When Culture becomes Crime: Gangster Rap Embodying Gang Life

A typical quote among gangsters is, “Once a gangster, always a gangster.” This quote summarizes the gangster life depicted in gangster rap: denigrating women, leading a violent lifestyle, and abusing drugs. It should not come as a surprise that society is slowly deteriorating since people, especially the youth, have decided to actualize the lyrics in these songs, whether drugs, sex abuse, and murder are commonplace. It is even less astonishing that the hip-hop world has lost one too many artists, including the legendary Nipsey Hussle, Pop Smoke, and Take-Off, all of whom died by gunfire. With these songs receiving significant airplay on radio stations, it is time to take a step back and assess whether their inappropriate messages are to blame for the worsening situation.

Jeffery Lamar Williams, famously known as Young Thug, was arrested for street gang activity ranging from illicit drug possession and intent to distribute to theft. The case would seem like an open-and-shut case, as his music videos and lyrics advocate for street brutality, which the grand jury used to indict the rapper. For instance, the lyrics “I escaped every one of the licks because I was supposed to be rich/ I don’t care nothing ‘bout no cop, I’m just tellin’ you how it is” from Young Thug’s “Just How It Is.” The song shows no respect for law enforcement officers and reiterates the belief that gangsters are invincible. These lyrics paint gangster life as endearing and thrilling, and it is only logical to assume that they do more harm than entertain listeners. If songs can promote social change, it is not farfetched to think they can spread antisocial behavior.

Furthermore, numerous rappers feel pressured to live up to the gangster lifestyle they sing about in their music, endangering their lives and the lives of those who look up to them. Snoop Dogg’s lyrics in “Murder was the Case” are no surprise for his 1993 conviction for first-degree murder. Part of the lyrics say, “Man hand me my motherfuckin Glock (pistol) man gimme another clip/’Cause I’m gonna smoke this fool” are acclamation for street violence and murder. 50 Cent records his life as a drug dealer in the “Get Rich or Die Tryin” song, which earned him several bullet shots from rival gang members in May 2000. Artists rap about an “opp” referring to an enemy they threaten to murder. Tekashi 6ix9ine is one of the youthful rappers who recently went to jail for gang activity and racketeering. Snoop Dogg and Birdman have been convicted of sex assault. Notice the pattern?

Closer home, the “Kia Boyz” have taken to dangerous stunts of car surfing using stolen vehicles in Milwaukee., speeding away from the police and crashing the cars While this behavior may come off as typical teenage rebellion, a few interviewed cited rap music as the source of inspiration for their antics. Their videos on Tiktok and Instagram show them engaging in reckless behavior while listening to gangsta rap, and the correlation is highly probable. They re-enact what they have seen and heard in these music videos and witnessed in these famous rappers’ lives. These lyrics blur the line between reality and fantasy, even though some of these artists provide deceptive narratives about being engaged in gang life for the allure of listeners. Although not all rap music is terrible, it is time to assess the impact of these lyrics on listeners and society when discussing gun violence and crime.

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Anna Chen

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