Alise GrecoFollow


Criminology and Criminal Justice

Second Major



Pifer, Natalie




Hip-Hop; Rap; Code of the Street; Media Studies


Music’s depth is easy to overlook during casual listening. We often listen to a song without fully considering its meaning, implications, purpose, or the effect that it may have on its listeners. Hip-hop and rap have been and continue to be hotly contested for what critics proclaim to be a “promotion” or portrayal of a message and lifestyle that is harmful to a peaceful and orderly society. Elijah Anderson’s (1999) “Code of the Street” can be used to make sense of this deviant, oppositional subculture prevalent in hip-hop, characterized by toxic masculinity, a street form of justice, and violence. Much like the background and culture code from which hip-hop and rap have historically originated, the Code flows from the structural racism and economic disadvantage concentrated in the African American communities of urban centers. The nature of this relationship, however, is plausibly misunderstood. This study sought out to understand the messages portrayed in hip-hop and rap songs, how they express the Code of the Street, and why such music might instead be a reflection of or a cry for help from the lifestyle that the code fosters. Two eras of hip-hop and rap songs were chosen for coding: the 1980s and 1990s, for perspective into the era of prison and “tough on crime,” and the 2010s, a modern time period that reflects fresh controversies and messages. This study identified profound meaning, message portrayal, and a variety of either active encouragement, blind boasting, an active demand for change, or passive acceptance. Once compared across the two time periods, the key finding rests in the fact that despite the frequent presence of the Code of the Street, songs, especially in the more recent era, are used expressively and for political speech as opposed to a promotion of violence and “macho mentality.”