Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Dr. Ashley Hutson

Second Advisor

Dr. Fabiana Alceste


Prior research suggests that rap music is viewed as more “criminal” than other musical genres. Furthermore, juries are likely to attribute criminal stereotypes to rappers, in part due to assumptions of guilt and innocence based on race (Smiley, 2017; Smiley & Fakunle, 2016). Recently courts have used rap lyrics as a form of confessionary evidence against rappers in the courtroom (e.g., McKinley Phipps v. Tim Wilkinson, 2001), but this practice does not extend to other art forms, such as stand-up comedy. This interdisciplinary paper utilizes a mixed-methods approach to research, using both content analysis and experimental methods to develop an understanding of themes presented within creative endeavors such as music and comedy and assess how an audience interprets those themes. Using content analysis, Study 1 analyzed themes of criminality and deviance presented in rap and rock lyrics in the years with the highest and lowest crime rates. Results for Study 1 showed that the themes of “emotional vulnerability” and “emotional invincibility” offer some insight into opposing perceptions of rap and rock. Study 2 explored differences in the public’s perceptions of criminality in rap and compared it to perceptions of another creative endeavor, comedy. This experiment also examined the effects of performer race, art form, and crime stereotypicality on attributions and perceptions of guilt and innocence. Results showed that when compared to comedy, rap is viewed more negatively. The results of this study will be used to interrogate the rising trend in using rap lyrics as evidence of criminality and to question the relationship between this practice and First Amendment protections in the justice system.