Changes in Drug Use Prevalence in Rap Music Songs, 1979-1997

Rap music plays an influential role among several groups traditionally regarded as high risk for drug problems, including African-American males. This article examines rap music lyrics between 1979 and 1997, to determine whether references to drugs have changed during the study period, and if so, how.

The hypothesis of this study is that references to drugs and drug use in rap music increased in the 1980s and 1990s, and that the content of the references became more permissive as drug use in a variety of contexts has become more acceptable. The author coded 341 rap songs for lyrics mentioning drugs, behaviors and contexts, and attitudes toward drugs and their consequences. The author also discussed some possible explanations for her findings, including that many rap musicians now use drug convictions as media opportunities.

The author notes that actual drug use patterns among African Americans and whites are similar, although drug-related arrests and incarceration are higher for blacks than whites. Past drug studies that involved interviews with at-risk populations found that "media modeling" played an important role in uptake of new drugs such as cough syrups.

Key Findings:

  • The presence of drugs in rap songs has increased exponentially during the period studied.
  • Mentions of marijuana have doubled, but mentions of cocaine decreased.
  • Attitudes toward drugs in songs have become increasingly positive.
  • 28 percent of songs mentioned negative consequences such as addiction and criminal issues in connection with drugs.

The author suggests that the trends observed in this study reflect major cohort trends in drug use. The increasing focus on drugs in rap music, and related films and videos, can be viewed, in part, as "a social construction of black life that espouses a one-dimensional youth culture composed of drug use…danger and pleasure." This view also has been expressed by some rappers themselves, including Chuck D of Public Enemy, who said "The industry has substituted the style of a people for the soul of a people."

Most Requested