The Threatening Nature of 'Rap' Music

Psychology, Public Policy and Law 22:280-292, 2016.

44 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2016 Last revised: 23 Mar 2020

See all articles by Adam Dunbar

Adam Dunbar

University of California, Irvine; University of Delaware

Charis E. Kubrin

University of California, Irvine

Nicholas Scurich

University of California, Irvine - School of Social Ecology

Date Written: August 1, 2016


Rap music has had a contentious relationship with the legal system, including censorship, regulation, and artists being arrested for lewd and profane performances. More recently, rap lyrics have been introduced by prosecutors to establish guilt in criminal trials. Some fear this form of artistic expression will be inappropriately interpreted as literal and threatening, perhaps because of stereotypes. Only a handful of studies have examined whether rap lyrics are evaluated using stereotypes, yet these studies were conducted in the 1990s — a period of heightened scrutiny for rap — and used nonoptimal methods. This study presents 3 experiments that examine the impact of genre-specific stereotypes on the evaluation of violent song lyrics by manipulating the musical genre (rap vs. country) while holding constant the actual lyrics. Study 1, a direct replication of previous research, found that participants deemed identical lyrics more literal, offensive, and in greater need of regulation when they were characterized as rap compared with country. Study 2 was a conceptual replication (i.e., same design but different stimuli), and again detected this effect. Study 3 used the same approach but experimentally manipulated the race of the author of the lyrics. A main effect was detected for the genre, with rap evaluated more negatively than country or a control condition with no label. However, no effects were found for the race of the lyrics’ author nor were interactions were detected. Collectively, these findings highlight the possibility that rap lyrics could inappropriately impact jurors when admitted as evidence to prove guilt.

Keywords: stereotypes, decision making, evidence, criminal law, rap music

Suggested Citation

Dunbar, Adam and Kubrin, Charis and Scurich, Nicholas, The Threatening Nature of 'Rap' Music (August 1, 2016). Psychology, Public Policy and Law 22:280-292, 2016., Available at SSRN:

Adam Dunbar

University of California, Irvine ( email )

Campus Drive
Irvine, CA California 62697-3125
United States

University of Delaware ( email )

Newark, DE 19711
United States

Charis Kubrin (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine ( email )

Department of Criminiology, Law and Society
Social Ecology II, Rm 3379
Irvine, CA 62697-3125
United States

Nicholas Scurich

University of California, Irvine - School of Social Ecology ( email )

4312 Social and Behavioral Sciences Gateway
Irvine, CA 92697
United States

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