Censorship Of Gangsta Rap

What do you think of when you hear gangsta rap?


Gangsta rap has always faced conflict and opposition from an economical, political, and social stand point since its surfacing in the late 1980’s. It has been explained as too loud, profane and upsetting to the status quo and has received biased and unfair censorship and treatment because of the people it represents. Although gangsta rap has faced much opposition, it continues to be played today all over the world. Gangsta rap has been branded a scapegoat for the corruption of youth encouraging drugs, violence and misogyny. Little attention has been paid to the fact that youth corruption existed long before gangsta rap and continues today with no attribution to it. In Christopher Farley’s interview with rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg for Time magazine, Snoop commented on the concern to rap causing violence saying it’s “a lie. Before rap came out, there was violence. When I was nine years old, one of my homeboys got shot in some gang violence. And wasn't no rap music being played then” (Farley 78). The conflict between gangsta rap music and the media has been ongoing since it first surfaced in the early 1980’s and it is important to understand the roots of the music in order to understand its fight against censorship.

Birth of Hip Hop and Gangsta Rap


When hip hop emerged in the 1970's, it brought a positive change to the African American youth of America. It started in the Bronx when teenagers wanted music they could dance to and express themselves. Kool Herc is known as the father of hip hop music when he started deejaying in 1973. He would mix two records together creating a “break beat” (Garfoli, Price 10-11). Break dancers, or b-boys and b-girls, would dance to this style of music using every part of their body to express themselves. DJ’s would mix old vinyl records and MCs would rap about grooving and doing something positive for the community. It would bring whole apartment complexes together and it formed a culture that encouraged expressing yourself artistically. Graffiti also became popular in the hip hop community as street art to share with the whole community. The known father of graffiti is Darryl “cornbread” McCray from Philadelphia. In the late 1960’s he tagged his name on a wall of his school which inspired other young African Americans and gang members to tag their cities (Garfoli, Price 8-9). It progressed from tagging names to actual artwork created by spray paint and could be seen all over low class African American neighborhoods and public property in New York City. Hip Hop’s message of looking past the struggles African Americans face and expanding creativity in a positive way had become a new part of life for many of the youth in America.


As the hip hop movement progressed, so did the message it was originally promoting. In the late 1980’s gangsta rap appeared, a new form of hip hop that spoke of the oppression, bad infrastructure, gang life, unemployment, and unequal rights lower class black folks were experiencing on a day-to-day basis in their low income neighborhoods. Many African American communities in the inner-city were poverty stricken and had to live in a world prominent with drug use and criminals and had an unsettling amount of single mothers struggling to provide for their families on welfare. The AIDS epidemic hit these communities hard and they were constantly surrounded by violence and crack cocaine addiction. These people lived in an America that was unknown to the rest of society and gangsta rap finally allowed their voiced to be heard (Wilson). The rap group N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude) from Los Angles was considered the founder of gangsta rap after their first album “Straight Outta Compton” was released. The album brought to light many of the problems African American people faced in the ghetto everyday from corrupt police officers beating and arresting them because of their skin color to their struggle for equal rights. It was a total hit when it hit record stores selling 300,000 copies in one week and eventually increased their sales to 3 million copies (Katel 544).

Opposition Against Hip-Hop


The explicit message N.W.A.'s “Straight Outta Compton” delivered caused a lot of uproar amongst the police. Ignoring the misogyny and drug and alcohol references, they fought to censor gangsta rap songs that portrayed any aggression or hatred towards the police; however, other genres of music including heavy metal and grunge were also promoting the same anti-police message (Leola 27). It was clear that the lower class African American gangsta rappers were being singled out because of their race and class. The National Political Coalition of Black Women (NPCBW) also rallied to censor gangsta rap because of the bigotry against women even though other African American institutions were promoting the same misogyny (Leola 27).

Ice Cube, one of the leading rappers from N.W.A., commented on his contributions to gangsta rap saying that the general public doesn’t understand his lyrical content knowing “that when he talks about a drive-by shooting, he's not talking about killing people with Uzis. He's talking about murdering ignorance and oppression. A white person has to listen ten times before he gets most of the words. And even after ten times, he still needs a lot explained” (Smale, Sager 78). His music was never intended for anyone not living in low class dangerous African American neighborhoods, so of course there was a lot of controversy over N.W.A’s lyrics, but it was unjust for them to be scorned in the public eye because the general public didn’t understand the message they were trying to send. The public saw the album “Straight Outta Compton” as dangerous and disturbing. Rolling Stone magazine commented on Ice Cube saying he “had the best voice in N.W.A. and the most menacing lines ever.”(Thompson, Stutzman 90). Although an unfair amount of criticism was heaped upon N.W.A’s debut album, at the time, it is important to understand that this response can be attributed to a naïve and fairly biased mainstream musical audience.


Gangsta rap became the scapegoat for youth corruption occurring during the late 20th century in the United States and was taking a beating from politics and the media. Rappers were singled out for their explicit albums and many had to appear in court for allegations calling their lyrics too obscene. Luther Campbell, former member of the rap group 2 Live Crew, had to appear in a supreme court hearing concerning his songs “We Want Some Pussy” and “Dick Almighty” being too explicit (Katel, 545). After a long debate, the verdict was that they were not too obscene and a fair exercise of his rights to free speech. The fight to censor rap music continued with people like Delores Tucker from the NPCBW stating, "We've launched a crusade against rap music. We have made a mandate to stop the exploitation”(Leola 37). David Banner, a famous rapper from the south, argued against the attack on gangsta rap saying, “people go to NASCAR because they want to see somebody crash. They want to see ‘The Departed,’ with people blowing each other’s heads off-that’s cool, that’s trendy. We see what people buy. Gangsta rap is just a reflection of America. America is sick. There’s so many other things we should be complaining about, and we’re talking about hip-hop.” (Katel, 531) People were complaining about the music and actions against hip hop and gangsta rap began to surface. Gangsta rap faced an economic pressure with people boycotting the release of new rap albums. White politicians, black activists, and police officers all rallied to silence gangsta rap by dispiriting record labels from signing rappers, averting major record stores from selling gangsta rap albums, and preventing youth from buying the records by making laws prohibiting anyone under the age of 18 to buy explicit albums (Leola 26).

Hip Hop Fights Back

Peter McLaren, a professor in the division of urban schooling, stated “that moral custodians of U.S. culture have denounced gangsta rappers as prime instigators of juvenile delinquency” (Mahiri, Connor 123). After analyzing and researching all the articles about rap that appeared in popular magazines including Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News & World Report between 1983 and 1992, he concluded that these main stream magazines “reinforced a link between rap and specific negative themes”(Mahiri, Connor 123). The negative conjunction between rap and youth violence produced by the media was created to reinforce dominant ideologies in US culture. Gangsta rappers in the early 1990’s were deviating from the social norms of society and they faced backlash for exercising their constitutional rights.


Rap artists make their music with the intent to express their artistic capabilities while also informing their listeners about problems in the inner-city that all should consider. Even though some denounce their lyrics being too graphic and explicit, it’s important to get the message out that many inner-city black people face poverty and oppression on a day-to-day basis to educate America. Alonzo Westbrook, author of a hip-hop dictionary comments on the matter saying, "We conceal ourselves and our pain in our art. Hip-hop allows us to release it, to get it off our chests"(“Gangster rap under arrest” 3). Ultimately the censorship of gangsta rap was an abomination to our right of free speech and the knowledge of this has lead to gangsta rap still being played in the main stream media. Even with Senator Carol Moseley Braun and Representative Cardiss holding hearings against the “menace” of gangsta rap and activists like Delores Tucker encouraging a regulation by congress for censoring explicit music gangsta rap has remained in popular culture (Kurtz, 48). Gangsta rap prevailed because it was not fully dependent on radio and TV advertisement. Although the campaign to silence gangsta rap had lowered its overall profits, its underground economy had saved it from total annihilation because of the marketing it received through word of mouth in the streets and promotion in dance clubs (Leola, 26). Gangsta rap became more prominent in popular culture because of this marketing technique and has become one of the most popular music genres today.


Gangsta rap has faced much conflict since its emergence economically, politically, and socially. When exploring the roots of hip-hop and gaining a true understanding of the emotional and artistic qualities rappers put into their music, it becomes apparent that gangsta rap is not entirely what the media claims it to be. Rappers are spreading the message that poverty still exists in their communities and violence and misogyny go along with it. Politicians and political activists are trying to silence their voices to America and have invaded their rights to free speech because of gangsta rap's rebellion against the ideologies that this country holds highly. There is an underlying issue concerning the conflict around gangsta rap which is which can be claimed racist. Politicians and public figures don’t want these low class African Americans interfering with their objectives and are trying to silence their voices in order to keep the ideologies they deem important in main stream society. Instead of learning of the struggles many blacks face in their low income neighborhoods and helping to solve the problem, there have been many outbursts from interest groups and political parties to keep their message of oppression unaccounted to the public. Thankfully, gangsta rap has prevailed because of the realization that censoring the music is a violation of free speech and also because of how its marketing capabilities have increased its popularity across the nation. Gangsta rap still remains on top 10 billboard charts and is a common genre to find on any youth’s iPod to this date.

Joe N

Works Cited:

  • Garofoli, Wendy and Price, Emmett G. Hip Hop History, Capstone Press, 2010. 28 Nov 2010.
  • Johnson, Leola. “Silencing Gangsta Rap: Class and Race Agendas in the Campaign Against Hardcore Rap Lyrics.” 3 Temp. Pol. & Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 25 (1993-1994). 20 Nov 2010.
  • Mahiri, Jabari and Conner, Erin. “Black Youth Violence Has a Bad Rap.” Journal of Social Issues Vol 59 Issue 1 (April 2003). Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 2 Dec 2010.
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  • Kurtz, Steve. "Sensitive censors." Reason 26.3 (1994): 48. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 25 Nov 2010.
  • "?uestlove" Thompson, Ahmir, and Mark Stutzman. "N.W.A." Rolling Stone 972 (2005): 90. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.
  • Smale, B., and M. Sager. "Cube." Rolling Stone 588 (1990): 78. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 20 Nov. 2010.
  • Farley, Christopher. "The Dogg is unleashed." Time 142.25 (1993): 78. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 18 Nov 2010.