Race and Inequality

The Threatening Nature of “Rap” Music

Charis Kubrin
Professor of Criminology, Law and Society, University of California, Irvine

Key Findings

  • Participants in this study (a random sample of U.S. residents ages 18-73) deemed identical lyrics more literal, offensive, and in greater need of regulation when they were characterized as rap compared with country.
  • The race of the lyric’s author was not found to have a significant impact on overall perceptions of the song.

Description

In the article, “The Threatening Nature of ‘Rap’ Music,” Kubrin and her co-authors examined perceptions of rap lyrics compared to the perception of lyrics from country music. The authors conducted a three-part study to test for several dimensions of bias. The first study utilized a random sample of 126 U.S. residents between the ages of 18-66 (with a median age of 33.5) who were asked to read music lyrics of songs that were characterized as being either country or rap, and then were asked to evaluate their impressions of the songs. The second study employed a random sample of 244 U.S. residents between the ages of 18-73 (with a median age of 31) and performed the same experiment but used a different set of lyrics, to test the effect of musical genre on participants’ impressions. The third study sought to clarify whether it was the genre label that affected perceptions of the song, or the assumed race of the song’s author. The third study was conducted using a random sample of 325 U.S. residents between the ages of 18 –71 (with a median age of 31) who were asked to evaluate a song, which had no genre label. Overall, the authors found that participants deemed identical lyrics more literal, offensive, and in greater need of regulation when they were characterized as rap compared with country. No bias was detected for the race of the lyric’s author. These findings highlight the possibility that rap lyrics are more negatively evaluated than other forms of music and could inappropriately impact jurors when admitted as evidence to prove guilt.

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