The Mark of Criminality
Rhetoric, Race, and Gangsta Rap in the War-on-Crime Era
Publication Year: 2017
In The Mark of Criminality: Rhetoric, Race, and Gangsta Rap in the War-on-Crime Era, Bryan J. McCann argues that gangsta rap should be viewed as more than a damaging reinforcement of an era’s worst racial stereotypes. Rather, he positions the works of key gangsta rap artists, as well as the controversies their work produced, squarely within the law-and-order politics and popular culture of the 1980s and 1990s to reveal a profoundly complex period in American history when the meanings of crime and criminality were incredibly unstable.
At the center of this era—when politicians sought to prove their “tough-on-crime” credentials—was the mark of criminality, a set of discourses that labeled members of predominantly poor, urban, and minority communities as threats to the social order. Through their use of the mark of criminality, public figures implemented extremely harsh penal polices that have helped make the United States the world’s leading jailer of its adult population.
At the same time when politicians like Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton and television shows such as COPS and America’s Most Wanted perpetuated images of gang and drug-filled ghettos, gangsta rap burst out of the hip-hop nation, emanating mainly from the predominantly black neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles. Groups like NWA and solo artists (including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Tupac Shakur) became millionaires by marketing the very discourses political and cultural leaders used to justify their war on crime. For these artists, the mark of criminality was a source of power, credibility, and revenue. By understanding gangsta rap as a potent, if deeply imperfect, enactment of the mark of criminality, we can better understand how crime is always a site of struggle over meaning. Furthermore, by underscoring the nimble rhetorical character of criminality, we can learn lessons that may inform efforts to challenge our nation’s failed policies of mass incarceration.
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication
Preface: The White Boy Listens to Gangsta Rap
The story goes like this: I perform much of my “research” while riding in my car with my iPod plugged in to the stereo. Music by the likes of NWA, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Tupac Shakur blares from my car speakers as I mine the songs for insights into this thing I call the “mark of criminality.” I come to a stoplight and...
Since finishing my PhD, I have taught at three different institutions in as many states. The result has been no small amount of personal and professional chaos but also the good fortune of connecting with many extraordinary people without whom this project would not have come to fruition. I am undoubtedly leaving...
Introduction: Rhetoric, Race, and Gangsta Rap in the War-on-Crime Era
While the United States has always, to one degree or another, waged war against crime, the period comprising the late 1980s and 1990s was a watershed of racialized moral panic regarding the perceived threats that criminality posed to civil society.1 At that time, politicians in both the Republican and Democratic Parties...
1. The Horrors and Heroics of Crime; or, Mapping the Mark of Criminality
To understand how the mark of criminality developed coherent generic characteristics that enabled the public vilification and containment of America’s black urban working class and poor at the close of the twentieth century, and functioned as a resource for cultural production for gangsta rap artists, we must go...
2. Parody, Space, and Violence in NWA’s Straight Outta Compton
If the 1980 presidential election was, in part, a referendum on the viability of Keynesian economics, the campaign of 1984 was undoubtedly an appraisal of so-called Reaganomics. During his first four years in office, Reagan championed and implemented a slew of neoliberal economic policies. For example, during his first...
3. Leisure, Style, and Terror in the G-Funk Era
Do the Right Thing, director Spike Lee’s cinematic meditation on the racial politics of the late 1980s, ended with prophecy. Following the death of the film’s Public Enemy–playing, silent black militant Radio Raheem at the hands of New York City police officers, a black Brooklyn crowd explodes in anger. Mookie...
4. The Politics, Commerce, and Rage of “Thug Life”
Two months before Death Row Records released Doggystyle, the Source published cultural critic dream hampton’s interview with Snoop Doggy Dogg. The article’s first page features a large photograph of the ascendant rapper staring menacingly at the camera and gripping a silver pistol. He was, like his Death...
Conclusion: A Politics of Criminality?
The mark of criminality is an affectively charged generic regime of discourses about blackness that possesses formal consistencies and strongly malleable characteristics. During the late 1980s and 1990s, an emerging form of music called gangsta rap appropriated the mark of criminality in the successful pursuit of staggering...
Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 11 B&W figures
Publication Year: 2017
OCLC Number: 987017568
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Mark of Criminality