Rap music and crime: the link between the hip-hop industry and homicide

Josh Tucker ‘23, Copy Editor

Sept. 12. The day after the world paused to reflect on the tragedy of 9/11, another mourning began. Rapper Rakim Allen, known on stage as PnB Rock, was shot and killed while at lunch with his girlfriend in Los Angeles, California.  

Known for songs “Selfish,” “Horses,” and his legendary feature on the late rapper XXXTentacion’s “Changes,” Allen was a well known figure within the hip-hop industry. The incident occurred initially as an armed robbery, where two suspects allegedly approached the star’s table demanding valuables without resistance. Unwilling to hand over his belongings, a fight ensued which later resulted in the fatal shooting and killing of the musician.  

Unfortunately, similar stories break all too often. It is difficult to say rap-related homicides are unexpected, especially since the murder of “Changes” co-star XXXTentacion (X) occured just four years before Allen’s. In a similar manner, armed robbers approached X, demanding cash before firing shots in his direction.  

The list goes on. In 2019, “Racks in the Middle” artist Nipsey Hussle was shot numerous times in a California altercation. In the following year, “Dior” rapper Pop Smoke passed away after a being a victim of home invasion, and up and coming Atlanta star King Von lost his life to murder in the latter half of the year. The list of American hip-hop names impacted by gun violence continues to grow each year.

There are a number of theories to explain the undeniable link between homicide and hip hop.  

First is the content of rap lyrics; rappers are not afraid to flex their riches and lavish lifestyles. For instance, in Pop Smoke’s platinum record “Hello,” the lyrics read, “Dior on my body, sneakers got no creases,” informing Pop’s listeners that his style is luxury and limited, expensive and new. In a culture of jealousy and desire, celebrities are seen as a target; they are among the few people who carry genuine luxury goods daily. Because the rap scene focuses primarily on fame and fortune, rappers buy desirable, high-end products. This results in robberies and murders by criminals who also seek the high-life, as seen with PnB and X.

Second is the violent nature of rap lyrics; stars tend to paint themselves as armed and dangerous, writing about their street life and gang affiliations. This is often to gain ‘street cred’—a term used to describe the general respect of other listeners from rough city suburbs.  However, this desire for street credibility creates an ugly dilemma for those in the scene. When stars perhaps attempt to leave violent criminal pasts behind, they could risk losing fans’ respect and being seen as weak. On the other hand, those who remain often get pulled into gang wars and snitch-cycles, a dangerous path for rappers coming up. Both paths are equally as undesirable, but rap clout forces artists to choose between the street reputation or the lack thereof. The results of these choices are hardly pretty.  

The death of PnB Rock is distressing for music lovers worldwide. Successful artists are too often taken from their craft, leaving their fans with broken hearts and unanswered questions. With his murder comes confusion and anxiety, as hip-hop listeners silently wonder who will be next. Murder, robbery, and shootings are a byproduct of a flawed, dangerous industry in desparate need of a lyrical turnaround and re-shifted focus.  

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