Thug Life and Social Death

in Thug Life

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780226395845
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226395869 | DOI:
Thug Life and Social Death

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This chapter investigates the historical context and content of representations of thug life in commercially successful rap. These performances appear to fit the oppositional/coping model of black masculinity most seamlessly, casting black men as cool-obsessed outlaws. Rappers were not afraid to talk back. Criminalized African Americans lived in danger of what Orlando Patterson called “social death.” This conception of social death depended on two notions of exile. Thug narratives adopted the criminal label and stretched its meaning. Tupac Shakur, the most influential among thugs in the 1990s, determined the precedent for hip-hop thugs balancing multiple and seemingly contradictory versions of heteronormative masculinity while clinging to the trope of authenticity. Hip-hop thug representations of women tend to fall into one of two categories: women are either tricks/hos, or they are down ass chicks. It is observed that thug narrators are saved through hip-hop and their love for each other.

Keywords: thug life; social death; Orlando Patterson; black masculinity; Tupac Shakur; criminal label; hip-hop thug

Chapter.  15690 words. 

Subjects: Popular Music

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