Journal of Public Health Policy

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 395–406

Changing images of violence in Rap music lyrics: 1979–1997

  • Denise Herd
Original Article

DOI: 10.1057/jphp.2009.36

Cite this article as:
Herd, D. J Public Health Pol (2009) 30: 395. doi:10.1057/jphp.2009.36


Rap music has been at the center of concern about the potential harmful effects of violent media on youth social behavior. This article explores the role of changing images of violence in rap music lyrics from the 1970s to the 1990s. The results indicate that there has been a dramatic and sustained increase in the level of violence in rap music. The percentage of songs mentioning violence increased from 27 per cent during 1979–1984 to 60 per cent during 1994–1997. In addition, portrayals of violence in later songs are viewed in a more positive light as shown by their increased association with glamor, wealth, masculinity, and personal prowess. Additional analyses revealed that genre, specifically gangster rap, is the most powerful predictor of the increased number of violent references in songs. The discussion suggests that violence in rap music has increased in response to the complex interplay of changing social conditions such as the elevated levels of youth violence in the 1980s and changing commercial practices within the music industry.


violencemediayouthalcoholdrugsrap music

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Denise Herd
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Public Health, 50 University Hall, University of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA