Why do juveniles commit crimes in the US. EMERGENCYAmerica’s disposable children: Setting the stage
Carol Camp Yeakey
The Journal of Negro Education; Summer 2002; 71, 3; Research Library
pg. 97
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Movie portrayals of juvenile delinquency: Part II–Sociology and psychology
Snyder, Scott
Adolescence; Summer 1995; 30, 118; Research Library
pg. 325
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Listening to Rap: Cultures of Crime, Cultures of Resistance
Julian Tanner, University of Toronto
Mark Asbridge, Dalhousie University
Scot Wortley, University of Toronto
This research compares representations of rap music with the self-reported criminal
behavior and resistant attitudes of the music’s core audience. Our database is a large
sample of Toronto high school students (n = 3,393) from which we identify a group
of listeners, whose combination of musical likes and dislikes distinguish them as rap
univores. We then examine the relationship between their cultural preference for rap
music and involvement in a culture of crime and their perceptions of social injustice
and inequity. We find that the rap univores, also known as urban music enthusiasts,
report significantly more delinquent behavior and stronger feelings of inequity and
injustice than listeners with other musical tastes. However, we also find that the nature
and strengths of those relationships vary according to the racial identity of different
groups within urban music enthusiasts. Black and white subgroups align themselves
with resistance representations while Asians do not; whites and Asians report significant involvement in crime and delinquency, while blacks do not. Finally, we discuss
our findings in light of research on media effects and audience reception, youth
subcultures and post-subcultural analysis, and the sociology of cultural consumption.
Thinking About Rap
The emergence and spectacular growth of rap is probably the most important development in popular music since the rise of rock ‘n’ roll in the late 1940s. Radio
airplay, music video programming and sales figures are obvious testimonies to its
popularity and commercial success. This was made particularly evident in October
2003 when, according to the recording industry bible Billboard magazine, all top
10 acts in the United States were rap or hip-hop artists;1 and again in 2006, when
the Academy award for Best Song went to It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp, a rap
song by the group Hustle & Flow.
Such developments may also signal rap’s increasing social acceptance and
cultural legitimization (Baumann 2007). However, its reputation and status in the
musical field has, hitherto, been a controversial one. Like new music before it (jazz,
rock ‘n’ roll), rap has been critically reviewed as a corrosive influence on young
and impressionable listeners (Best 1990; Tatum 1999; Tanner 2001; Sacco and
Kennedy 2002; Alexander 2003). Whether rap has been reviled as much as jazz
and rock ‘n’ roll once were is a moot point; rather more certain is its pre-eminent
role as a problematic contemporary musical genre.
Direct correspondence to Julian Tanner, Department of Social Science University of Toronto at Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, M1C 1A4. Telephone: (416) 287-7293.
E-mail: Julian.Tanner@utoronto.ca.
© The University of North Carolina Press
Social Forces 88(2) 693–722, December 2009
694 • Social Forces 88(2)
In an important study of representations of popular music, Binder (1993)
examined how print journalists wrote about rap and heavy metal in the 1980s
and 1990s. While both are devalued genres (Roe 1995), she nevertheless contends
that they are framed differently: the presumed harmful effects of heavy metal are
limited to the listeners themselves, whereas rap is seen as more socially damaging
(for a similar distinction, see Rose 1994). The lyrical content of the two genres
is established as one source of this differential framing: rap lyrics are found to be
more explicit and provocative (greater usage of “hard” swear words, for example)
than heavy metal lyrics. The second factor involves assumptions made (by journalists) about the racial composition of audiences for heavy metal and rap – the former believed to be white suburban youth, the latter urban black youth. According
to Binder, rap invites more public concern and censorious complaint than heavy
metal because of what was assumed to be its largely black fan base.
At the same time, she identifies an important counter frame, one component of
which elevates rap (but not heavy metal) to the status of an art form with serious
political content. In both the mainstream press (i.e., The New York Times) and publications targeting a predominately black readership (i.e., Ebony and Jet), she finds rap
lauded for the salutary lessons that it imparts to black youth regarding the realities of
urban living; likewise, rap artists are applauded for their importance as role models
and mentors to inner-city black youth. Thus, while rap has been framed negatively,
as a contributor to an array of social problems, crime and delinquency in particular,
it has also been celebrated and championed as an authentic expression of cultural
resistance by underdogs against racial exploitation and disadvantage.
How these differing representations of rap might resonate with audience members was not part of Binder’s research mandate.2 Furthermore, while she does
acknowledge that journalistic perceptions of the racial composition of the rap
audience are not necessarily accurate – that more white suburban youth, even in
the 1980s and 1990s, might have been consuming the music than black inner-city
youth – this acknowledgment does not alter her enterprise or her argument.
At this point in time, when the listening audience for rap music has both expanded and become increasingly diverse, our research concerns how young black,
white and Asian rap fans in Toronto, Canada relate to a musical form still viewed
primarily in terms of its criminal and resistant meanings.
Researching Rap
Much of the early work on audiences preoccupied itself with investigating the
harmful effects of media exposure, especially the effects of depictions of violence
in movies and TV on real life criminal events. Results have generally been inconclusive, with considerable disagreement in the social science research community
regarding the influence of the media on those watching the large or small screen
(Curran 1990; Abercrombie and Longhurst 1998; Freedman 2002; Sacco and
Kennedy 2002; Alexander 2003; Newman 2004; Savage 2004; Longhurst 2007).
Listening to Rap • 695
Listening to popular music has, on occasion, been said to produce similarly
negative effects, although these too have proven difficult to verify. For example, in
one high profile case in the 1980s, the heavy metal band Judas Priest was accused of
producing recorded material (songs) that contained subliminal messaging that led to
the suicides of two fans. This claim was not, however, legally validated because the
judge hearing the case remained unconvinced about a causal linkage between the
music and the self-destructive behavior of two individuals (Walser 1993).
Strong arguments for the ill effects of media consumption rest on the assumption that audiences are easily and directly influenced by the media, with frequent
analogies made to hypodermic syringes that inject messages into gullible and
homogenous audiences (Abercrombie and Longhurst 1998; Alexander 2003;
Longhurst 2007). In contesting this view of audience passivity, critics also propose
that texts are open to more than one interpretation. Again, TV audiences have
been studied more frequently than audiences for popular music, although research
on the latter has illustrated how song lyrics are not necessarily construed the same
way by adolescents and adults. Research conducted by Prinsky and Rosenbaum
(1987) indicates that songs identified by adults as containing deviant content
(references to sex, violence, alcohol and drug use, Satanism) were not similarly
categorized by adolescents. Evidence that there are different ways of watching
television or listening to recorded music has led to an alternative conception of
audiences – one more concerned with what audiences do with the media than
what the media does to audiences.
The development within communications research of the uses and gratifications model (McQuail 1984) is one result, with TV once more the media form
most commonly investigated. Nonetheless, a few studies have documented how
young people listen to popular music in order to satisfy needs for entertainment
and relaxation (among other priorities), and utilize it as an accompaniment to
other everyday activities, such as homework and household chores (Roe 1985;
Prinsky and Rosenbaum 1987). More recent research has added identity construction as a need that popular music might fill for young listeners (Roe 1999; Gracyk
2001; Laughey 2006).
One particular usage emphasized by British cultural Marxists associated with
the now defunct Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies has
focused attention on how active media audiences counter dominant cultural
messages in their consumption of popular culture. In what has, by now, become
a familiar story, a series of music-based, post-war youth cultures (Teddy Boys,
Mods, Rockers, Skinheads, Punks) in the United Kingdom have been represented
as symbolically resisting the dominant normative order (Hall and Jefferson 1976;
Hebdige 1979). This argument has, however, relied on a reading of cultural texts
and artifacts for its evidentiary base, rather than observations of, or information
from, subcultural participants themselves (Cohen 1980; Frith 1985; Tanner 2001;
Bennett 2002; Alexander 2003).
696 • Social Forces 88(2)
More recently, the utility of the term subculture for understanding young
people’s collective involvements in music has been questioned. The focus of this
criticism is, once again, the Birmingham school and its conceptualization of subculture. Its critics argue that, under conditions of post modernity, music audiences
have fragmented, and young people are no longer participants in distinctive subcultural groups (Bennett 1999b; Muggleton 2000). Instead of subcultures, they
are now involved with neo tribes and scenes (i.e., Bennett 1999b; Bennett and
Kahn-Harris 2004; Hesmondhalgh 2005; Longhurst 2007; Hodkinson 2008).
Post subcultural research has been much less inclined than the Birmingham
era researchers to decode and decipher texts, and much more likely to engage in
ethnographic studies of music and youth groups (Bennett 2002). However, while
there has been occasional work on modes of (female) resistance in the “tween scene”
(Lowe 2004) and “riot girrrl scene” (Schily 2004), there has been no equivalent
research on rap scenes and resistance.
Examinations of audience receptions of rap are not numerous and have been
of two main kinds: a few studies have explored how young people perceive and
evaluate the music, while others have studied the harmful effects of rap by trying
to link consumption of the music with various negative consequences. An early
study by Kuwahara (1992) finds rap to be more popular with black than white
college students, and more popular among males than females. However, reasons
for liking the music varied little by race, with both black and white audience
members prioritizing the beat over the message. A more recent study by Sullivan
(2003) reports few racial differences in liking the music, although black teenagers
were more committed to the genre and more likely to view rap as life affirming
(Berry 1994) than those from other racial backgrounds.
In a small but important study conducted in California, Mahiri and Connor
(2003) investigated 41 black middle school students’ perceptions of violence and
thoughts about rap music. In focus group sessions and personal interviews, informants revealed a strong liking for rap music, valuing the fact that it spoke to their
everyday concerns about growing up in a poorly resourced community. They did
not, however, like the way that rap music on occasion (mis)represented the experiences of black people in the United States. They challenged the misogyny evident
in some rap videos and rejected what they saw as the glamorization of violence.
Overall, their critical and nuanced engagement with rap music fitted poorly with
depictions of media audiences as easily swayed by popular culture (Sacco 2005).
The search for the harmful effects of rap music has yielded no more definitive
results than earlier quests for media effects. While some studies report evidence
of increased violence, delinquency, substance use, and unsafe sexual activity resulting from young people’s exposure to rap music (Wingood et al. 2003; Chen
et al. 2006), other researchers have failed to find such a link or have exercised
extreme caution when interpreting apparent links. One review of the literature,
conducted in the 1990s, could find a total of only nine investigations – all of them
Listening to Rap • 697
small-scale, none involving the general adolescent population – and concluded
that there was an even split between those that found some sort of an association
between exposure to the music and various deviant or undesirable outcomes, and
those that could find no connection at all. Moreover, in those studies where the
music and the wrongdoing were linked, investigators were very circumspect about
whether or not they were observing a causal relationship, and if so, which came
first, the music or the violent dispositions (Tatum 1999). A more recent investigation conducted in Montreal is illustrative of such interpretative problems. While
a preference for rap was found to predict deviant behavior among 348 Frenchspeaking adolescents, causal ordering could not be established, nor an additional
possibility ruled out: that other factors might be responsible for both the musical
taste and the deviant behavior (Miranda and Claes 2004).
The notion that rap is or can be represented as cultural resistance – the counter
frame identified by Binder – has become increasingly prominent in the rap literature over the past 20 years (Rose 1994; Krims 2000; Keyes 2002; Quinn 2005). In
his influential book, Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wankstas, Wiggers, Wannabes,
and the new Reality of Race in America, Kitwana (2005) expounds at length on his
emancipatory view of rap’s history and development. Kitwana sees hip-hop as a
form of protest music, offering its listeners a message of resistance. He also makes the
additional claim that the resistive appeal of hip-hop is not restricted to black youth.
Indeed, as the title of his book suggests, he is particularly interested in the patronage
of rap music by white youth, those young people who might be seen as the contemporary equivalents of Mailer’s “White Negro” or Keys’ “Negro Wannabes.”(Keyes
2002:250) In his view, the global diffusion of rap rests on the music’s capacity for
resonating with the experiences of the downtrodden and marginalized in a variety
of cultural contexts. Quinn (2005) similarly explains the crossover appeal of gangsta rap in the United States in terms of the “common sensibilities and insecurities
shared by post Fordist youth.” She continues: “many young whites, facing bleak
labor market prospects, were also eager for stories about fast money and authentic
belonging to ward off a creeping sense of placelessness and dispossession.”(Quinn
2005:85-86) Thus, rap’s appeal is as much about class as it is about race.
Nor is the resistive view of rap restricted to the North American continent. At
least one French study – conducted in advance of the riots in the fall of 2005 – has
noted how French Rap has become the music of choice for young people of visible minority descent who have grown up in the suburban ghettos (Les Cities) of
major cities. They have been routinely exposed to police harassment on the streets,
subjected to prejudice and discrimination at school, and struggled to find decent
housing and appropriate jobs (Bouchier 1999, cited in Miranda and Claes 2004).
The idea that popular music might serve as an important reference point for
rebellious or resistive adolescents is not a new one. As we have already noted, this
is how a British school of subcultural analysis once interpreted the cultural activity
of working-class youth in the United Kingdom (Hall and Jefferson 1976; Hebdige
698 • Social Forces 88(2)
1979). Some attempt has been made to understand rap fandom in similar terms.
Bennett’s (1999a) ethnographic study, set in Newcastle, reveals how one group of
white rappers translate the racial politics of blacks into the language of class divisions in the United Kingdom. However, for the most part there has been limited
application of this kind of analysis to young people’s involvement with rap music.
Rap scholars who construe the music as an authentic expression of cultural resistance directed against exploitation and disadvantages at school, on the streets, or
in the labor market, do so primarily without much input from the young people
who make up its listening audience. Because they have not often been canvassed
for their views about the music, we do not know to what degree they share in or
identify with the message of resistance readily found in content analysis of the
rap idiom (Martinez 1997; Negus 1997; Krims 2000; Stephens and Wright 2000;
Bennett 2001; Sullivan 2003; Kubrin 2005; Quinn 2005; Lena 2006).
Thus contemporary rap scholarship follows British subcultural theory in gleaning evidence of resistance from the texts, not the audience. Resistance is sought,
and found, in the words and music rather than in the activities and ideologies of
subcultures or audience members. We can suggest, echoing Alexander’s (2003)
earlier critique of British cultural studies, that the audience for rap music has been
theorized rather more thoroughly than it has been investigated.
The Present Study
The present study is concerned with three key questions: First, is there a relationship between audiences for rap and representations of the music? Second, as
compared to other listening audiences, are serious rap fans participants in cultures
of crime and resistance? Third, if such a link is found, what are the sources of
variation in their participation in these cultures of crime and resistance?
The need to address these questions, as we see it, emerges from several limitations in the existing research on rap. These limitations are as follows: First, there
is a significant disjuncture between dominant representations of the music as a
source of social harms and evidence unambiguously supportive of this proposition.
Second, the case for a resistant view of rap music is usually advanced, as we have
already intimated, by examination of the designs and intentions of musical creators, both artists and producers, as well as music critics. We do not know whether
or not resistant messages register and resonate with those who listen to the music.
Third, we do not have an accurate gauging of the sociodemographic composition, particularly racial and ethnic, of the audience for rap music. Rap’s dominance
of the youth market is widely understood as a crossover effect – the original black
audience now joined by legions of white fans (Spiegler 1996; Yousman 2003).
However, purchasing habits – the usual arbiter for claims about rap’s increasing popularity with white consumers – may not be an entirely reliable measure
of either rap’s popularity or racial and ethnic variations therein (Krims 2000;
Quinn 2005). The system devised by the recording industry to gauge record
Listening to Rap • 699
sales – Nielson Soundscape – does not gather data on the race, or indeed any other
personal characteristic, of purchasers. What it does do is categorize sales in terms
of whether they were made in retail stores in high-income locations or in lowincome locations. Record companies, journalists or academics then choose to
equate those high-income sales with white suburban youth, and low-income sales
with inner-city black youth, but are doing so without any direct measures of the
racial background or identity of buyers (Kitwana 2005).
Moreover, it has been argued that sales figures “under represent the taste preferences of the poor.”(Quinn 2005:83) As Rose (1994) explains it, in the black community, particularly in impoverished neighborhoods, many more rap CDs are listened
to than bought – a single purchase being passed on from one fan to another. Similarly,
homemade tapes and bootleg CDs are often produced and shared within local fan
networks. The implications of this point are clear enough: the appropriation of rap
music by suburban white teens might not be as extensive as is commonly supposed.
Finally, we do not know whether or how the rap audience relates to the dominant frame of the music as a catalyst for crime and delinquency or to the counter
frame of the music as an articulator of social inequity. The mainstreaming of rap
may have cost the genre its underground or counter-culture status as protest music,
or made it less attractive to delinquent rebels. Rap also may play no part in crime
or resistance subcultures because, under post modern conditions, young people
have become increasingly eclectic and individualized in their musical tastes; the
close relationship between musical tastes and lifestyles, implied by subcultural
theory, no longer applies. On this formulation, therefore, we would not expect
to find strong connections between a preference for rap music and subcultures of
crime and subcultures of resistance.
On the other hand, reasons for believing that rap music may be a basis for subcultural lifestyles, at least among black youth, are more compelling. At the time that we
were conducting our research there was considerable debate, in the local media and
among local politicians, about issues involving race and crime – racial profiling and
the desirability of collecting race-based crime statistics, for example. Contributing
to this debate were findings from another study, confirming what black youths
in Canada have always suspected, namely that they are much more likely to be
arbitrarily stopped and searched by police officers than are members of other racial
and ethnic groups – even when their own self-reported deviant activity is statistically
controlled for (Wortley and Tanner 2005). In addition, contemporaneous research
on the media coverage of race and crime in Toronto newspapers carried out by
Wortley (2002), found black people disproportionately portrayed in a narrow range
of roles and activities (principally those involving crime, sports and entertainment)
than members of other racial and ethnic groups; and when featured in crime stories,
depicted primarily as offenders. Capricious policing and media misrepresentation
may therefore contribute to a sense of injustice among black youth, a sense of injustice that has them gravitating to rap as an emblem of cultural resistance.
700 • Social Forces 88(2)
Commercial success and artistic valorization has not diminished rap music’s capacity to provoke moral panic. The music is still seen as threatening, dangerous and
socially damaging by many political figures and established authority.3 Previous research suggests that negative media coverage of the cultural preferences and practices
of adolescents often intensifies subcultural identifications (Cohen 1973; Fine and
Kleinman 1979; Thornton 1995). Rap based moral panics may therefore tighten
connections between the music and delinquent lifestyles and/or resistive attitudes
and behaviors. The lack of attention paid to rap’s consumers renders these questions
relatively open ones, the meaning of rap music still to be discovered.
Whereas most contemporary research on rap focuses on those who create the
music – artists and producers, and those who write about it, music critics – we pose
questions about rap’s audience. Further, while audience studies usually employ
qualitative data-gathering techniques (for example, Morley 1980; Radway 1984;
Shively 1992), we use the methods of survey research.
We are more concerned with how audience members interact with the music
than with the issue of cause and effect. We are interested in how music might
be used as a resource in their everyday lives (Willis 1990; DeNora 2000), how
it might contribute to identity formation (Roe 1999) and, especially, how audiences might align themselves with (or distance themselves from) cultures of
crime and resistance. Nonetheless, in our analyses, we treat rap fandom as a
dependent variable. While there is considerable academic and public debate
about whether music produces or is a product of cultural activities, legal or
otherwise, existing research has failed to provide a compelling or consistent
rationale for any particular causal logic. As we have seen, the idea that exposure
to rap music causes crime is not unequivocally supported in the research literature. Research on resistant youth cultures, by contrast, is much more likely to
reverse the relationship and see musical style as a result of subcultural activity
(Willis 1978; Hebdige 1979). Hebdige, for example, infers that punk rock in
the United Kingdom was a cultural response to the subordination of existing
working-class youth groups. Laing (1985) has countered that punk the musical
genre existed before punk the subculture. In the absence of agreement about the
direction of the relationship between musical taste and cultural practices, our
decision to operationalize rap appreciation as a dependent variable is made more
for pragmatic, heuristic reasons than unassailable theoretical ones.
Our strategy is to focus on listening preferences rather than purchasing habits.
By asking students to report on and evaluate the music that they like, dislike and
in what combinations, we gain a clearer and more detailed picture of where rap
is situated in the consumption patterns of groups of students differentiated by,
among other factors, their racial identity. Our goals are to: (1. distinguish students
with a serious, exclusive taste for rap from more casual fans; (2. to calculate the
Listening to Rap • 701
size and racial makeup of rap music’s prime audience; and (3. to map relationships
between that core audience and resistant and delinquent repertoires.
Few surveys of general populations of young people have established any kind
of connection between rap and deviancy, net of other factors. We contend that
rap’s reputation as a corrosive force is validated by that linkage, and that without
it that representation becomes more contestable. A similar logic applies to the
relationship between rap and social protest. The claim that the music carries a
serious message – that it is an expression of resistant values and perceptions – is
substantiated with evidence of a link between the music and a collective sense of
inequity, and weakened by its absence.
The data for this research are drawn from the Toronto Youth Crime and Victimization
Study, a stratified cross-sectional survey of Toronto adolescents carried out from 1998
through 2000 (Tanner and Wortley 2002). Self-administered questionnaires were
completed by 3,393 Toronto students ages 13-18, from 30 Metropolitan Toronto
high schools in both the Catholic (10 schools) and larger Public School (20 schools)
systems. Within each school, one class from each grade, 9 (ages 13 and 14) through
13 (ages 18 and 19), was randomly selected. The overall response rate was 83 percent
(83.4% for Catholic vs. 83.1% for public schools), and is a conservative estimate as it
was based on the number of students enrolled in each class rather than those present
the day of the study. Informed consent was given for participation in the study.
Surveys were completed during class under the supervision of a member of the
research team (and without a teacher present) and took approximately 45 minutes
to complete. The survey asked young people about a broad range of topics, including family life, educational experiences, leisure activities, delinquent involvement,
victimization experiences and so forth. The survey instrument was designed by
members of the research team and evolved out of a series of 11 focus groups with
adolescents in Toronto schools. The completed survey was reviewed by a series
of institutional ethics boards, including those at the University of Toronto, the
Toronto Public School Board and the Catholic School Board. As the survey does
not include high school dropouts, institutionalized youth and street youth, it is
a school sample and thus any generalizations speak only to the experiences of
school-based adolescents. Our sample is ethnically and racially diverse and is
representative of the Metropolitan Toronto high school population.
Musical Preferences
Guided by Bourdieu’s work (1984) and Peterson’s recasting of musical taste in
terms of omnivorous and univorous patterns (1992), we focus our attention on
702 • Social Forces 88(2)
how musical choices are combined: if young people liked (or disliked) one style
or genre, what other styles or genres did they like or dislike (what Van Eijck
2001 has referred to as “combinatorial logic”). Indicators of musical taste were
derived from the question: ”How much do you like each of the following types
of music?” Respondents were then asked to evaluate each of 11 contemporary
musical genres: Soul, Rhythm and Blues, Jazz, Hip/Hop and Rap, Reggae and
Dance Hall, Classical and Opera, Country and New Country, Pop, Alternative
(including Punk, Grunge), Heavy Metal (Hard Rock), Ethnic Music (traditional/
cultural), and Techno (Dance). Musical tastes were assessed on a five-point Likert
scale that addresses whether respondents liked the musical genre very much, quite
a lot, a little bit, not very much or not at all.
Unlike previous research that dichotomized musical tastes, focusing exclusively on the musical genres most liked (Peterson and Kern 1996) or disliked
(Bryson 1996), we target the level of appreciation (or lack of appreciation) each
respondent has for a particular musical genre. For space considerations a detailed
overview of the clustering procedure has been omitted but is available upon
request. We employed a two-stage cluster analysis (hierarchical agglomerative
and k-means) procedure to derive groupings of adolescent musical tastes. Cluster
analysis assembles respondents based on their common responses to questions/
measures, and is useful for identifying relatively homogenous groups, groups
that are highly internally homogenous (members are similar to one another) and
highly externally heterogeneous (members are not like members of other clusters)
(Aldenderfer and Blashfield 1984).
Employing cluster analysis techniques, we uncovered seven musical taste clusters. Table 1 outlines the results of our cluster analysis. The largest group (n = 616)
was the Club Kids, composed of those who report an above average enjoyment of
techno and dance, mainstream pop, and hip-hop and rap. Next were the Urban
Music Enthusiasts (n = 605). Members of this group combined a strong appreciation of Rap and Hip Hop with considerable disinterest in most other musical
styles. These adolescents are the primary focus of the current study. Then there was
a fairly large (n = 482) group of youth, the New Traditionalists, who have an above
average liking of classical music and opera, jazz, soul, R&B, country music and
mainstream pop. The fourth largest (n = 425) group, the Hard Rockers, comprised
a sizeable number of heavy metal and hard rock, alternative, punk and grunge fans.
Then there was a surprisingly large (n = 384) group of adolescents, the Musical
Abstainers, who are only marginally interested in any kind of music. The group
we call the Ethnic Culturalists (n = 380) were so described because of a dominant preference for a quite wide range of ethnic music, as well as a greater than
average liking for soul and R&B, jazz, classical music and opera, country music
techno and dance, and mainstream pop. The smallest group (n = 338), the Musical
Omnivores, was composed of those who have an above average appreciation for
all 11 musical genres. These clusters vary considerably, not only in the musical
Note: Values approaching 1 indicate a great deal of appreciation for that genre of music, while values approaching 5 indicate a dislike.
p , .05 bp , .01 cp , .001 (two-tailed tests)
Table 1: Cluster Membership and Cluster Variable Means for Seven-Cluster Solution
Urban Music
The Hard
Variable Club Kids Enthusiast Traditionalist Rockers Abstainers Culturalist Omnivores
Means (Cluster 1) (Cluster 2) (Cluster 3) (Cluster 4) (Cluster 5) (Cluster 6) (Cluster 7)
Soul, Rhythm and Blues
Hip/Hop and Rap
Reggae and Dance Hall
Classical and Opera
Country/ New Country
Pop and Top 40
Alternative, Punk, Grunge
Heavy Metal (Hard Rock)
Ethnic (cultural)
Techno (Dance)
(6 df)
Listening to Rap • 703
704 • Social Forces 88(2)
likes and dislikes, but also with respect to sociodemographic, socioeconomic class
indicators, and measures of school experience, cultural capital, leisure patterns and
subcultural delinquency (Tanner, Asbridge and Wortley 2008).
Social Injustice, Property Crime and Violent Crime
The sense of injustice that rap is said to speak to often involves the dealings that
young people have with the police and courts. Six items in our questionnaire
invited respondents to evaluate their perceptions of the equity of the criminal
justice system, fairness in the educational system, and more general perceptions
of the equality of opportunity in Canada. Some of the questions addressed racebased inequality, while others invoked age, class- and gender-based discrimination.
These six items were condensed into a scale and standardized (alpha = .65) with
higher values indicating greater feelings of social injustice.
Respondents were also invited to report their participation in illegal activities.
Our measures of crime and delinquency covered a spectrum of activities, varied by
type and seriousness. Two scales items are constructed based on the following question: “How many times in the past year have you done any of the following things?
Would you say never, once or twice, several times, or many times?” The first scale
captures involvement in property crime, including self-reported property damage,
theft under $50, breaking into a car, stealing a car, stealing a bike, breaking and
entering a home, drug dealing and theft over $50 (alpha = .86). The second scale
measures violent offending and includes carrying a hidden weapon such as a gun or
knife in public, using physical force on another person to get money or other things,
attacking someone with the idea of seriously hurting him or her, hitting or threatening to hit a parent or teacher, getting into a physical fight with someone, and taking
part in a fight where a group of friends were up against another group (alpha = .81).
SES, School Measures and Cultural Capital
The impact of students’ sociodemographic backgrounds is initially examined in
terms of demographic variables – age, gender, Canadian identity (“Do you think
of yourself as Canadian?” – a measure of perceived inclusion in Canadian society),
and race. Socioeconomic status is captured through indicators of parents and family situation, and includes measures of parental educational attainment (whether
or not they had attended postsecondary education), family intactness (whether
or not respondents grew up in a two-parent household), a measure of subjective
social class based on perceptions of family income.
Next we include a set of measures related to educational attainment, experiences and expectations: self-reported grades (proportion receiving mostly As),
skipping school, suspension from school, educational stream (general or academic
stream) and a more evaluative question about the degree of importance that young
people attached to education.
Listening to Rap • 705
Finally, we include a measure of respondents’ own cultural capital activities.
While mainly used as an explanation of educational and occupational attainment
(DiMaggio 1982; DiMaggio and Mohr 1995; Aschaffenburg and Maas 1997),
measures of cultural capital have also been deployed to uncover dispositions, or
orientations, towards the arts (Bourdieu 1984; Swartz 1997). We use it here as a
further measure of the characteristics and lifestyles of the audience for rap – its possession bestowing status upon individuals and the music that they listen to, its absence denoting the opposite. Our seven-item cultural capital index comprises both
traditional highbrow pursuits – going to the symphony, visiting museums – and
the sorts of respectable leisure activities (playing a musical instrument, attending
cultural events, going to the library, reading a book for pleasure and hobbies) that
contribute to the cultural resources available to young people. The sum of these
seven items is standardized and has an alpha of .65. Descriptive statistics and other
details on all measures can be found in Appendix A.
Analytic Procedure
Multivariate logistic regression is employed in four separate analyses. First, a strong
preference for Rap and Hip/Hop – being an Urban Music Enthusiast – is regressed
on sociodemographic, socioeconomic status and school measures. Next, we regress
being an Urban Music Enthusiast on sociodemographic, socioeconomic status
and school measures for three racial groups – white, black and Asian/South Asian
youth. For each racial group we run four separate models that include baseline
measures only, followed by models that add social injustice, property crime and
violent crime. All analyses were conducted with the Stata 8.0 computer program
(StataCorp 2001) using the survey commands that account for intra-cluster correlation due to the complex sampling strategy.
We can quickly confirm the enormous popularity of rap with our respondents. It has
the highest average approval rating of any musical genre, with some 35 percent of
students saying that they liked it “very much,” and 21 percent saying that they liked it
“quite a lot.” Rap clearly appeals to a broad range of young listeners and is, therefore
very much part of a common music culture among high school students. But our
cluster analysis (Table 1) also isolates a group of students who enjoy rap music and
little else. Examining the approval rating for each music genre relative to the cluster
means, where scores approaching 1 indicate a strong approval of the genre, and scores
approaching 5 indicate a strong dislike, demonstrates that Urban Music Enthusiasts
have a strong preference for rap and hip-hop, reggae and dance hall; a more moderate liking for soul and R&B, and a below average liking for all other musical genres.
We think that our Urban Music Enthusiasts fit the profile of music univores – individuals who appreciate a few musical styles while disliking everything
706 • Social Forces 88(2)
else – as described in the research of Peterson (1992) and Bryson (1997). Bryson
links univorous taste among American adults to low status, particular racial and
ethnic groups, and regional differences. She also notes that univorous taste, when
compared to omnivorous taste, is more likely to be related to what she calls “subcultural spheres.”(Bryson 1997:147)
Our Urban Music Enthusiasts appear to be rap univores who may also be
adhering to “sub-cultural spheres.” Of the 605 Urban Music Enthusiasts in our
sample, 275 (46%) are black, 117 (19%) are white, 115 (19%) are Asian or
South Asian, and 98 (16%) are from other racial groups. These figures tell us that
young black people still comprise the central component of the rap audience;
moreover, roughly 57 percent of black youth is Urban Music Enthusiasts). At
the same time, we observe evidence of a significant racial crossover. White Urban
Music Enthusiasts constitute 8.6 percent of the white students in our sample,
while Asian Urban Music Enthusiasts make up 9.5 percent of all Asian students.
The racial composition of the Urban Music Enthusiast taste culture prompts two
further questions: First, of the black students surveyed, what factors in addition to
race predict their univorous interest in rap? Second, of white and Asian students,
what factors encourage their involvement in an essentially black music culture,
an involvement that clearly sets them apart from other white and Asian students?
Table 2 provides results for Urban Music Enthusiasts membership regressed
on sociodemographic, socioeconomic status and school measures, with separate
analyses for white, black and Asian/South Asian young people. Paying particular
attention to the findings for each racial group, what is common to all three groups
of Urban Music Enthusiasts is that, compared to other students in our sample,
they are poorly endowed with cultural capital and are not especially good students.
Few other background factors have any significant or consistent impact upon
a disposition towards Urban Music. For white students, parental SES, family
structure and subjective social class, have no bearing upon their musical preferences, whereas school suspension and poor grades are strong predictors. For black
students, Urban Music enthusiasm is more common among younger students
and those less likely to identify as Canadian. Being a black youth identified as an
Urban Music Enthusiast is also strongly related to growing up in a single-parent
family and skipping school. For their part, Asian/South Asian youth are something
of an anomaly – among them, Urban Music Enthusiasm is positively associated
with social class and having well-educated mothers – but like other Urban Music
Enthusiasts it is also strongly related to school suspension and skipping school.
We are less interested, however, in the sociodemographic and socioeconomic
factors that may lead to being an Urban Music Enthusiast than in the relationship
between being a Urban Music Enthusiast and representations of rap – either as
part of a culture of resistance and/or as a basis for subcultural delinquency. Tables
3 through 5 describe the distribution of being an Urban Music Enthusiast across
three racial groups (white, black, Asian/South Asian) as shaped by perceptions
p , .05
p , .01
p , .001
Table 2: Logistic Regression of Urban Music Enthusiasts Membership on Sociodemographic, Socioeconomic Status and School Measures for
Each Racial Grouping
Racial Groups
All Youth
All Youth Adjusted White Youth Black Youth Asian/South Asian
Unadjusted (n=3396)
Youth (n=1044)
OR t-ratio
.92 -1.25
.76c -4.25
-.27 1.33
Canadian Identity
-.19 1.67
.56a -2.62
South Asian
Socioeconomic Status
Father Postsecondary Educated
-.30 1.27
.99 1.12
Mother Postsecondary Educated
2.01 1.43
1.50 1.05
Two-Parent Family
.67 -1.62
.51a -2.59
Subjective Social Class
.81 -1.05
Cultural Capital
.63c -3.51
.55c -3.67
School Measures
Ever Suspended from School
3.51 1.72a 2.22 1.41
Ever Skipped School
4.88 1.92
1.81 2.25b 2.83
“A” Student
.40b -2.70
Educational Stream
.66 -1.87 1.39
Education is Important Part of Life .84
-.39 1.15
Social Injustice
Property Crime
Violent Crime
Pseudo Nagelkerke R2
Listening to Rap • 707
Note: N = 1,334
p , .05 bp , .01
p , .001
Table 3: Logistic Regression of Urban Music Enthusiasts Membership on Sociodemographic,
SES, School Measures, Social Injustice and Property and Violent Crime for White Youth
M1 Baseline
M2 Social
M3 Property M4 Violent
OR t-ratio OR t-ratio OR t-ratio OR t-ratio
.92 -1.25
.92 -1.17
.93 -.93
.94 -.93
.97 -.07
Canadian Identity
1.67 1.53 1.94a 2.09 1.81 1.64 1.94 1.89
Socioeconomic Status
Father Postsecondary Educated 1.27
.99 1.30 1.07 1.19
.73 1.21
Mother Postsecondary Educated 1.43 1.50 1.43 1.46 1.46 1.52 1.47 1.61
Two-Parent Family
.67 -1.62
.71 -1.33
.71 -1.37
.69 -1.42
Subjective Social Class
.81 -1.05
.82 -1.04
.86 -.77
Cultural Capital
.63c -3.51
.64c -3.48
.65c -3.42
.63c -3.50
School Measures
Ever Suspended from School
1.72a 2.22 1.71a 2.17 1.51 1.63 1.50 1.59
Ever Skipped School
1.92 1.81 1.87 1.75 1.87 1.76 1.74 1.47
“A” Student
.40b -2.70
.42a -2.60
.40a -2.68
.42a -2.53
Educational Stream
.66 -1.87
.69 -1.57
.72 -1.45
.67 -1.79
Education is Important Part of Life .91
.97 -.15
.96 -.19
Social Injustice
1.08a 2.29
Property Crime
1.04c 3.59
Violent Crime
1.04a 2.47
Pseudo Nagelkerke R2
708 • Social Forces 88(2)
of social injustice, property crime, and violent crime, and in conjunction with
sociodemographic, socioeconomic class and school measures.
Our findings, with one notable exception, strongly confirm rap’s reputation as
protest music. Controlling for other factors, for both white and especially black
youth, being an Urban Music Enthusiast is strongly related to feelings of social
injustice. Indeed, for both these groups, a strong appreciation of rap is robustly
and independently predicted by feelings of injustice, relative to the majority of
remaining sociodemographic, socioeconomic class and school measures. Asian/
South Asian youth are not part of this pattern. Feelings of injustice for Asian/
South Asian youth is not connected to an appreciation of rap (though the direction of the effect is the same).
If rap’s reputation is enhanced when interpreted as protest music, it is correspondingly denigrated when linked to deviant behavior, particularly crimes of
aggression and violence. Our findings suggest significant racial variations in the
Listening to Rap • 709
Table 4: Logistic Regression of Urban Music Enthusiasts Membership on
Sociodemographic, SES, School Measures, Social Injustice and Property and
Violent Crime, for Black Youth
OR t-ratio OR t-ratio OR t-ratio OR t-ratio
.76c -4.25
.75c -4.50 .76c -4.25 .76c -4.56
1.34 1.36
1.56 1.38
1.48 1.48 1.90
Canadian Identity
.56a -2.62
.61a -2.13 .56a -2.62 .60a -2.50
Socioeconomic Status
Father Postsecondary Educated 1.12
.37 1.17
.54 1.13
.39 1.15
Mother Postsecondary Educated 1.05
.15 1.01
.05 1.04
.13 .97
Two-Parent Family
.51a -2.59
.51a -2.54 .53a -2.37 .54a -2.35
Subjective Social Class
-.11 1.01
.04 .97
-.17 .97
Cultural Capital
.55c -3.67
.57c -3.70 .56c -3.61 .56c -3.59
School Measures
Ever Suspended from School
1.66 1.34
1.33 1.36
1.48 1.21
Ever Skipped School
2.25b 2.83 2.31b 2.73 2.08a 2.49 1.91a 2.28
“A” Student
-1.06 .69 -1.14 .69 -1.06
Educational Stream
.95 1.49
1.12 1.42
.98 1.47 1.12
Education is Important Part of Life 1.15
.44 1.38
.97 1.21
.58 1.17
Social Injustice
1.10b 3.13
Property Crime
Violent Crime
Pseudo Nagelkerke R2
Note: N = 480
p , .05 bp , .01
p , .001
rap and crime relationships, and that overall, listening to rap is more strongly
connected to property crime than to crimes of violence.4 Model 3 in tables 2
through 4 presents regression results for the inclusion of property crime, along
with sociodemographic, socioeconomic status and school measures, on being an
Urban Music Enthusiast, while Model 4 does the same for violent crime.
Overall, property and violent crime demonstrate strong independent effects on
listening to rap music. Individuals more involved in property crime and violent
crime are more likely to be Urban Music Enthusiasts than individuals with little or
no criminal involvement. However, race specific results offer an interesting twist.
Involvement in property crime and violent crime is strongly related to an appreciation of rap music, net of other factors, among white and Asian/South Asian youth
only. The group that does not fit this pattern is black youth, whose involvement in
property and violent crime is not predictive of being an Urban Music Enthusiast.
For black youth, an appreciation for rap music remains most strongly associated
with feelings of social injustice, younger age and lower cultural capital.
710 • Social Forces 88(2)
Table 5: Logistic Regression of Urban Music Enthusiast Membership on
Sociodemographic, SES, School Measures, Social Injustice and Property and
Violent Crime, for Asian/South Asian Youth
OR t-ratio OR t-ratio OR t-ratio OR t-ratio
-.48 .97 -.33
.76 -1.07
-.38 .88 -.48
Canadian Identity
1.49 1.46 1.43 1.28 1.46
1.31 1.53 1.54
Socioeconomic Status
Father Postsecondary Educated
.62 -1.94
.61a -2.08
.60a -2.12 .61a -2.06
Mother Postsecondary Educated 2.00a 2.29 1.91a 2.06 1.94a 2.07 2.06a 2.31
Two-Parent Family
.69 -1.24
.66 -1.34
.72 -1.04 .63 -1.50
Subjective Social Class
1.37a 2.16 1.41a 2.30 1.46a 2.42 1.39a 2.06
Cultural Capital
.59c -4.03
.60c -3.85
.59c -4.44 .59c -4.30
School Measures
Ever Suspended from School
2.01a 1.76 2.05 1.88 1.54
1.06 1.76 1.48
Ever Skipped School
3.04c 4.37 3.03c 5.01 2.89c 4.37 2.77c 5.04
“A” Student
-.05 .94 -.18
Educational Stream
.61 -1.62
.57 -1.72
.61 -1.59 .69 -1.19
Education is Important Part of Life 1.87 1.71 1.79 1.61 2.04
1.73 2.00 1.75
Social Injustice
Property Crime
1.08c 3.79
Violent Crime
1.07b 2.79
Pseudo Nagelkerke R2
Note: N = 1,044
p , .05 bp , .01
p , .001
Rap occupies a controversial position in the contemporary pantheon of popular
culture, championed by some as a cultural riposte to disadvantage and discrimination, and condemned by others as a malignant influence on adolescent development. For all its popularity, and for all of the academic attention that the genre has
received, the question of how audiences might relate to different representations
of the music have not, hitherto, been extensively detailed.
The findings presented in this article confirm rap’s popularity with diverse
groups of young people. For the most part it is enjoyed and listened to in combination with other musical choices. But rap commands another audience as well – a
smaller and more dedicated one which listens to rap to the virtual exclusion of all
other musical genres. We have identified and classified this group as Urban Music
Enthusiasts. While the majority of Urban Music Enthusiasts are themselves black,
white and Asian students occupy a significant presence in the taste culture. What
racially diverse Urban Music Enthusiasts have in common is a lack of cultural
Listening to Rap • 711
capital and less-than-stellar school careers. They do not, however, share identical
affinitive relationships with the music.
When compared to the membership of six other musical cultures, Urban Music
Enthusiasts report significantly stronger feelings of social injustice; however, these
feelings are shared by only two groups of core rap fans, white and, especially, black
youth. Among Asian/South Asian Urban Music Enthusiasts such sentiments are
less evident. By and large, rap’s core audience is comprised of young people who
hear it as protest music. It is heard this way, moreover, despite commercial and
commodifying forces that might have been expected to eliminate this possibility.
Rap may have become mass-produced popular music, insidiously exploited and
artfully marketed; it has not, however, lost its symbolic meaning as an expression
of resistance among its most ardent fans.
The link between serious rap fandom and crime and delinquency is, however,
considerably more equivocal and varied. Among black youth – the largest constituency of Urban Music Enthusiasts – there is no relationship between involvement in
either property crime or violent crime and rap music. In other words, black youth,
who pursue delinquent lifestyles, are no more likely to be core fans of rap than
black youth who are uninvolved in crime. For core rap fans from the other two
racial groups, a connection between crime and music is by and large confirmed:
Asian/South Asian and, especially, white youth involved in property and violent
crime are far more likely to be Urban Music Enthusiasts. How might we best
interpret these findings?
Not causally, because like much of the existing research, ours is not a longitudinal design. We are not, therefore, in any position to assign causality to the
relationships that we have observed. White and Asian youth involved in criminal
activity may have acquired their status as Urban Music Enthusiasts before they
developed their criminal inclinations, not as a result of them; or earlier familial
and educational experiences might have been responsible for both a taste for rap
music and delinquent dispositions. Second, even if crime and rap fandom are
causally linked among white and Asian youth, we still have to wrestle with the
fact that there is no association between those variables among black Urban Music
Enthusiasts (nor, of course, is there any association among those who listen to rap
in conjunction with other musical genres). Although black youth commit their
fair share of crime in Toronto, their criminality does not differentiate their musical
preferences for rap compared to their more law-abiding peers.
These racial variations, nonetheless, encourage us to seriously doubt that subcultural delinquency has any straightforward impact on musical preferences, and
to suspect that any explanation of them falls outside of the behaviorist dictates
of cause and effect (Abercrombie and Longhurst 1998). Accordingly, we now
turn our attention to modes of audience research that emphasize the active role
that media consumers play in responding to and using popular culture. Our data
suggest that rap works differently for different groups of fans; the meaning of the
712 • Social Forces 88(2)
music is contingent upon who is doing the listening (DeNora 2003). We focus
on those meanings, concentrating upon the forms of identification that racially
different groups of rap fans make with the music. While some previous attention
has been paid to teenage music listening audiences in these terms, very little of
it has focused on rap music. The interpretation that we offer is, therefore, both
exploratory and speculative.
We begin with black youth. Growing up black in a white society means that
black youth have a clear racial identity and status. They know that regardless
of their achievements that they are going to be treated as different, as outsiders.
Their sense of difference is announced and celebrated in cultural tastes that speak
to issues of social inequity. Racial background and musical preferences confirm
identity and informs social consciousness. No further cultural practices, least of
all delinquent ones, are required.
White fans of black music are outsiders too – outsiders to a culture and lifestyle
they admire and wish to emulate. Not born into black culture, they can only
identify precariously and imaginatively with it. In terms of identity construction
and social consciousness, they have to master the art of being black (Alexander
1996). They do this by involving themselves, indeed, over-involving themselves,
with what they believe to be an authentic version of black street life. Striving for
subcultural status (Thornton 1995) as “racial exceptions” (Wimsatt 1994:18-22)
involves following a cultural script that may prescribe a criminal lifestyle as a
marker of authentic gangster behavior. Our data suggests that this message is more
sympathetically heard by white and Asian rap fans than their more numerous
black counterparts,5 a finding consistent with what has been reported in two other
studies (Quinn 2005; Mahiri and Conner 2003).
In her recent analysis of gangsta rap, Quinn (2005) proposes that black youth
are considerably more skeptical about gangsta rap’s claims to authenticity than are
white youth. She suggests that among the most disadvantaged members of its black
fan base, or poor urban youth, the music elicits a very mixed reception. For some it
inspires adulation and for others hostility: its main artists admired as entrepreneurial
role models, but scorned because of the unrelenting preoccupation with violence
and their exploitation of authentic street culture for their own personal gain. As she
tells it, using anecdotal evidence, inner-city black youth, whose life circumstances
dictate that they have to walk the walk, resent the gangsta rappers who merely do
the talking. She also notes their rejection of “the cartoonish hyperbole and marketing
claims to authenticity pervading gangsta rap.”(Quinn 2005:84)
A similar argument is made by Mahiri and Conner (2003), whose study of
young black middle school students’ perceptions of rap music was briefly reviewed
above. The researchers describe how enthusiasm for rap music is tempered mainly
by concerns about “acrimonious” gangsta rap (2003:123), which respondents
purposely disassociate themselves from. The critical stance adopted by respondents
suggests that they are engaged in acts of resistance – resistance directed against me-
Listening to Rap • 713
dia portrayals that reinforce dominant representations of black men and women
as “dangerous others” in American society.
Asian rappers share with their white counterparts a vicarious identification and
involvement with criminal versions of the hip-hop lifestyle. What distinguishes
them from both their black and white counterparts is a missing sense of inequity.
This absence can reasonably be traced back to their social origins. Asian rappers in
our sample, while poor students and lacking cultural capital, come from relatively
high status backgrounds, and might therefore not be very inclined to view the
world in terms of economic or social marginalization. But why rap has proven
to be especially attractive to more privileged, rather than less privileged, Asian
Canadian youth is something of a mystery. While there have been investigations of
contemporary Asian youth deviance in the United Kingdom and the United States
(Alexander 2000; Tsunokai and Kposwa 2002), including one documenting the
presence of Asian youth gangs in affluent California communities (Pih and Mao
2005), no previous research on Asian youth, as far as we are aware, has explored
connections between social origins, rap and delinquency.
Our argument that rap music is a source of different meaning for listeners may
also be implicated in another possible explanation of our findings – namely, that
our singular measure of rap appreciation is concealing preferences for different
types of rap music. There is little doubt that, within the rap field, subgenre proliferation has occurred. From a production of culture approach, Lena (2006) has, for
example, recently identified as many as 13 subgenres, differentiated by both musical and thematic content. One of the few studies to examine connections between
different rap genres (American rap, hard-core/ gangsta rap, hip hop/soul and
French rap) and teenage behavior is Miranda and Claes’ Montreal study (2004).
They found that what they call “French rap” to be the genre most strongly related
to self-reported deviance, while, conversely, their category of ’ “hip hop/soul” was
only weakly related to deviant behavior. Their findings have implications for our
own. We think it likely that our respondents have answered our general question
about liking rap music in terms of more specific preferences for particular sub
genres – that they have treated our blunt measure as a blank canvas upon which
to impose their own meanings. Our findings suggest that rap is not a unitary
genre category. Cultures of crime and resistance are likely associated with distinct
subgenres, and that the Urban Music Enthusiasts most involved with subcultural
delinquency are, in all probability, listening to gangsta rap, or variations thereof.
Our findings reveal something new about education and devalued musical
tastes. Previous research on young people and their musical consumption indicates that adolescents at or near the bottom of a school’s hierarchy, or who enjoy
less-than-harmonious relationships with parents and other middle-class authority
figures, gravitate towards forms of popular music least likely to be valued and
legitimated by those authorities. Historically, hard rock, particularly heavy metal,
has fulfilled this role for anti-school students, particularly if male, white and
714 • Social Forces 88(2)
working class (Tanner 1981; Roe 1983). Recently, however, it has been proposed
that rap, especially gangsta rap, has joined heavy metal as the musical preference
of rebellious white youth (Quinn 2005).
In earlier research (Tanner, Asbridge and Wortley 2008) a near univorous hard
rock culture – an amalgam of heavy metal, punk and grunge – was discovered
which appealed largely to white males. However, involvement in the hard rock
subculture was related to relative school achievement (not school failure), highparental social status (not low-parental social status), and high cultural capital (not
its absence); only a weak relationship existed between hard rock and crime and
delinquency. From our evidence, then, hard rock has ceased to be oppositional
music, in either a political or delinquent sense, and, in the process, ceded much
of its street orientation (and credibility) to rap-based subcultures.
Urban Music Enthusiasts and hard rockers had little enthusiasm for each other’s
core musical preferences (as, perhaps, befits the logic of univorous taste). There
is little doubt that race plays a significant part in this – hard rockers are mainly
white, whereas urban music enthusiasts, although more diverse, tend to be black.
While it seems likely that rebellious black youth have always favored black musical
styles, white rebels have not done so in large numbers. This is what has changed
with the rise of rap; it delivers bite and attitude to rebellious white youth, whose
forbearers would likely have been fans of hard rock. Supporting this proposition
are the musings of the rap performer Eazy-E. When asked in 1993 about the appeal of his music to white suburban fans, he surmised that “they like listening to
that I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, the Guns ‘n Roses attitude.”(Cross 1993, quoting
Eazy-E, quoted in Quinn 2005:86) Since then, for reasons discussed in Weinstein
(2000), hard rock has lost its oppositional currency and much of its defiant and
rebellious white fan base as well. Our findings suggest that rap is not the equivalent
of hard rock; it is its replacement. It has become the music of choice of low-status
students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Serious fans of rap music are different from other young music listeners – they are
more inclined to crime and delinquency and more likely to subscribe to resistant
attitudes and beliefs (Tanner, Asbridge and Wortley 2008). Those familiar with
popular representations of the music might have anticipated these findings; however, it has taken a survey to confirm the linkage between the music and cultures
of crime and cultures of resistance. What our survey has also revealed – and what is
not apparent from small-scale studies based on race specific samples – is that there
are significant cross-cultural variations in how the music is received.
Our article also contributes to a wider sociology of cultural consumption.
Contemporary musical enthusiasts are now classified as omnivores and univores,
thanks to the work of Peterson and his colleagues (Peterson 1992; Peterson and
Simkus 1993; Peterson and Kern 1996). However, with the honorable exception
Listening to Rap • 715
of Bryson’s work (1997), we know considerably less about the univores than the
omnivores. We have added a detailed examination of teenage univores to the field
of cultural sociology.
What does our study add to the wide debate about the changing nature of
youth culture that we alluded to earlier, in particular the suggestion that formerly
solidaristic youth subcultures have deconstructed into looser and more pluralistic
configurations better understood as scenes? Some students of youth culture prefer
the concept of scenes to the older concept of subculture because it draws attention
to the fluid and contingent nature of young people’s musical tastes and group affiliations (Bennett 1999b). Subculturalists are said to overstate the cohesion and
durability of youth groups, and the commitment of their members to them. They
also misjudge the degree to which the boundaries of musical taste and group identity are circumscribed by such structural factors as social class. By contrast, scenes
are described as having an elective membership, made up of individuals who create
their own scene identities that they “regularly take on and take off.”(Bennett and
Peterson 2004:3)
The fact that our Urban Music Enthusiasts are a diverse group might suggest
that they are involved with several different rap scenes rather than one unified
subculture (Bennett and Peterson 2004). However, while we can certainly agree
that subcultural approaches frequently present an over determined view of youth
groups, we are not convinced that our Urban Music Enthusiasts are any better
understood by the scene concept. Three points bear this out. First, our rap fans
comprise three identifiable and bounded social groups whose membership is
largely determined, not by social class, but by race. Race provides the segmented
audience for rap music with its boundary markers. Second, while rap may be used
to create new identities for relatively small numbers of white and Asian Urban
Music Enthusiasts, for the more numerous black Urban Music Enthusiasts, the
music is more likely to reflect and consolidate already existing racial identities.
Finally, racial differences notwithstanding, our rap fans share a commitment to
their music more characteristic of bounded subcultures than porous scenes. Urban
Music Enthusiasts, along with the Hard Rockers and Musical Omnivores, are the
young people in our sample most likely to say that music is an important feature
of their lives. We suspect that scene analysis is more useful in making sense of the
life styles of casual music fans than more dedicated ones.
While we believe that we have contributed an important study to several different areas of sociological interest – mass media and audience research, crime and
delinquency, popular music and youth culture, cultural sociology – we are all also
aware of what we have not done and what needs to be done in the future. A principal
limitation of our study is that its findings may pertain only to a particular place and
time – Toronto, at the turn of the millennium. We may have provided a snap shot
profile of the audience for rap music in a Canadian city that is not representative
of similar-sized American cities. We might similarly have described the character of
716 • Social Forces 88(2)
the rap audience as it was then, not as it is now. Quite obviously, more research is
needed to determine just how generalizable our findings really are – perhaps with
other racial and ethnic groups added to the investigative mix. Finally, we look forward to longitudinal datasets tackling the causal issue and more detailed qualitative
work engaging with the interpretive ones. Hitherto, students of rap, searching for its
musical meaning, have largely restricted themselves to reading cultural texts. Future
research requires a comparable reading of rap audiences as well.
We draw no hard and fast distinction between rap and hip-hop nomenclature.
Common practice among rap scholars, however, is to treat rap as the musical
component of a broader hip-hop culture (Rose 1994; Quinn 2005). Initially the
musical elements in hip-hop involved DJs, who played records, and MCs, who
provided the spoken word; later came studio production. According to Rose, hip-hop
culture began with break dancing and graffiti. However, it is the music, rap that has
now become hip-hop culture’s defining characteristic. For a detailed discussion of the
relationship between rap and hip-hop, see the work of Krims (2000).
Nor, to the best of our knowledge, has Binder’s research on media representations
of rap been updated to examine how assumptions of either an increasingly white,
or multicultural audience, has influenced media coverage of rap, particularly its
connections to crime.
On two occasions (2000 and 2005), elected politicians in Canada have sought to
prohibit the same American rap star (50 cent) from entering the country, on the
grounds that his music incited youth violence. Both attempts were unsuccessful.
In this regard, it is perhaps worth emphasizing that theories of media effects focus
mainly on crimes of violence, not property crime. While plausible arguments can and
have been made for property crime effects of TV viewing (Surette 1992), most theories
of media effects are, in fact, designed to explain acts of aggression and violence.
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black youth. In one account it is suggested that white youth can listen with greater
impunity to the music because they are more selective: “they know when it is time to
turn of Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.”(Patterson 2006) Another version
of the argument proposes that white youth are less vulnerable because their interest in
the music is more ephemeral and will fade away in time (Hicks 2007). Black youth,
by contrast, are at greater risk because they have a more exclusive interest in the music,
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Listening to Rap • 721
Appendix A. Descriptive Statistics for all Measures
Independent Measures
Do you identify yourself as Canadian
Father Received Postsecondary Education
Mother Received Postsecondary Education
Two-Parent Family
South Asian
1 (poor) to 5 (rich)
Subjective Social Class
Cultural Capital Leisure (index of frequency of
involvement in playing a musical instrument, attending
cultural events, volunteering, going to meetings/
belonging to organizations, going to the library, going to
the symphony or opera, going to the museum, reading
a book for pleasure, and involvement with hobbies, with
an a=.70).
Have been suspended from school at least once
Have skipped school at least once
Primarily receive “A” Grades
Educational Stream
Education is Important Part of Life
Dependent Measures
Urban Music Enthusiasts
Social Injustice (index of amount of agreement or
disagreement regarding the following statements:
people from my racial group are more likely to be
unfairly stopped and questioned by the police than
people from other racial groups; discrimination makes it
hard for people from my racial group to find a good job;
discrimination makes it difficult for people from my racial
group to get good marks in school; students from rich
families have an easier time getting ahead than students
from poor families; everyone has an equal chance of
getting ahead in Canada; it is rare for an innocent person
to be wrongly sent to jail, with an a=.65).
continued on the following page
Cases Percent
722 • Social Forces 88(2)
Appendix A. continued
Independent Measures
Property Crime (index of frequency of involvement
in breaking into cars, minor theft under $50, property
damage, stealing bikes, breaking and entering into
homes, stealing cars, major theft over $50, and drug
dealing, with an a=.86).
Violent Crime (index of frequency of carrying a hidden Z-score
weapon like a gun or knife in public, using physical
force on another person to get money or other things;
attacked someone with the idea of seriously hurting
that person, hit or threatened to hit a parent or teacher,
getting into a physical fight with someone, and taken
part in a fight where a group of friends were up against
another group, with an a=.81).
Cases Percent
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
Crime Law Soc Change (2017) 67:499–503
DOI 10.1007/s10611-017-9683-5
How and why do Amherst and Newark differ in crime
rates? Comments on BAmerica’s Safest City^
David P. Farrington 1
Published online: 4 April 2017
# Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017
Abstract Delinquency in middle class areas (and why it is low) has been a neglected
topic in criminology. The book by Singer [1] advances knowledge about this topic,
focussing on Amherst (NY), but also comparing it with the high crime area of Newark (NJ).
The book discusses various community and neighborhood factors that might have contributed to the low crime rate in Amherst, but also emphasizes the importance of parenting and
juvenile justice processing. The book highlights the need for more research on community/
neighborhood effects on offending after controlling for individual and family factors. It also
highlights the need for more research on self-reported delinquency versus court processing
of middle class versus lower class youth, and on possible juvenile justice system biases after
controlling for characteristics of offenses and offenders. Its main policy implications are that
more programs and opportunities are needed for youth in lower class areas, there should be
more efforts to increase collective efficacy in these areas, and juvenile court processing
should be minimized as much as possible.
Simon Singer’s [1] book is an excellent contribution to knowledge about the neglected
topic of delinquency in middle class areas (and why it is low). Most research in
criminology focuses on delinquency in lower class areas, because of the widespread
belief that crime is most prevalent in these areas. There has been very little research on
delinquency in middle class areas, apart from notable exceptions such as Crime as play:
Delinquency in a middle class suburb by Richards et al. [2].
Singer [1] focuses mainly on crime in Amherst (NY), but he also compares this with
crime in Newark (NJ). In this commentary, I will address three key questions:
1. How do Amherst and Newark differ?
2. Why do Amherst and Newark differ in crime rates?
3. How important is juvenile justice processing in explaining the differences?
* David P. Farrington
Institute of Criminology, Cambridge University, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge CB3 9DA, England
Farrington D.P.
How do Amherst and Newark differ?
In many ways, Amherst and Newark are extreme cases. Singer [1] quotes Money
Magazine in 1996 as naming Amherst as America’s safest city and Newark as
America’s most dangerous city (out of 202 cities with a population of 100,000 or
more). This was according to the FBI index crime rate in 1995 (based on murder, rape,
aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, and auto theft, but excluding larceny and arson).
Amherst and Newark differ in many ways. Amherst is more of a suburb than a city;
it has no downtown and is not densely populated. This raises the question: How
realistic is it to compare Amherst and Newark? Newark is more typical of the high
crime areas studied by criminologists, with several poor inner city neighborhoods,
dilapidated buildings, littered streets, gangs, and youths and adults hanging about on
the streets. In contrast, Amherst is affluent, mainly White, with many home owners,
spacious houses, privacy, segregation from diversity, and pressure to succeed. However, the picture is not all rosy, as this pressure to succeed might cause anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.
The statistics bear out these descriptions ([1], p. 42). Only 23% of Newark residents
were home owners, compared with 76% of Amherst residents. Nearly all Amherst
residents (90%) were White, compared with 43% of Newark residents. Similarly, nearly
all Amherst residents (92%) had graduated from high school, compared with 58% of
Newark residents. Very few Newark residents (only 9%) had a bachelor’s degree,
compared with 47% of Amherst residents. And the median family income was twice
as high in Amherst ($69,000) as in Newark ($31,000).
Why do Amherst and Newark differ in crime rates?
The key question is: What factors cause the difference in crime rates? In particular, how
important is the social and physical environment, compared with differences between
residents in income, education, and so on? Is it just that poor people (who are
statistically more likely to be recorded offenders) are forced to live in poor areas,
whereas rich people (who are statistically less likely to be recorded offenders) can
choose to live in rich areas? Or do the areas themselves have causal effects over and
above the characteristics of the residents? In investigating this question, it is desirable to
randomly assign individuals or families to areas, as in the Moving to Opportunity
experiment (see [3]). A systematic review of intervention studies on the effects of area
changes (poverty deconcentration and urban upgrading) on youth violence was published by Cassidy et al. [4].
Singer [1] describes many community and neighborhood features of Amherst that
might explain the differences in crime rates between Amherst and Newark. In particular, Amherst is characterized by collective efficacy [5]: residents aim to regulate the
safety of adolescents, tend to intervene in problematic situations, participate in community organizations, and assist and trust each other. In contrast, in high crime areas,
youths do not trust parents, peers, neighbors, school officials, teachers, clergy, and so
on. A key question is: Do community/neighborhood factors have direct causal effects
on offending? Or do they have only indirect effects? In particular, do community/
neighborhood factors influence family factors, which in turn influence individual
How and Why do Amherst and Newark Differ in Crime…
factors, which in turn influence offending, as argued by Loeber, Farrington,
Stouthamer-Loeber, and Van Kammen [6]?
Singer [1] says a great deal about the importance of parenting. In Amherst, parents
assist with adolescent difficulties, such as alcohol and drug use, bullying, and depression. There is strong bonding to middle class parents, in agreement with Hirschi’s [7]
ideas about attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. Middle class parents act
as desirable role models, encourage autonomy, trust adolescents, have high empathy,
talk to adolescents, and share thoughts and feelings with them. Parents are strict but
protective, and there is close monitoring and authoritative parenting [8], especially with
girls (Singer, [1], p. 185). Indeed, some girls complained that their parents were too
strict and too controlling. But are differences in parenting mainly responsible for
differences in crime rates?
Singer [1] focused on 26 young adults in Amherst that he had previously
interviewed as juveniles. He concluded that Amherst youth were more likely than
other youth to make a successful transition from the juvenile to the adult years. This
was partly because of the availability of programs in Amherst that prevented the
escalation of problems: after-school programs, youth centers, and youth recreation
facilities. These provided conventional opportunities for youth and legitimate ways of
getting excitement. It is very important to prevent the escalation from juvenile delinquency to adult crime. Loeber and Farrington [9] reviewed knowledge about this and
recommended methods of interrupting the persistence of offending into the young adult
How important is juvenile justice processing?
Singer [1] emphasized that there was differential treatment of young offenders by
police and courts in different areas. For the middle class youths in Amherst, there
was police tolerance of minor offending and a reluctance to label juveniles as delinquents. Offenses were not recorded because they were dealt with informally,
and judges chose diversion and less severe punishments, in the interests of the
child and the state. A key question is: Do area differences in juvenile justice
processing reflect police or court biases, or differences in other factors such as
the frequency or seriousness of offending, demeanor, dress, deference to authority, shows of contrition, or family background? It is desirable to investigate
whether area differences in juvenile justice processing hold up after controlling
for area differences in these kinds of risk factors. For example, Farrington et al.
[10] found that gender differences in juvenile court processing disappeared after
controlling for gender differences in the frequency of offending, rebelliousness,
gang membership, and gun ownership.
Singer [1] quotes Hirschi’s [7] view that Bsocial class differences with respect to selfreported delinquency are very small.^ However, other researchers have found that
coming from a low socioeconomic status family predicts both official and selfreported delinquency, although these relationships may not hold up after controlling
for family factors such as physical punishment and parental changes (see [11]). Singer
[1] reports high rates of self-reported delinquency in Amherst. For example, in his 1990
Amherst high school survey, 81% of boys and 63% of girls admitted delinquency in the
Farrington D.P.
previous 12 months ([1], p. 210). However, there were only 375 adjudicated delinquents out of a possible 3032 ([1], p. 238).
It is very important to estimate scaling-up factors from official to self-reported
offending [12]. Scaling-up factors permit a more realistic measure of the number and
cost of offences, help to evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of intervention techniques, and indicate the probability of detection as a measure of the effectiveness of the police and courts. Based on Singer’s figures, we might estimate that 8.1
offenses were committed per adjudicated delinquency. However, it is possible that the
self-reported offenses were less serious than the official offenses. Singer [1] did not
present any comparative self-report data from Newark. Nevertheless, the key question
is: Are the differences between Amherst and Newark youth mainly in the probability of
official processing following an offense rather than in of…
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