Degree Name

MA (Master of Arts)


Communication, Professional

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Amber E. Kinser

Committee Members

John D. Morefield, Primus Tillman


This study examines recurring motifs and personas in hip-hop.

Interviews with influential hip-hop scholars, writers and music industry personnel were conducted and analyzed using qualitative methods. Interview subjects were selected based on their insider knowledge as music critics, hip-hop scholars, ethnomusicologists, publicists, and music industry positions.

The vast majority of constructed imagery in hip-hop is based on a single persona, the gangsta. This qualitative analysis reveals why gangsta personas and motifs have become the de facto imagery of hip-hop. Gangsta imagery is repeatedly presented because it sells, it is the most readily-available role, and because of music industry pressures.

This study is significant because gangsta imagery impacts African American social knowledge and the generalized perception of blackness. Gangsta imagery has also served to alienate black culture and has caused rifts in the African American community.

Document Type

Thesis - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.