Crime as Pop: Gangsta Rap as Popular Staging of Norm Violations
1. “Crime as Pop”
2. Statistical Measurement of Attention
3. Narratives of Gangsta Rap and Their Appropriation
3.1. Gangsta Rap as Narrative
3.2. Narrative Appropriation
Dragan answers that the film “House of Gucci” will be released in cinemas next week. He adds that he definitely wants to see it and tells me that he used to exclusively wear Gucci himself. Astonished, I ask him if he wore real Gucci clothes. He replies that some of them were also real. “But aren’t they incredibly expensive?” I ask further. “It’s OK,” Dragan answers and says that3 sometimes he got Gucci-pieces as a gift. For Christmas or something. “And now you only wear Adidas, it looks like,” I say laughing, looking at the black trousers with the white Adidas stripes, the black hoodie with a big Adidas emblem on the chest and the Adidas shoulder bag. I have seen this outfit on him many times before. Dragan jumps up and happily tells me that he used to wear only Louis, “Louis Vuitton” he adds, and then Gucci and then Nike and now Adidas. (…) I still have a lot of questions, but Dragan has already been fidgeting a bit and now asks me if I would like to play table football with him. “Sure,” I say, and we go over to the adjoining hallway where the football table is located. While we play, Dragan casually tells me that he is a Capital fan. “Capital Bra?” I ask and Dragan nods enthusiastically. “Oh, I see,” I laugh, “that’s why the Gucci and the switch to Adidas?” Dragan confirms and explains that he always wore exactly the brands that Capital Bra was wearing at the time.
- Self-assertion and Criminality
This one is definitely real too. But the old things are better, Bari points out. Meanwhile, he [Xatar] has become a real entrepreneur, Bari explains. I should think about it: he now owns a kebab shop, a record la3bel and all that. He had really made something of himself and really achieved something. But he [Bari] truly celebrated the gold robbery, that was really good. Bari also recommends that I watch an interview of Leeroy with Samy, in which he talks about the gold robbery that he committed together with Xatar. They made 1.8 million euros. That’s not like selling a few packs here, Bari comments. Think about it, Bari continues, they dressed up as policemen and one of them hid in a bag, you must come up with that first.
- Stable and ‘Authentic’ Identity
that Xatar and SSIO live in [luxury district] and only come here to make their videos—because of the high-rise buildings and because it’s dirty and all that. I ask him what he thinks about that. “Let t3hem,” he answers briefly. After a short pause, he adds that Xatar is also doing some correct stuff. He has this kebab shop, Hamza explains, and after the last shoot he had set up a large table here and all the children were invited to eat from a huge kebab skewer.
Then the young people who have been sitting on the couch with their backs to the rest of the room turn around and the whole group in the chill corner looks towards the bar with expectant grins on their faces. The music has got a bit louder. I pay closer attention to the lyrics and a few words come up that I immediately classify as not conforming to the rules of the youth club. Then one of the staff members walks towards the young people with determined steps. Halfway there, he says loudly that they should skip it and that this is a deliberate provocation. Turning to Deni, who is apparently connected to the box, he says he exactly saw how Deni turned his head. The young people laugh, and Deni starts the next track.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Conflicts of Interest
Official statistics were introduced mainly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when statistical offices were established in Europe, for example, in Prussia in 1805, in France in 1800, in Sweden already in 1756 (Desrosières 2005, p. 21). The starting point of these statistical-administrative efforts lay in the “need to know a nation in order to administer it” (Desrosières 2005, p. 19).
The exact percentage of offences committed in adolescence depends to a large extent on the exact formulation of the survey questions, the groups surveyed, and the types of offences focused on. However, we can assume that more than 90% of adolescents commit offences that can be considered typical of adolescence (such as theft, drug use, fare evasion, etc.). Muncie (2021, p. 19) therefore speaks of crime as an “everyday part of young people’s lives”. The vast majority of young people stop committing offences without special interventions, but it must be acknowledged that crime is extremely popular among young people, as the vast majority commit offences.
According to Tricia Rose (2008), gangsta rap in its current form is essentially a product of measured attention. When new measurement tools were introduced in the early 1990s to track the popularity of songs, the result was an unexpected appeal of relatively ‘hard’ genres such as gangsta rap, which was then massively promoted by the music industry, for example, on the radio and through videos. In the course of new attention measurements and new media distribution possibilities, gangsta rap became an extensively propagated commodity, so that Rose (2008, p. 23) states: “gangstas, pimps, and hoes are products that promotional firms, working through record companies for corporate conglomerates, placed in high rotation”.
Critical criminologists, in particular, assume that parts of criminological research and the administrative handling of crime follow a moral devaluation. Hester and Eglin (2017, p. 51) speak of a “correctional criminology”, since on the basis of a respective devaluation claims are made to change the individual behavior of offenders. The demand for behavioral change implies that the behavior is considered undesirable. Following this assessment, we can assume that criminal prohibitions determine a behavior not only as illegal, but also as amoral, as part of a ‘low culture’ (which of course is not illegal as a whole).
An important point of reference for our paper lies in the question of how delinquents can become celebrities or heroes (e.g., James and Lane 2020; Kooistra 1990; Penfold-Mounce 2009). Studies related to this question usually refer to Hobsbawm’s (1969) analysis of “social bandits” and the question as to why some of these “bandits”—like their prototype Robin Hood—appear to be heroes. Hobsbawm limited the emergence of social bandits to agrarian societies but described the gangster as a kind of successor to the social bandit (Hobsbawm 1969, p. 113). Recent studies relate a celebrity status of delinquents to the present as well. In this regard, James and Lane (2020, p. 8) emphasize the role of escapism and voyeurism, which they cite to explain the creation of criminal heroes. In our view, this explanation is insufficient, as the staging of crime as a pop event, we assume, refers to the complex narrative balances described above. Penfold-Mounce (2009, p. 107) points to the need to connect “the public’s resonance with elements of a good story”; Kooistra (1990, p. 219) identifies a kind of central plot in the heroization of delinquency. We follow up on such findings, but we do not aim at tapping the breadth of popular crime stagings as a whole; instead, we take a detailed look at the narrative appropriation of crime depictions by specific recipients.
Gangsta rap is a male-dominated music genre. But of course women can also be important gangsta rappers and deal with gender stereotypes, reproduce them, or subvert them (Suess 2021).
To name just one example: The US rapper Snoop Dogg claimed gangsters were his inspiration. He wanted to combine the gangster model with a business model (in Baker 2018, p. 227).
It therefore seems problematic when Rose (2008, pp. 51–60) notes that the criticism of gangsta rap and its violent lyrics often ignores the fact that rappers come from disadvantaged and discriminatory backgrounds. She argues that social problems are wrongly personalized and decontextualized when rappers are attacked as individuals. This critique of criticism is problematic insofar as this is precisely a core of the narrative used in gangsta rap, namely the reversal of the assumption that rappers or the youth recipients of gangsta rap are passive victims of social circumstances.
The institutions were selected according to the criterion that gangsta rap plays a significant role on site. The relevance was determined through prior consultation with staff and observation of the music actively selected by visitors. In addition, we made sure to contrast institutions in different local contexts.
We thank Katharina Bock and Friederike Schmidt, who participated in the data collection and interpretation.
Although the categories are grounded in the field, we are aware that with this selection we reproduce, among other things, the male dominance in the sphere of gangsta rap (cf. Suess 2021) as well as in criminological research (cf. Ferrell et al. 2015, p. 23). In the further research process, we will expand the sample, taking into account an intersectional perspective.
Capital Bra had dedicated a track to Gucci at first. Later he switched to Adidas.
There are, of course, many options to stage crime and portray offenders. A narrative approach is one among many; its relevance is confirmed by the recent criminological interest in narratives (e.g., Fleetwood et al. 2019).
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Dollinger, B.; Rieger, J. Crime as Pop: Gangsta Rap as Popular Staging of Norm Violations. Arts 2023, 12, 21. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts12010021
Dollinger B, Rieger J. Crime as Pop: Gangsta Rap as Popular Staging of Norm Violations. Arts. 2023; 12(1):21. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts12010021Chicago/Turabian Style
Dollinger, Bernd, and Julia Rieger. 2023. "Crime as Pop: Gangsta Rap as Popular Staging of Norm Violations" Arts 12, no. 1: 21. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts12010021