduced in 1970 to portray the dreams, dilemmas and desires in the life of the adolescents. It can be observed from a systematic review that rap music has negatively impacted the life of the youth since it has flourished. Gangsta rap, which is one style of the rap music, has created numerous controversies in the music industry and society. Gangsta rap glorifies the use of guns, drugs and misogyny with the help of street culture. There is also a controversy about the causation of real-world crime with gangsta rap. The US politician Delores Tucker raised his protest against the nomination of rapper Tupac Shakur by the NAACP.  There is another famous style of rapping, which is known as drill rap music that was emerged from the south side of Chicago. It contains violent lyrics that reflects the harsh reality of the gang life. Drill rap music has become a controversy in the music industry in UK, and the listeners are believed to incite violence. In UK several incidents of crime has been noticed that were associated with drill rap music and videos. A major controversy broke out when two gangs called ‘B-side’ and ‘Splash’ started insulting each other with the help of videos uploaded on YouTube. As a result of this internal fight a popular music producer Dean Anthony Pascale Modeste was killed in the street of south-east London, while he was going with two fellow associated with Splash gang to a recording session. Another incident when London police decided to restrict the freedom of speech was when the IOII drill rap music group was found to have rap lyrics and activities which were promoting violence. It was found that several of videos of this group contained actual murders and stabbings. It was also observed that IOII had decide to take a revenge on their rivals 12World. As per Denise Herd, rap music is responsible for introducing the danger of drug abuse to the adolescent. He further observed an increased rate of drug and substance abuse in the adolescent after marijuana use was first introduced in the rap albums.


Rap music has become one of the most controversial genre of music all over the world irrespective of the fact that this is a newly introduced genre, which is about 25 years old. Since then it has been involved in various controversies in relation to its lyrics, background and contents. The explicit and violent theme of rap music had affected the lifestyle of the adolescent in various way. According to Beaver (2010), many rap artists were accused from time to time for several offences like assault, illegal possession of weapon, substance use and murder. The illicit content does not only refer to the lyrics but also to the subject matter and the written construction of the music. Because of the sexual contents and foul language, rap music has raised a serious concern in the music industry. Many of the rap music contains the warning stating ‘paternal advisory explicit content’ for the high amount of violence, misogyny, substance use and sexual imagery.

In the viewpoint of Johnson & Cloonan (2013), they have assumed that there is a serious link between rap music and violence. Throughout the history it has been observed that the rap music has played a major role in trends. The rap culture displays the use of violence, which impacts the behaviour and mind-set of the adolescents (Pawelz & Elvers, 2018). The rappers use lyrics to express or convey their state of mind in general or through past experiences. There are so many popular songs that the youth generation of modern times listen to, contains lyrics that are misogynistic or violence. Misogynistic and violent lyrics influence the audiences in a negative way. Not only the lyrics, but also the visuals of rap music incorporates inappropriate contents. The music videos contains gangster themes, misogynistic behaviour, drug and sexual abuse. Sometimes the lyrics contains vague meanings that actually demeans the women. Adolescents were highly influenced by such songs and adopted the behaviour within them. Rap lyrics is one way to spread violence in the mainstream society. It also helps in shaping the violent identity of the adolescent. Racial discrimination depicted through the rap lyrics spread the violence as a crime in the community. Violent rap music has proven to be related with the involvement in violent behaviour. As the adolescent are in fond of choosing a role model, they eventually end up choosing the rappers as their role models who speak about violence and oppositional culture. A preference of violent song has resulted into personal aggression and it was further found that individual who has low aggression are still affected in the same way by those rap music. As violence is prevalent in the rap music lyrics and it has the significant influence on the adolescent rap listeners of different races.

Legal/ Regulatory/ Policy Context

As per the survey conducted by Cundiff (2013), it can be observed that rap music with violent lyrics encourages the adolescents to acquire negative attributes and opinions. Conducting a vast research on various rap music the effect of rap music with violent content was outlined and analysed. The researcher created a list of samples of music based on misogynistic themes and illicit content and analysed it. It was analysed that the various music among the list depicted and shared the message of violence, offensive languages, and sexual conquest. It is one of the effect of rap music to glorify physical violence and create a ferocious situation. It was re-established in their research that misogynistic contents in the music lyrics, represents the women in a derogatory way. They are sexually objectified in the music and demeaning and shaming way, which contributes to increase the crime rates. Continuous exposure to violent music shapes the attitude and mentality of the audiences and increases the problem of domestic violence. The attitude towards the decency of the women are strongly affected by this factor. The main concern behind this types of violent content is that adolescent are attracted to this because of the aggressive nature. The misogynistic theme in such music is more satisfying to male sexuality and it makes a disrespectful approach towards the female. Adolescents acquire sexist and violent behaviour because of the lyrics. In this survey conducted by the researcher, it was observed that domestic violence is a consequence of continuous acquaintance with such music genre. The respondents were agreed during this research that adolescents are most likely to experience and adopt the effect of violent content of a music. The impact is clearly visible in their habit, as they are affected by the contents and obtain some habits on the basis of their music preferences. It plays as a main factor to influence the views and attitudes of the audiences. Various incidents of violence were reported which were the ultimate result of the rap music preference.

On the other hand, Steinmetz & Henderson (2016), found that rap music is often used as an instrument to visualise the reality and the real life struggle of the rap artists. For example, the famous rap artist Ludacris in 2006 in his song titled ‘mouths to feed’, depicted the struggle he faced in his real life. He affirmed that got involved in drug dealing due to the result of his inability to get employed to maintain his family. In another instance, rap artist Juvenile in his song ‘Numb Numb’ described that drug dealing was a means to provide for his daughter. It has been observed that crime results from the external (economic or otherwise) pressure to engage in crime. In the presence of adequate means violence resulting from strain might be alleviated. It was argued that rap music is not the main factor to promote violence in the adolescents. Peer association is the main variable in such a case, as friends impacts the behaviour and promotes and motivates violence and commission of crimes since the earlier period. Rap artist only echo the findings and claims of social learning theory that friendly relation may influence the tendency of a person to engage into violence and crimes. Jay-Z shared his experience on his influence to engage in violence and criminal activities were his education under the drug dealers. Rap artists have asserted that violent behaviour is often learned through the peer association as well as through the adult models.

Literature Review

According to Patton, Eschmann & Butler (2013), rap music has an influence of violent activities because of the association with gang members. Whilst, the rappers have claimed that they are held accountable because they depict the reality through their music. Rappers often tries to prove that they are as strong as they present themselves through their lyrics, which results in violence committed by them. This behaviour of the rap artists impacts the attitude of the audiences as they consider the rap artists as their role model. An example of this can be the killing of Tupac Shaker and Biggie Smalls, due to the continuity of gangster mentality in the real life. This behaviour finds its way to promote violence in the youth. The youth are exposed to the happening of such incidents and are ready to accept the attribute in their regular life. Some genre of hip-hop and rap music has lost their popularity because of the nonstop controversies. Sometimes the rap artists are ridiculed for not being as tough as they indicate through their videos, which may create a violence between the rappers and the opposite party. There was an incident where aggressive party music rapper Waka Flaka was ridiculed by a group for walking away when a group of rival gang members confronted him. On another incident, ‘Game’ was attacked and a video of the attack was uploaded in the YouTube. There are several incidents of posting online videos where the intention was to create a violence by making fun of the rapper as they are not always as hard and strong as they are shown in their music. The appropriate example of the participation of the rappers in promoting violence is the case of Chief Keef, who used to spread gang affiliation and violence through his lyrics. The rivalry of Keef with Lil jo, another rap artist, resulted in promoting a new trend in the social platform. In this case, gang violence and rap music potentially resulted in spreading and promoting violence in youth and adolescents.

It has been observed in various research conducted that the music preference of adolescent often shapes and influence the externalising problem behaviour in them. External problem behaviour may be referred to the increased aggression and violence level. If adolescents have a strong preference for rap music, some changes in their behaviour may be noticed. The violence shown through the rap music are adopted by the adolescents quickly, which leads to violent social identity. Involvement in violence leads to adopting of such identity. Ter Bogt, Keijsers & Meeus (2013) have found that gangsta rap is labelled as problem music and promotes violence and depression. Engaging with the problem music for a prolong time, inevitably exaggerate problem behaviour within the adolescent.

Despite of all this argument, Travis (2013), in his paper has made a counterargument that rap music enables the youth to self-expression. It is believed that the contents in rap music contains development narratives. The data created by the author has suggested that rap music is the disclosure in the lifespan development. They established that rap music contains innovation from the environment of injustice and oppression and depicts the scenario in their work. Rap music is consumed by a wide range of audience across ages, genders, races and regions. With the advancement of technology the availability of such music, youth are made aware of the harsh reality. Engagement in rap music has proven to be therapeutic for the behaviour and functional attitude of the adolescent. It is considered that the truth in the lyrics of the rap music empowers the adolescent.

The social strain theory states that society pressurize the individuals to achieve certain goals which are accepted socially. It sees crime as a result of the conflict between the recognizable goals of an individual and the available means to them to legally obtain the goals (Walsh, 2017). The theory provides that individuals may adapt the discrepancies in their aims and the means with the help of one of the five deviance, that is, conformity, ritualism, innovation, rebellion and retreatism. As a result, violence and criminal behaviour may be viewed as the inevitable result of the institutional and cultural influence of the society which inform success goals of the individuals. The ultimate result of non-realisation of the positively valued goals is criminal activities committed by adolescents.

In the modern context of crime, it can be said that the cultural and psychological motivation plays an important factor in inducing the adolescents to involve into crimes. The adolescents are easily influenced because of the social strain (Young, Taylor & Walton, 2013). For example, the trend of rap music has led the adolescents to adopt the behaviour that violence is natural in society. The rap artists have supported the idea that social and physical environment may influence the behavioural tendency of individuals including violence. The violent behaviour of rap music listeners is a result of external pressure on the actors. Rappers present crime as the result of several external pressure and psychological tension, such as financial stress or peer influence. In the presence of adequate means, criminal behaviour resulting from strains could be avoided.

Individuals have a different existing identity and another identity of the person he wants to be and most importantly an identity that he does not want to be. Identity is one of the internal component of the role that an individual has occupied in the social structure. Identity theory provides a useful avenue for analysing the violence because such behaviour is rooted in oneself and his identity (Jenkins, 2014).  The main goal of individual is to confirm and establish their identities. When the identity of a person is not confirmed, the individual may try to control others in a circumstances to make him respond in a way to confirm their identities. This theory may help to explain the violence in society by elaborating how the lack of confirmation of identity at the individual level is related to the control process and violence.

In order to set an identity in the society individuals adopt the recent trends. In order to do that, they are invoked by others to engage in criminal behaviour. The behaviour of individuals in a circumstances in influenced by the relationship of how an individual see themself in the current situation and the identity standard invoked in such situation. In the influence of violence presented through rap music, individuals tends to acquire the identity of their rap artists. They believe that their social self should be like their role model and in order to do that they end up being involved in violence and crimes.


It can be observed from analysing various rap music tracks that the genre influence or facilitate the choice of the individuals to promote or engage in violence.


Beaver, W. (2010). Rap and the recording industry. Business and Society Review, 115(1), 107-120.

Blakemore, S. J., & Mills, K. L. (2014). Is adolescence a sensitive period for sociocultural processing?. Annual review of psychology, 65, 187-207.

Cundiff, G. (2013). The influence of rap and hip-hop music: An analysis on audience perceptions of misogynistic lyrics. Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 4(1).

Herd, D. (2014). Changes in the prevalence of alcohol in rap music lyrics 1979–2009. Substance use & misuse, 49(3), 333-342.

Herd, D. (2015). Conflicting paradigms on gender and sexuality in rap music: A systematic review. Sexuality & Culture, 19(3), 577-589.

Jenkins, R. (2014). Social identity. Routledge.

Johnson, B., & Cloonan, M. (2013). Dark side of the tune: Popular music and violence. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd..

Patton, D. U., Eschmann, R. D., & Butler, D. A. (2013). Internet banging: New trends in social media, gang violence, masculinity and hip hop. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(5), A54-A59.

Steinmetz, K.  and Henderson, H. (2018). Hip-Hop’s Criminological Thought: A Content Analysis. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, [online] 18(1), p.114. Available at: [Accessed 19 Nov. 2018].

Ter Bogt, T. F., Keijsers, L., & Meeus, W. H. (2013). Early adolescent music preferences and minor delinquency. Pediatrics, peds-2012.

Travis, R. (2013). Rap music and the empowerment of today’s youth: Evidence in everyday music listening, music therapy, and commercial rap music. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 30(2), 139-167.

Walsh, A. (2017). Behavior genetics and anomie/strain theory. In Biosocial Theories of Crime (pp. 97-129). Routledge.

Young, J., Taylor, I., & Walton, P. (2013). The new criminology: For a social theory of deviance. Routledge.

Pawelz, J., & Elvers, P. (2018). The Digital Hood of Urban Violence: Exploring Functionalities of Social Media and Music Among Gangs. Journal Of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 34(4), 442-459. Retrieved from https://file:///C:/Users/LAPTOP_MP0248/Downloads/2854691_1548519842_TheDigitalHoodofUrbanViolenceE%20(2).pdf

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