Does The Hip Hop Culture Influence Youth Gangs?

Gang violence and the use of violent weapons have been highlighted by the media recently. The government have initiated aims in order to curb and deal with gang violence in the United Kingdom. In order deal with this issue, influencing factors have been acknowledged. This research explores the supposed influence that the hip hop culture has on young males engaged in gangs, and their willingness to use violent weapons. a systematic review of the literature and a qualitative content analysis of four songs lyrics have confirmed that there are themes which are consistent with the attitudes and behaviours that young people express due to the music they listen to.

A significant proportion of the literature that surround young people and youth gangs in the UK focuses on possession and use of weapons (e.g. Bullock and Tilley, 2002; Bennett and Holloway, 2004b; Marshall et al, 2005). Research by Lemos (2004) found that some young people were likely to carry weapons through fear of being attacked by other gang members or more worryingly because they associated it with being cool. This was also reflected in Kinsella‟s (2011) report for the government, following the murder of her brother Ben during a knife attack in 2008. Through visiting several projects across the country, Kinsella found two prominent motivational factors that were highlighted in each project. Those were „fear‟ and „fashion‟. Some young people in the projects explained that they carried knives because they feared that others were also weapons, and so felt it necessary to carry knifes as a method of self-protection.


Firstly, I would like to thank my dissertation supervisor Dr Keir Sothcott for his support and guidance throughout the dissertation process. Finally, a special thanks to my family and friends for their continued support throughout my time at university and for keeping me motivated through difficult times, without them I would not have made it this far.


Chapter 1


Youth gangs and the attitudes and behaviours of young males have been a major issue in the United Kingdom. Researches and theories have been conducted in order to evaluate the emergence of youth street gangs. The murders of innocent young people in the last decade have urged the government and academics to conduct reports and research on gang and post code gang feuds. Due to an increase of gang violence the government introduced the ‘Gang Injunction’ within the Police and Crime Act 2009. The ‘gang Injunction’ is aimed at preventing young people from engaging in, encouraging and assisting gang related violence (Home Office). Research from the Associations of Chief Police Officers (2007) and Pickle (2009) show that apart from gang members being involved in gangs, they are also engaging in the use and possession of violent weapons.

Hip hop artists have been criticised by politicians and the media for influencing young males to engage in violent behaviour. However this idea is not supported by research and can be rejected, because when looking at research from government reports and academics there is no evidence to support the idea that hip hop influencing young male’s behaviour and attitudes. However research from Kubrin (2005) and Miranda and Claes (2004) who are both Canadian and American, suggest that some of the themes in hip hop are reflected in the behaviour of young males. So therefore there is a relationship between hip hop and young males, but unfortunately this research has not been conducted in the United Kingdom.

In the response to the lack of research on the link between hip hop and youth gangs and violence, the aim of this study is to the answer the research question:

“Youth Gangs: Does the Hip Hop culture Influence Young Males in the UK to Join Street Gangs and the Use of Violent Weapons?”

In order to answer this research question and to find out whether there is a link between youth gangs and hip hop culture, this research will explore if the use and possession of violent weapons is really glamorised by hip hop, or whether the claims by the government and media are unjustified. The main aims in this research are to:

Find out if beliefs, attitudes and behaviours of young gang members can be attributed to the lifestyle portrayed by hip hop artists.

Establish where prominent behaviours in the literature, song lyrics and images of hip hop artists can be associated with the influence of violent weapons

Apply theory to the attitudes, behaviours and the prominent themes associated with gangs in order to provide a more holistic approach.

These aims will be conducted through a discussion of literature from books, journals, government reports, newspapers and media articles. A content analysis will be conducted on hip hop (Grime UK) song that young males may listen to, and a semiotic analysis on images of hip hop artists. Chapter 2 of this research provides a literature review looking into the problems with gang definition, the UK new gang culture, the background of gangs, gang membership, the possession and use of violent weapons and the hip hop culture and the influence of hip hop. Chapter 3 focuses on the methodology and outlines the approach that has been conducted during the research process. The research design and the analyses are included in this chapter, alongside the ethical considerations. Chapter 4 discusses and evaluates the analysis of the hip hop song lyrics, the signs that images from hip hop portray using a semiotic approach and then finally the themes that emerged from the literature and lyrics. These three themes are ‘drug dealing’, which is discussed in relation to rational choice theory, strain theory and differential association theory. The second theme is ‘street credibility’ and this is discussed in relation to social identity theory and masculine theories. The final theme is the ‘Territorial post code wars’, this theme is discussed in relation to social capital theory and social learning theory.

Chapter 2

Literature Review

This chapter will be exploring the literature surrounding young males, gangs, violence and weapons. As well as the influence the hip hop culture can have on these young males. Different literature such as books, journals, government reports, newspaper articles and research studies will be examined and reviewed in order to view the current state of gang culture and violence in the UK. The following issues will be discussed in order to examine relevant literature on the study. Gang definition, the UK gang culture, gang membership, and the background of gangs in general, the possession and use of violent weapons and finally the influence of hip hop culture on young people.

The problem with definition

The term ‘Gang’ has had some issues surrounding its definition, and this is a problem that remains dominant within the UK based literature. The definition of the term has been mainly developed with reference to American gang culture. Some theorists argued that a new definition of the term ‘gang’ should be given for the new gang culture in the UK. The reason behind some definitions given to describe the gang culture in America was investigated by Ball and Curry (1995) they believed that although it is easy to identify a gang, the real issue arises when attempting to create a definition. After engaging in a lengthy linguistic analysis of various ways to define gang, they proposed that “gang definitions would do better to focus on the abstract, formal characteristics of the phenomenon rather than connotative, normative content” (Ball & Curry, 1995:240).

Ball and Curry (1995) also stated that old definitions for the term are acceptable but due to the frequent changes in sociological, political and cultural changes it is important to have a new definition for the term, because the changes may affect the phenomenon of gang culture. Despite the need for a current definition, government and academic organisations believe that a fixed definition is essential in order to develop further research into gangs. For example the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) stated that it was difficult to determine the proportion of crime that contributed to gangs, because the agreed definition of gangs on the data base was non-existent (ACPO, 2007:14). The Metropolitan Police Service (2008) also identified several other factors that differentiate a gang from relatively small, unorganised and transient peer groups. These factors include names, an organisable structure, and the use of violence and delinquent behaviour to promote group identity and to acquire social capital (Metropolitan Police Service, 2007: 21)

The UK New Gang Culture

The media, government and professional academics have all raised their concerns about the growing perception of gang culture in the UK. The media frequently report criminal activity, and in response some academics have argued that the media sensationalises the gang problem in the UK (Alexander, 2008:4). Other academics such as Bullock and Tiley (2002) have also suggested that the need to understand and tackle the gang violence is more important instead of sectionalising gang violence. Following the media’s numerous reports regarding the increase in high profile gang related crimes since 2007, Heale (2008) stated that youth gangs have been frequently highlighted in the media. The fatal shooting of an innocent five year old girl in Stockwell in 2012, Is another incident that caught the media’s attention. Thusha Kamaleswaran was left permanently paralysed after a gang related shooting occurred at her aunts shop (Telegraph, 2012). The media suggested that the shooting was linked to youth gang violence; the metropolitan police gave a statement stating, “It is believed two black youths ran into the shop before shots were fired”. Peter Robbins who is the counsellor from Lambeth council also gave a statement, “there is a fairly well known problem with gangs and guns in Lambeth” (Daily Mail, 2012).

Gangs are not only running into shops and causing injury to innocent individuals, they are also engaging in the American style drive by shootings. For example, the Telegraph (2011) reported a drive by shooting in west London which injured three teenage girls and left one girl in critical condition. These shootings also attracted the media and public attention and the they believed that the American style drive by shootings performed by UK gangs where indeed becoming a lot more like the American gangs. Academics have criticised the media despite there being evidence of growing youth violence taking place in the UK, academics believe that the media solely focuses on the dramatic consequences of gang violence, instead of how it can be prevented and tackled (Fitch, 2009: 2).

Deuchar (2008) suggested that the majority of gang members tend to predominantly be from black or ethnic minority groups, despite this suggestion Bennett and Holloway (2004a: 319) found that the majority of gang members were white, followed by Caribbean and Bangladeshi. Due to this inconsistency in literature surrounding the race and ethnic minority of gang members, it is clear that the race and ethnicity of gang members is not an important factor in researching gangs. So therefore this study will not focus on race and ethnicity. Instead this study will focus on why young people join gangs and the characteristics of gang members.


Studies and research where conducted in order to give an insight into the increase of gang membership. Bennett and Holloway (2004a: 305) found evidence from governments reports, newspapers, local agencies and national bodies that suggested gangs in the UK and the number of gang members where increasing. Bennett and Holloway (2004a) argued that with the obvious increase in violent weapons and the possessions and the use of guns, the British gangs where not that different to the American stereotype that the UK often rejected. Research into gangs in America could not be generalised to the rising youth gang culture in Britain, despite the early research into gangs and youth groups. Subculture theorists in America have largely focused on the study of youth groups and gangs for almost over a century. Research into gangs in America mainly focused on the Chicago city, which is a research that has provided what is known as the first study into the gang culture phenomena. After the research in Chicago gang culture, subculture theorist Merton began his research into delinquent groups, with the help of Cohen (1955) and Cloward and Ohlin (1961). Merton’s (1938) research on the ‘Social structure and Anomie’ thesis anticipated that the American Dream was at the forefront of every individuals aspirations in life. But not every individual would be able to acquire this. For example education was only accessible to some people and this led to anomie. Also deviant behaviours such as violence and petty crimes amongst young working class males who were most affect were caused by the feeling of strain. Cohen (1955: 66) extended the concept of social structure and anomie by explaining that in order to explain non instrumental vandalism and violence was due to status frustration. He stated that the individuals who felt frustrated would, ‘gravitate towards one another to establish new norms and new criteria of status’, and this would then form a delinquent subculture. This statement was further extended by Cloward and Ohlin (1961:1), they believed that every individual had access to legitimate and illegitimate opportunities and suggested three types of subculture. The retreatist subculture which fails to find legitimate or illegitimate means in order to succeed, so therefore the individual turns to alcohol or drug abuse while the conflict subculture is when individuals use manipulation of violence as a way of winning status. The criminal subculture describes a group of individuals who rely on theft and extortion as a means of getting income. The subculture that is most relevant to this research on the young males and the influence of hip hop is the Conflict subculture.

Downes (1966) systematic review found no evidence that Cloward and Ohlin (1961) retreats, conflict and criminal subcultures existed in the UK because the young males lacked structured cohesion that the American gangs boasted about. Cohen (1955) notion of status frustration was criticised by Downes who believed that by Cohen conducting his research in only one borough meant that his findings may not be generalised to the rest of the UK. Despite this Downes concluded that the research into gang delinquency in the UK is a reflection of its absence (Downes, 1966:116). In addition to this Campbell et al (1989) believed that the gang notion belonged to America, whilst the subculture notion belonged to the UK. As a result of this Campbell et al (1982) felt that a separate definition and research for youth gangs in the UK would need to be developed in order to provide a better framework for future research into gangs Campbell et al, 1989: 276)

Gang Membership

It is believed that young people especially males are known to join gang memberships for different psychological or social reasons (Bennett and Holloway, 2004a: 307). Some of the psychological reasons for young people joining gangs are believed to be because they have a desire for money, to gain status and respect from other gang members and the feeling of being protected and having a connection within the gang membership. Psychological reasons for young people joining gangs usually develop from lack of effective support from their parents, family, teachers and the police (Harris et al, 2001: 9). Sociological reasons have been heavily focused on in terms of explaining gang membership. Research by the NASUWT Teachers union (2008) found that if there is an absence or lack of positive role models in a young individual’s life, then in order to build a social identity they will look towards accessible role models. Also the study found that young people from broken families where a father figure was not present are more likely to look up to individuals in gangs or family members involved in gang memberships (NASUWT Teachers union, 2008: 11). Wood and Alleyne (2009) found evidence that gang membership gives young people a chance to acquire powerful status amongst their friends, opportunity for excitement especially if they live a boring life. Protection from other gang members and most importantly it offers social support that is lacking in young people’s lives from their family. Whereas Marshall et al (2005) suggests that the reason for young people engaging in gang membership is due to their exclusion and alienation from mainstream society, particularly education and employment. Whilst most theorists offer an explanation as to why young people join gangs, they have failed to outline the specific features and characteristics of gang members. Evidence from Bennett and Holloway (2004a) suggests that gang members tend to me male, involved in drug taking and supplying, more likely to carry weapons and are criminally active.

Read also  Juveniles And The Legal Justice System Criminology Essay

Possession and the violent use of weapons

There are various literatures that focus on youth gangs and the use of violent weapons amongst young people in the UK. Lemos (2004) report on ‘Fear and Fashion: The use of knives and other weapons by young people’ believed that most young people were more likely to carry violent weapons due to the fear of being attacked by other young individuals or just because they believed that carrying a violent weapon made them look cool. The home office affairs select committee published a knife crime report which investigated the levels and causes of knife crime and the attitudes of the offenders. Knife crime has been and still is a persistent and worrying concern that has a huge impact on young people in the UK. During June 2012 there were approximately 29,513 recorded offences involving knives and other sharp instruments, accounting for 7% of selected offences (Berman: Knife Crime Statistics, 2012).

In the UK more than 70 teenagers were violently killed by the use of violent weapons. Majority of these deaths were gang related violence’s. In 2008 gang and knife crime were regularly featured in the media headlines, these crimes were mapped out in various locations around the UK, but London suffered the highest number of crime amongst young people. Dr Bob Golding, who is a criminal justice lecturer at the university of Portsmouth, stated that “knife crime is simply a symptom; you have associated with this a development of gang culture” (Golding, BBC News: 2008). The possession and the use of violent weapons were also reflected in Brooke Kinsellas (2011) ‘Tackling Knife Crime Together’ report. Kinsella report was conducted following the death of her brother in a knife attack in 2008. The report also gave the public an insight into the seriousness of violent weapon crimes. Kinsella found that motivational factors influence young people into carrying violent weapons, these two factors were fear and fashion. In the report it was also discovered that youths reasons for carrying weapons was due to the fear of being attacked by other individuals, so therefore they felt the need to protect themselves. The reason that was more worrying was the need to be in possession of violent weapons because they believed it was fashionable or a cool thing to do (Kinsella, 2011: 2). Recently the media reported two incidents that allegedly occurred with five hours. The first incident was the shooting of a 19 year old male in Clapton, east London and the stabbing of a 16 year old male in Wandsworth, south west London. Although the police believe that these crimes where not linked to gangs, it just shows the frequent use of violent weapons within the community. (BBC, 2013)

Although it is difficult to determine the link between violent weapon crimes and gangs, recent research into gangs has noted the relationship between firearms and gangs (Squires et al, 2008). A research report was carried out by Bullock and Tilley (2002), they found that 60% of firearm crimes can be linked to gangs meanwhile; the Home Office 2009/2010 reported 5% increase of injuries as a result of firearms. In order for the government to tackle the possession and use of violent weapons, they need to establish the main reasons why young people engage in violent weapons. As this could enable them or it could be a starting point for them to limit gang violence.

The Hip Hop Culture and the Influence of Hip Hop

Hip hop today is known as a cultural reform and social reconstruction. Hip hop first developed in the drug infested gang streets of the Bronx in New York City. Apart from the glamorous and provocative nature of hip hop, it is mainly associated with and for freedom, peace, equality and social harmony. Alongside creating a successful industry hip hop also gave ethnic minorities in America a chance to voice their opinions internationally, a civil rights movement that is still relevant today. Price (2006:1) defines hip hop as “a liberation movement in the form of a diverse culture, it was a next generation civil (human) rights movement sparked by ostracized, marginalized and oppressed inner- city youths. Hip hop culture has grown to represent urban, rural, suburban and global communities of all ages, genders, religions and races”.

One main factor that is mainly held responsible for the increase in gang violence is the hip hop culture. It is believed that the hip hop has a negative influence on young people. David Blunkett reportedly made a statement about gang violence, stating “idiots like so solid crew are glorifying gun culture and violence”. This statement was made a year after one of the members from ‘So Solid Crew’ Ashley Walters was sentenced to 18 months for the possession of a firearm (Telegraph, Sally Pook: 2003). David Cameroon also voiced his opinions on violent music. In the British society (2006) he asked BBC radio station 1, “do you realise some of the stuff you play on Saturday nights encourages people to carry guns and knives?”

Despite the perception that the hip hop culture glamorises gang and violence, there is very little research on this concept. United Kingdom based research has dismissed the concept that hip hop influences young males into gangs and violent weapon. Hallsworth and Silverstone (2009: 362) suggested that “style and music do not define the relationships between the individuals and the violence that they do, or the weapon they carry”. There is no empirical support for the statement; however they do believe that those who carry weapons tend to imitate the American hip hop style by carrying guns. Well-known hip hop artists spoke about the comparison between hip hop and the trend of violence amongst young people in the communities. 50 Cent who has recently turned to acting and has become an entrepreneur refuted claims of there being a connection between hip hop and gun violence. He stated in his interview that his music was more a reflection of his experiences in life, rather than a glorification of assault weapons (CBS News, 2013).

Hip hop and gangs have always been linked in some form. It is believed that the hip hop culture has created and influenced gang violence over the decades. Literature in the UK regarding the effect of hip hop music on young males and gangs on focuses on deviant behaviour in adolescence, whereas literature in the USA have a wider range of research and literature. Miranda and Claes (2009) researched the possible link between preference of rap music and deviant behaviours such as, drug use, violence and street gang involvement amongst French – Canadian adolescents. Miranda and Claes found that despite trying to control the adolescent deviancy, a significant link can still be found between rap music and deviant behaviour. However despite their finding they did not find a link between hip hop and street gang involvement. This shows that there needs to be future research in order to come to a conclusion as to whether or not there is an association between hip hop and gang violence (Miranda and Claes, 2009).

The issue of hip hop music lyrics and how they may have an effect on young people has been approached by Kubrins (2005) study. Kubrin conducted a content analysis of rap songs in America and also addressed the use of violent weapons suggesting that “the gun becomes a symbol of power and a remedy for disputes” (Kubrin, 2005:363). Research from Miranda, Claes and Kubrin, found that young people joined street gangs in order to acquire status and a social identity, which is seen and stated in the music they listen to. Because the majority of these studies are based on American and Canadian individuals, it is possible that the findings cannot be generalised to gangs in the UK.

Chapter 3


This section will explain the methodological approach that this research has adopted in order to establish if the hip hop culture has an influence on youth gangs and the use of violent weapons in the UK. The method which was chosen for the purpose of this paper was desk research, sometimes known as secondary data or secondary research (Bryman, 2008). This research involves gathering data that already exists from internal sources, publications of governmental and non-governmental institutions, free access data from the internet, in articles, newspapers and other relevant sources (Bryman, 2008:…..). A systematic review of literature, a qualitative content analysis on four hip hop song lyrics, and a semiotic analysis on a hip hop image will be conducted in order to establish if a relationship between hip hop culture, youth gang and the use of violent weapons exists. At first a qualitative research was initially considered in order to gather data and in order to answer the research question. The majority of research in to gangs and the use of violent weapons are normally conducted through qualitative surveys and interviews with current or previous gang members and offenders. These types of primary research would be dangerous and difficult to replicate as an undergraduate student.

Research Design

The research design of this study discusses the literature in the form of a systematic review. Government reports, journal articles and published texts on gangs and the use of violent weapons from the last decade have all been reviewed. Secondary data has been used to conduct this study. The secondary data has been used with caution and all literature used are from trustworthy sources. Literature based research has its strengths, and they mainly fall on the fact that the research is able to analyse data that is already available because the time consuming research has already been conducted by academics. There will be no contact with current or previous offenders who have been involved in gangs or crimes involving violent weapons, so the potential harm and risk involved in this research is minimised. However as explained by Bryman, (2008) not conducting a primary research means that there will be no control over the variables and so it is acknowledged that the grounds may be different to the present study. therefore this research has been conducted carefully in order not to manipulate the literature to support the hypothesis of the present study By conducting a content analysis of hip hop song lyrics, this study will be able to establish whether the genre of music can be held responsible for the behaviour of youth gang members or whether claims by the media are false. Out of the four songs that have been analysed, two demonstrate how the hip hop culture can influence young males, particularly in regards to joining gangs and the use of violent weapons. The two other songs acknowledge social exclusion as a reason for delinquency. The Song lyrics where obtained from lyric databases such as, Metro lyrics, sweet lyrics, urban lyrics and AZ lyrics. Even though the validity and reliability of these lyrics are questionable, all the songs used are from official version on ‘YouTube’, a reliable video broadcasting website. Due to the fact that majority of the songs analysed are likely to contain words and languages that are likely to be difficult to understand, a slang website called ‘Urban Dictionary’ was used as a means to translate any difficult words.


Key themes have been highlighted in the literature articles through a process of thematic analysis during a systematic review. These themes include repetition, differences and similarities. The following analytical chapters will be discussing these themes in relation to theories in order to give a better understanding as to why young males may seek these identities. Firstly the song lyrics will be discussed in relation to the themes that have been highlighted through the thematic analysis. This will be done using a similar approach conducted by Kubrin (2005) study on ‘Gangstas, Thugs, and Hustlas’. Song lyrics will be discussed and the images will be discussed using a semiotic approach in order to evaluate whether or not the music that is marketed to youths encourages the use of violent weapons.

This will then be followed by a discussion of the themes in relation to the literature. Theory will be included in order to provide a more holistic understanding as to why young people join youth gangs, their behaviour and attitudes. In order to identify the themes within the literature a critical discussion of the findings will provide a foundation for recommendation on future research on this topic. By using these analytical methods a detailed account of the influence the hip hop culture has on young males can be generated from the literature.

Ethical Considerations

Due to this research being a secondary research, it does involve as many ethical issues as a primary research. For example no participants will be interviewed, so there is no need for informed consents and there are no issues regarding deception and invasion of privacy. Also there is no need to consider data protection or storage because the research studies reports are available and have been published for public viewing. The following ethical considerations from the British Society of Criminology (BSC) Code of Ethics have been considered and relate to this research. As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, there will be no contact with previous or current gang members so the emotional and physical well-being of the researcher will be maintained (BSC 3: iii). As the BSC states, researchers should ‘promote equal opportunity in all aspects of their professional work and actively seek to avoid discriminatory behaviour’ (BSC, 3: iv).Whilst doing this research every effort has been made not to address young male gang members in terms of age, and racial or ethnic group sensitively and to use non-biased language. Also this research has made every effort not to disrespect the views and beliefs of young gang members, as one of the aims for this dissertation is to focus on developing a theoretical and holistic understanding of the behaviour of gang members. Also the views and beliefs of the gang members have not been disrespected whilst conducting a systematic review of the literature and analysing the literature through the themes that developed in the content analysis, alongside the arguments for and against hip hop culture influencing violence, the use and possession of violent weapons. Research studies by academics include young gang members who have consented to taking part in a published research study, so it is believed that any data from interviews conducted in previous reports are acceptable to use for secondary data. This therefore means that the ethical code (4: iii) will not be breached. However, if an entire data set was used for the present research, a Research Ethics Committee would have been required to conduct an expedited review (Economic and Social Research Council).

Read also  An Analysis Of Pulling Levers Policing

Because this is a secondary research one of the major limitations is that some sources, especially internet sources may not be reliable, so a serious amount of importance was placed when using reliable data and sources from the internet as well as sources where the reliability of the internet information was uncertain. In addition to this No favoured judgement has been made towards certain research findings and a conscious effort has been made by the researcher not to manipulate or misinterpret the findings to suit the research question. By doing so a one sided argument can be avoided.As stated in the BSC’s Code of Ethics (3.iii) as being mandatory, all research papers, theoretical articles and media articles have been appropriately referenced in order to give the original author full credit for their work in the field.

Chapter 4

Analysis and Discussion

This section provides a discussion of the type of hip hop music that young males in gangs listen to, the hip hop images that are marketed to young males and the literature that surrounds gang’s research. The sections in this chapter are in relation to themes that emerged from the systematic review of the literature; these themes are drug dealing, street credibility and territorial ‘postcode’ wars. First a qualitative content analysis of the hip hop song lyrics will be discussed focusing on the lyrics that appear to promote gang affiliation, weapons and violence. As well as songs that promotes change and show social exclusion as a reason for delinquency. Then a semiotic analyse focusing on images will be discussed. Although the aim of this research is to establish whether or not it is the hip hop culture that influences young males to join street gangs and the use of violent weapons, it is believed that majority of hip hop artists flaunt their lifestyle choices and attitudes in their music and imagery. Due to the hip hop culture originating from America, this research will focus on songs that are equivalent to the American hip hop; this genre is known as ‘Grime’.

The first theme that will be discussed is drug dealing, some young males engage in drug dealing as a means of making money so they are able to attain the status and lifestyle that is portrayed by hip hop artists. This theme will be discussed further with relevance to Carnish and Clarkes (1986) rationale choice theory, followed by Cohen (1955), Merton (1983), Cloward and Ohlin (1961) Sub cultural strain theories. And the theory of differential association (Sutherland and Cresseys, 1970). The second theme that will be discussed is ‘street credibility’. This theme is believed to be the most prominent in literature concerning gangs and the use of violent weapons. Young males have a desire for street credibility in order to gain power, status and respect. Street credibility will be discussed further in relation to Tafijal and Turners (1985) Social identity theory, alongside the masculinity theory. Finally the concept of postcode wars will be discussed through Akers (1998) social learning theory and Bourdieu (1986) social capital theory. Also Maslow hierarchy of needs theory will be discussed in relation to the themes and why young people engage in the activities. Majority of these theories discussed in this chapter originated from America. This research only uses theories that have been accepted and applicable in the UK.

Analysis of song lyric

In order to establish if the hip hop culture has an influence on the behaviour of young males in gangs, a qualitative content analysis has been conducted on the type of hip hop music youth gang members might listen to. Out of the four songs that have been analysed two represent how hip hop cultured can glamorise gangs and violence (Appendix ii & ii), while the other two songs acknowledge social exclusion as a reason for delinquency (Appendix iii & iv).

Two prominent themes have been established through the thematic analysis of the song lyrics. These themes are ‘weapons’ and the violent use of them and ‘drug dealing and drug use’. These themes have been mentioned both separately and in connection with one another in the song lyrics from Skepta and Giggs. These two artists glamorise the fact that they are able to profit from drugs and buy expensive items and that they are able to be in possession and use violent weapons. Whereas Professor Green (Appendix iii) describes the challenges of living and growing up in a lower class community like Hackney, east London. He describes hackney as a “jungle”, he also states that “kids with sticks and knives, troubles what you find. Professor Green lyrics show that crime is normalised and engaging in criminal activities is how the majority of young people have grown up.

Skepta and Giggs have devoted majority of their lyrics to using drug dealing as a means to acquire expensive items and the use possession and use of violent weapons. The glamorisation of weapons is clearly seen in Skepta and Giggs lyrics. Giggs states that if he arrested for a murder then 2it could have been the man that had the weapon before me”. Also Skepta states that he “switches clips, like hollowman switches chicks”, meaning that he switches his guns like ‘hollowman’ which is Giggs stage name, switches females. This statement by Skepta clarifies ACPO’s (2007: 16) findings that firearms have been circulated through gangs for many years. Both artists make reference to a particular weapon ‘gun’ in their lyrics, for example Skepta states a “Mac” and Giggs states a “4.5”. Both artists have made references to being prepared to kill in order to protect their territory from rival gang members and if they have been disrespected. Another theme that has developed through the analysis of song lyrics was the need for ‘social identity’. Giggs citied in his lyrics “black gang” which is a name associated with Peckham boys an area where Giggs is well known and grew up. The need for social identity is also noted in Skepta lyrics, he mentions “SN1” which is an abbreviation for ‘Spare No One’. It is believed that some gangs avoid the use of the name gang within their group, organisation, crew and brotherhood, because of the negative links with the term (Katz, 1998:115). The final song lyric that have been analysed is from ‘K. Koke – Turn back’ (appendix iv). Exposure to violent weapons and drugs is also highlighted in this song. However this song represents for the people who live in poverty as a result of being socially excluded from society. There is reference to drug dealing in the lyrics, and in the music video it clearly shows a scene where drug dealing is taking place in order to acquire money and provide for family.

Analysis of Images

Semiotics is referred to as the science of signs. Semiotic analysis is an approach used to analyse symbols in everyday life (Bryman, 2008:531). Ferdinand Desaussure (citied in David Chandler, Semiotics the basics) is considered to be the creator of semiotics; he argued that language inheres not in the ‘material substance of the words’, but in the abstract ‘system of signs’. Semiotics is concerned with the denotation, the signifier and the signified. This research will conduct a semiotic analysis on two images of hip hop artists. The first image is of 50 Cent (appendix v) and the second image is of NAS (appendix vi).

In order to analysis the semiotics of the images a brief discussion about what is visibly in the image ‘signifier’ will be discussed then what the suggested means of the image are which is known as ‘signified’. The first image (appendix v) is filled with different signs, a gun, tattoos, muscles, a necklace and a designer holster. The signifier in this image is the Gun, what are signified in this image is aggression, anger and power. The signifier and the signified both equal to violence. The second image (appendix vi) is filled with a black male, calm colours, tattoos, jewellery and bold lettering saying ‘Gods Son’. The signifier in this image is the lettering ‘Gods Son’ and what are signified in this image is authority, peace, calmness and respect. The signifier and the signified both equal to Power. Both images portray status, power and respect that young males look for in order to gain a social identity. %o cent (appendix v) portrays a violent and aggressive image, young people may look at this image and feel that in order to gain status like the artist they must imitate the signs within this image. The Daily Mail (2010) reported findings on gang members posing in pictures and video with machine guns in Bromley, south London. This finding shows that young males are imitating hip hop artist images in order to gain the power and respect that the image portrays. Whereas NAS (appendix vi) portrays an image of peace with religious views. This image can encourage young males to obtain the power, respect and status they require in a positive way.

The three themes that became apparent during the systematic review of the literature will now be discussed. Each theme will be discussed with examples from the lyrics analysed and also in relation to theory.

Drug Dealing

As stated in the street credibility paragraph, young males engage in drug dealing to acquire quick wealth and power. Lammy (2008) suggests that young males are at risk of developing terrible attitudes towards violence, money and sex during their adolescence and this will be blamed on the hip hop artists, especially by the media. The media do have a point in blaming the hip hop artists for influencing young males, for example Giggs (appendix 2) brags about “sporting Armani” in his lyrics, also making reference to having a variety of women and being able to choose from a variety of weapons. Even though young people in the United Kingdom have a range of positive role model that they can look up to, some young individuals feel like they can only relate to individuals from a similar background to theirs, for example hip hop artists.

Selling drugs is seen amongst gang members as the easiest option so they can live a glamorous life. It is also believed that in order for young males to start selling drugs they must become a member of a gang. Due to there not being much literature to support the link between drug dealing and gangs, Bellair and Mcnulty (2009) have argued that it may not be the gang members who sell drugs that cause a connection between gang members and the use of violent weapons. In addition some gang members who have no intentions of selling drugs may be recruited by older gang members to become drug mules and they may also be forced into keeping weapons at their homes (NASUWT Teachers Union, 2009: 15).From analysing the song lyrics, references were made to drug dealing and the amount of drugs they glamorous items they could buy from the money they had made and also sharing the money amongst the gang members (Skepta and Giggs).

The main question that researchers could ask is whether or not hip hop influences drug dealing and the violence associated with it. This concept is possible to believe because young gang members may be influenced by hip hop artists, flaunting about how much money they make by drug dealing in their song lyrics, also this could encourage gang members to use drug dealing as a way to obtain the glamorous lifestyle that is being portrayed by the artists. Kintrea et al (2008) suggests that young people engage in drug dealing because it is seen as a better and easier way to earn money, rather than the usual way through employment. Kintrea (2008) also found that young people carry weapons to protect themselves whilst they are drug dealing on the streets and the most common weapon they would carry is a knife.

Rational choice theory from Cornish and Clarke (1986) suggests that offenders base their actions on two decisions. These decisions are the readiness to act in order to satisfy a need and the decision of whether they should actually go ahead with the specific action. The benefits of drug dealing must outweigh the cost of getting caught or even worse being attacked. Therefore according to the choice theory the individual is most likely aware that he is putting himself at risk and could be attacked by another gang member so therefore the individual makes the decision to carry the weapons as a means of protection. And if the individual does find himself in apposition where he could be attacked, then he will consider his readiness to use the weapon. Giggs makes reference to the possibility of getting attacked, “getting jumped in the vehicle” (appendix 2), and this could be the reason why Giggs and his gang members carry weapons. The rational choice theory is an excellent theory for explain why young people may be in possession of violent weapons when dealing drugs. But this research wishes to determine if such behaviour is influenced by external sources.

Subculture theories and strain theory can be used to explain how hip hop lifestyle may influence young male’s attitudes and behaviour. According to Cohen (1995), Merton (1938), Cloward and Ohlin (1961) individuals who are unable to acquire wealth and material good through legitimate actions such as employment will find alternative routes which usually involve criminal behaviour. This suggests that individuals view selling drugs as a way to afford luxuries that hip hop artists boast about. K.Koke (appendix 4) makes reference to individuals that are jobless and have to sell drug in order to make money and survive. Majority of the lyrics from hip hop artists on drug dealing are not aimed at young people, but it is clear that young people may listen and use drug dealing as a way to make their money especially if they are from a lower social background.

Read also  Forensic Science And The Legal System Criminology Essay

Even though strain theory has been successful in explaining why some young people may view drug dealing as a way of making money. It has been criticised for being unable to explain delinquency from middle class individuals and those who may be strained but avoid delinquency (Agnew, 1992: 45). Theory of ‘differential association’ by Sutherland and Cressey (1970) accept that criminal behaviour is evident in all social classes and that criminal behaviours are learnt through influential gangs. This theory could therefore imply that young gang members learn that selling drugs is a quick way to acquire wealth and in order to avoid being attacked and being unsuccessful in their drug dealing, the possession and willingness to use violent weapons is essential. However Sutherland and Cressey also suggest that the ‘Interpersonal agencies of communication’ such as music, play a relatively important part in the ‘genesis of criminal behaviour’. (Sutherland and Cressey, 1978: 75). From the ‘differential association’ theory it would then be suggested that it is the influence of young males and not the hip hop that influence young male to be in possession and use violent weapons.

Street Credibility

Extensive study into gangs from the NASUWT Teachers Union (2009) found that the most reasons for young people joining gangs is to obtain status, power, street credibility and respect. This evidence has been supported by numerous amounts of research on gang membership from different literature, for example Kubrin (2005), Wood and Alleyne (2009) and Curry (2004). Also research on violent use of weapons has been conducted by ACOP (2007), Squires (2009), Kinsella (2011) and Lemos (2004).

In Deuchers (2008) study of marginalised youths and gangs in Glasgow, evidence suggested that some of the interviewed gang members had a desire to join gangs so they could acquire respect from other members within the gang. Also during the interviews some of the gang members acknowledged that carrying a weapon would enhance their power. The ACPO (2007:41) research supported this by stating that the perception amongst peers for carrying violent weapons is associated with gaining respect from gang members. It is believed that gang members feel that carrying a weapon gives them the respect that they need to become a gangster and live that lifestyle. This portrayal of a gangster lifestyle is normally seen in films, magazines and most importantly music. It has been reported that young males in gangs tend to imitate the American hip hop lifestyle and this is evident in literature by Deucher (2008) and Hallsworth and Silverstone (2009). The desire for respect and status is not demonstrated through the gang members being in possession of violent weapons, but through their willingness to use violence in order to protect themselves and their gang (Bellair and Mcnulty, 2009). This concept is noticeable in the song lyrics that have been analysed.

The social identity theory by Tajifal and Turner (1986) looks at the identity of the gangs as opposed to the individual member within the gang. According to Hogg and Abram (1988) this method of examining the social identity of the gangs provides a shared representation of how the members within it should behave and this will therefore show the identity that the group portrays to others. According to the social identity theory, the individuals within a powerful gang will be viewed by society as tough, so therefore they would need to keep up their tough image by acting violently. Sanchev and Bourhis (1985) found that individuals who are not members of a gang tend to be discriminated against by the powerful gangs. This notion is highlighted in Skepta (appendix 1) and Giggs (appendix 2) lyrics where it is often stated that other gang members should not mess with them. These threats are then enforced with reference to violence and weapons (Sanchev and Bourhis, 1985: 1991).

The willingness to use violence as a ‘self – image promoting’ technique has been described by Toch (1995). Toch believes that this technique is aimed to manufacture a ‘formidable and fearless’ masculine image, where violence is used as a means of expressing a self-image where males use violence to defend any attacks made on their masculinity. Deuchar (2008) also suggested that recreational violence can be used by young males in order to obtain a sense of empowerment with a society where they are socially excluded. This suggestion was supported by findings from Bennett and Brookman (2009) study on violent offenders. This study interviewed young people who admitted to engaging in street assaults so they could maintain a reputation for toughness, gain respect from their peers and to avoid being victimised by other gang members. Gramsci (1978) explained young males need to portray an image of ‘hegemonic masculinity’, he believed that it was the way in which dominant gang member’s act throughout society. Previously the use of violence was seen to be a masculine trait, but recently research has found that there has been an increase in the use of violence amongst females. It is believed that this increase has lead males to re-evaluate their masculinity (Cobbina et al, 2010: 596). Also it may be that because females are engaging in violence, young males have turned to the use of violent weapons in the UK.

Barker (2005) suggests that the characteristics of worldwide gang members is reflected in their willingness to use armed violence as a way to achieve their goal and to also protect themselves during minor altercations, if they feel their masculinity has been disrespected (Barker, 2005: 71). The majority of gang violence may occur because protecting your male honour is an important characteristic within gang memberships. Pickles (2009) ‘Dying to belong’ report on gangs in Britain, describes gang violence as a cycle where those individuals who desire respect are most likely to target those who seek reputation and respect. If this cycle would be seen as an insult of honour, which is could possibly result in revenge attacks between gangs. If gang members are disrespected in any form then the likelihood of violence may occur. This is mention in the songs that glamorise gangs and violence, for example Giggs (appendix 2) states that, “Bitch niggas wanna beef so they can tell a story”. He then concludes with “be easy I’ll put your mans in a box” box referring to a coffin.

Employment is another area where young males feel the need to maintain and protect their masculinity. Instead of acquiring wealth and status through hard work, young males are engaging in drug dealing as a means to acquire quick wealth and money.

Territory ‘Post Code’ Wars

The final theme that was prominent in the literature and song lyrics analysis is the protection of territory. Gang related research found that territory which is usually the post code or town they live in is one of the most defining factors associated with gangs. Crerar (2011) believes that this factor emerged when the government introduced budget cuts. Also pickle (2009) believes that territoriality is one of the main factors that trigger violence amongst gangs. She also believes that gang members defend their own territory, post code or town in order to gain respect. However it is important to remember that although territory is often linked with gang membership, it is not exclusive to gangs and not all gangs engage in territorial wars (Kintrea et al, 2008: 9). for the gangs that do engage in territorial wars, the ownership of their territory is viewed by Robinson (2000) who suggests that it is an important aspect in the construction of the gang members identity as well as the environment where they are able to bond and socially develop with other individuals. Robinson (2000) empirical study into the ‘organization of space by street – frequenting youth’ found that young people organised their territory based on where they felt safe and affirming. They would mark this space my excluding others from it.

Using social capital theory an explanation as to why gangs protect their territory can be given. Putnam (2000) explains that individuals connect through common values and this provides social capital in the form of emotional support and identity. However critical means may be used in order to acquire emotional support and identity if role models, positive norms and networks are absent within the young males life. Young males acquire social capital in the form of identity and they do so by using violence and weapons to protect their territory. Field (2008) believes that the more individuals in the gang, the more identity each individual desires and the richer they will be in social capital. However young people do not gain from just the identity, but also being part of a gang, having safety and a sense of belonging .Akers (1998) social learning theory can attributed to territoriality and the possession and use of violent weapons. Social learning theory suggests that criminal and deviant behaviour is learned from others who commit and support violations of social and legal norms. By being part of a gang young people learn to engage in territorial wars through witnessing other gangs engage in that behaviour. They may also witness the use of violent weapons in order to protect their territory and gain power. The social learning theory can therefore account for behaviour learnt by other gang member and most importantly hip hop artists (Akers, 1998: 136).

It is obvious that territory is a prominent theme within the literature and it seems that young people engage in territorial wars in order to secure their membership within a gang that they are a member of so that their masculine identity is maintained. This is supported by Bradshaw (2005) study of gangs in Edinburgh. Bradshaw suggests that conflict between gangs was often carried out so that the gangs could sustain their reputation of being tough as opposed to protecting their territory. By being part of the toughest gang a foundation is provided for young males to express their masculinity through aggression and power (Deuchar, 2009: 159). With this is mind it is obvious that intention of being in a gang is to maintain social identity and street credibility. for self-esteem, and the need to feel that one has potential to reach specific, self-actualization. Maslow (1998) basically indicated they all want security of being able to be identified with a group and find unity through the gang membership (prentice- Dunn & Rogers, 1989: 11).

Chapter 5


To conclude the aims of this study where to find out if the behaviour, attitudes and beliefs of gang members can be attributed to the lifestyle portrayed by the hip hop culture. Secondly the aim of this research was to establish whether prominent behaviour within the literature and song lyrics and images from hip hop artists is associated with the use of violent weapons. The final aim was to apply theory to the behaviours and attitudes associated with gang members and provide a holistic understanding of gang behaviours.

Three prominent themes where identified through a process of thematic analysis of the literature. These themes were drug dealing, street credibility and territorial ‘post code ‘wars. A qualitative analysis of four hip hop song’s lyrics where conducted and this confirmed that all three themes were prominent in the songs that were believed to glamorise violence, gangs and violent weapons. Skepta (appendix i) and Giggs (appendix ii) glamorised gangs, violence and violent weapons, whereas Professor Green (appendix iii) and K.Koke (appendix iiii) referred to social exclusion as a reason for delinquency. The need to maintain a powerful status and respect using violence and engaging in gangs is prominent in the literature and music. Government and the media have also stated that music glamorises violence and this has been discussed in the literature review.

Findings from the literature review suggest that the need for power, status and respect amongst young males is the main reason for them engaging in deviant behaviours. Drug dealing is used as a means to acquire the lifestyle that is portrayed by hip hop artists. Also territorial wars are believed to take place amongst young male gangs, so the individual can be assured that they belong to a group. In some cases territorial was and drug dealing are enhanced by the use and possession of violent weapons. This occurs so they young males are able to maintain a tough image that will be responded to by respect from other gang members.

The final aim of this research was to apply theory to themes that where prominent within the literature and song lyrics. The first theme ‘street credibility’ was discussed in relation to the social identity theory by Tafijal and Turner (1986) and the masculine theory. These theories were used to explain why young people engage in gang memberships to acquire a masculine identity, due to being excluded from social environments such as education and employment. It is possible to understand how young males identify with hip hop artist through these theories. Young males may feel that they can look up to these artists because they come from similar backgrounds and the artists express their acquisition of respect, power and status through gang membership in their music. Also some artist makes it aware that they enhance their membership with the willingness to use and be in possession of violent weapons.

Territorial post code a war was discussed using the social capital theory; this theory explained how the individual engaging in criminal behaviour is a means of enhancing their social identity. While the social learning theory illustrated how young gang members can be influenced by other individuals who commit and support crime and deviant behaviour. Acquiring money to live the lifestyle portrayed by hip hop culture is carried out through ‘drug dealing’. This has been discussed using the rational choice theory, differential association theory and the strain theory. The rational choice theory by Cornish and Clarke (1986) was successful in explaining the process that may lead young males to use violent weapons when engaging in drug dealing. Strain theory explained the motivation to acquire wealth and status through drug dealing. However the differential association theory suggested that only intermediate agencies of communication, such as peer groups can influence the behaviour of young males. This theory therefore suggests that the hip hop culture does not influence the use and possession of violent weapons by young gang members. Overall it can be concluded that the hip hop culture can have some contribution to the influence of gangs and the use of violent weapons, but also theory and society also play a part in young male’s engagement in crime and the use of violent weapons. Blaming the hip hop culture is an easy thing to do and that is what the media and government done. In order to get to the route of youth gangs and violent weapons the government and academics will need to conduct future research on youth gangs in the UK as majority of research has been conducted by American academics and relates to crime within America.

Order Now

Type of Paper
Number of Pages
(275 words)