Date of Award

Spring 6-6-2019

Document Type

Honors Project

University Scholars Director

Dr. Christine Chaney

First Advisor/Committee Member

Dr. Kevin Neuhouser

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Dr. Jennifer McKinney


hip hop, marginalization, social justice, music, sociology, resistance


As a genre, hip hop music has faced heavy criticism for its supposed glorification of drug and alcohol use, criminal activity, and misogyny. Hip hop also has a rich history of advocating for social justice and relating black experiences. Much of the literature has focused on addressing one or the other narratives in its analysis. Due to these different perspectives and the fact that hip hop is one of the most popular genres of music today, I seek to uncover the themes present in popular hip hop music through a content analysis of the lyrics of songs. I collected a random sample of 150 songs, selecting ten songs at random from the ten most popular hip hop albums of each year from the period 2003-2017. Each song was qualitatively analyzed for its themes, and the themes I found fit into three categories. The first category is “the traditional script,” relating to how hip hop has been criticized, including themes like criminal activity, threatening violence, and misogyny. The second category is “counternarratives: themes of marginalization,” which relates to hip hop’s social justice history, with themes such as threat of violence, incarceration, and racism. Lastly, there are “neutral” themes like family and love. Overall, the prevalence of themes matched well with previous literature, with new findings suggesting significant interconnections between “the traditional script” and the “counternarratives.” These findings support the idea that expressions of crime, violence, and drug use are often symptoms of perceived structural oppression and social inequality.


A project submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the University Scholars Honors Program.

Included in

Sociology Commons