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Gangstas, Thugs, and Hustlas: Identity and the Code of the Street in Rap Music

Charis E. Kubrin
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/sp.2005.52.3.360 360-378 First published online: 1 August 2005


Recent research on identity, culture, and violence in inner-city communities describes a black youth culture, or street code, that influences adolescent behavior, particularly violent behavior. I build upon such literature through analysis of gangsta rap music, exploring how the street code is present not only in “the street,” but also in rap music. I first consider how structural conditions in inner-city communities have given rise to cultural adaptations embodied in a street code. These adaptations help to create an interpretive environment where violence is accountable, if not normative. I then examine the complex, reflexive relationship between the street code, rap music, and social identity. These issues are examined through content analysis of 403 songs on rap albums from 1992 to 2000. Portrayals of violence in the lyrics serve many functions including establishing social identity and reputation and exerting social control: these are the central topics of the analysis.

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