Our culture has always influenced music. One recurring theme in modern music is crime. While every musical genre is different, most include some mention of illegal activity.
But how much of music mentions crime? Which musicians sing about it the most, and which types of crime? And has music always been like this?
Many of us turn on a favorite playlist first thing in the morning and continue to listen to music throughout the day. It’s a big part of American culture. It can influence our mood and even energize or relax us. But how much of what we listen to involves odious behavior? Keep reading to see how common crime in music really is.
Crime Mentions in Popular Musical Genres
Many of us tend to have a preconceived idea about which genre has the most crime-laden lyrics. Plenty of parents made sure to tell us our generation’s music was simply the worst. But what type of music really is the most criminally minded?
Here are hip-hop lyrics by Dr. Dre in “What’s the Difference?”:
“I pop bottles and hot hollow-points at each and all of you
A heartless bastard, high and plastered
my style is like the reaction from too much acid”
Average Number of Crime Mentions per Song
We analyzed the number of crime mentions per song in several genres and found some interesting trends. The genre with the most crime mentions per song was alternative rock, at an average of nearly 1.8 mentions per song. Next up was power metal (1.6 mentions per song) and punk with an average just under 1.6 mentions.
As an example of crime lyrics in alternative rock, here are a few lines from Nirvana’s “Rape Me.”
Do it and do it again
Rape me, my friend
I’m not the only one …”
Best-Selling Musicians and Crime
After The Beatles, who incorporated various drug slang into their songs, AC/DC helps to lead the pack in terms of crime mentions with a mix of murder and assault terms for the most part.
Here is an example of lyrics from AC/DC’s “Problem Child,” that focus on criminal behavior:
“What I want I stash
What I don’t I smash
And you’re on my list
Dead or alive
I got a .45
And I never miss
Oh I’m a problem child, yeh
I’m a problem child, owh
I’m a problem child
Desperate and wild”
Artists With the Most Criminal Lyrics
We analyzed artists to see who mentions the most illegal activities overall and found that many of them are contemporary performers.
At the very top of the list was the well-known hip-hop group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony with an average of 2.25 crime mentions per song. This was followed by the horrorcore band Insane Clown Posse, which clocked in at 2.23 mentions per song, and Tech N9ne with 1.54 mentions.
It’s apparent crime is a central theme in “#1 Assassin,” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony:
“I’m quicker to blast. I’m keepin’
The cash including the stash
So I will be killing you quick in a flash, come down
And it’s a shame how I will kill without hesitation
Me load me clip, me fingers slip
Now that’s the assassination
So pick up the body and tie it to bricks
Go dump it in the river”
Artists Behind Bars
Many famous music artists have spent some time in the clink. It’s interesting to speculate about their crime-filled lyrics and their relation to the artists’ histories. Several band members and artists we analyzed had a stint in jail.
Of the artists who spend time in jail, Tupac Shakur accounts for the most criminal mentions in his lyrics, at over 190 mentions that were focused mostly on drug possession and murder. Coming in second was Lil Wayne (over 170 mentions), with lyrics focused primarily on drug possession. The third was Black Sabbath (nearly 20 mentions), lead by frontman Ozzy Osbourne.
Here’s an example of crime in Tupac Shakur’s lyrics:
“Stress in the city, the cops is on top of me
The projects is full of bullets, though bodies is droppin’
They ain’t no stoppin’ me
Constantly movin’ while makin’ millions
Leavin’ dead bodies in abandoned buildings”
More Recent Crime in Music
Wondering what the most recent trends are with music lyrics full of crime references? We chose hit rapper Kendrick Lamar’s albums for our analysis, as he falls into the genre with what we’ve determined has the most crime-laced lyrics in all music: hip-hop. He released a new album in April 2017, titled “Damn.”
We checked out the lyrics from many of his albums and noted that his first album release, “Section.80,” and his recent album, “Damn.,” have the same number of crime references (47 of them!). His album with the most crime-laden lyrics is “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” (69 references). Lamar’s album “untitled unmastered.” tallied the least number of crime-related lyrics (9). Overall, his crime reference volume per song tends to be higher than the average for the rap genre as a whole.
Another popular rap and hip-hop artist that we chose to analyze was Chance the Rapper. He has released three albums and one mixtape since 2012, and the figures associated with his lyrics are interesting to check out. His first album, “10 Day,” had plenty of references (39 of them to be exact), however, his second album, “Acid Rap,” clocked in at an astounding 75 crime references!
His third album, “Coloring Book,” dropped way down to only 12 crime references, but this album had a greatly reduced number of total lyrics overall. It could be, however, that his reported change of heart toward life spurred his notably reduced number of crime references. Chance said in an interview that after his daughter was born, he became more spiritual and committed to God. Could this be the reason for the shift in overall tone of the album? We can’t really be certain, but we do know that the album was respected enough to win a Grammy!
Music is an integral part of the everyday American experience. We all have our favorite bands and genres. Some of us can even connect our most important memories to well-loved songs. But there is a dark side to music. Music can move us to feel great and do wonderful things. But then can it also motivate people to do less positive things? We can’t say for certain, but it’s probably better to be safe than sing-songy about security.
If safety is a top priority for you, put your mind at ease with GetSafe. We’ll make sure that even the most vigilant intruders are forced to stay outside.
Using the API from SongMeanings.com, we were able to feed a list of crime types (and their recognized slang derivatives) to develop a dataset which could then be used to break down crime mentions by various musical categories.
The crime terms and associated slang terms can be accessed here.