Gang Music
September 2, 2005 2:41 AM   Subscribe

What are some examples of a particular type of music being associated with a gang or criminal subculture?

I can think of things like hip-hop, dancehall and various styles from Brazil. Are there any examples from other places or previous historical periods?

If it's just music associated with a particular tribe, it doesn't count - only if it's a movement within a larger society.
posted by lunkfish to Media & Arts (30 answers total)
Mods and rockers in Sixties' Britain had strong associations with music. I don't know much about it but there's a detailed article here.
posted by londonmark at 3:14 AM on September 2, 2005

Yeah, this is fairly common. Hip-hop is the one that most readily comes to mind nowadays, but I know that (someone back me up with a link here?) jazz and blues, especially, were associated with rough crowds back in the day.

Nowadays, though, and someone from the UK feel free to correct me here, but Jungle/Drum 'n' Bass music have been stigmatized with a sort of criminal stereotype. The music is quite a bit heavier and more "violent" than say, UK Garage, and so some people seem to have some fairly negative views of it.

Another one is the Grime subgenre. I know that dexplicit wrote a rhythm - a rhythm - that was banned because it apparently caused riots or something. I haven't got the official word on that, though. Someone else might be able to give more information on that.

Also techno / whatever you want to call it has a really bad rep here in the states. If it goes "boom boom boom", then there are government officials just itching to shut it down. For example, the recent illegal invasion of a legal rave in Utah. [warning: embedded video, might be NSFW].

And if you're talking the Brazilian genre known as baile funk, then yeah, you're right - definitely criminal stigma to that one.

Really, anything that has been a product of black culture musically usually has to shoulder the burden of some pretty heavy racist sentiment for a while. Jazz, rock, and blues have managed to escape that, but they're not necessarily the better for it IMO...

But that said, punk definitely has its "problems" as well. Perhaps a more broad description would be that if young people like it, then it's "criminal".

At least until the kids grow up, then it's elevator music.
posted by dihutenosa at 3:15 AM on September 2, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the examples. Jungle has always had a following with gang types/wanabes, but I'd say like other rave music and jazz n blues and it's not quite as specific as ganster rap.

Grime is an example, but I didn't include it because it's a kind of post modern thing - they're basically begging to be taken seriously as criminals. The idea of a 'ghetto culture' has been established by hip hop and dancehall, and they're molding their lives to fit that image.

I was thinking of Baile Funk, and also capoeira which was illegal and apparently popular with gansters in some periods.
posted by lunkfish at 3:41 AM on September 2, 2005

Do you know about the zoot suit riots, associated with Latinos and swing music (and some soldiers, mind you)? That might not be exactly what you're looking for, but how about the rude boy phenomenon and ska/reggae?
posted by kimota at 4:01 AM on September 2, 2005

Oh! What are some examples of capoeira music? I'd known the term only as a martial art (mind you, one that was basically a form of dancing, so hearing that it's associated with a type of music I guess only makes sense).
posted by kimota at 4:04 AM on September 2, 2005

Funny we should be talking about capoeira - I actually plan to start lessons this coming week. Some lazy google-fu reveals some short rhythms, at least. I hope the stuff I get to practice to is a little, well, funkier.
posted by dihutenosa at 4:08 AM on September 2, 2005

What about punk music? What a boiling pot that is.
posted by Dean Keaton at 4:12 AM on September 2, 2005

Excuse me, was. Punk nowadays is sold out garbage, not fit to hold to name its fathers once had.
posted by Dean Keaton at 4:13 AM on September 2, 2005

Sea shanties are a favorite of pirates the world over.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:15 AM on September 2, 2005

Oi! was (probably still is) a tiny sub-genre of music with very, very close ties to skinhead culture, often specifically to nazi/racist skinhead culture. I don't think it started out that way, but that's its most common association.
posted by bunglin jones at 5:55 AM on September 2, 2005

How about rock and roll in general? Back in the early days (white) kids that listened to it were rebels, often without a cause.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:16 AM on September 2, 2005

Death metal? Vallenato? Illegal-Art-style sounds-of-copyright-infringement?
posted by box at 6:19 AM on September 2, 2005

There's white power hardcore, too. Supposedly, older white supremacists use music and often fund labels or shows in order to recruit new (teen-ish) members. A lot has been written about this phenomenon.
posted by scratch at 6:35 AM on September 2, 2005

(in case you don't know, hardcore is a subgenre of punk)
posted by scratch at 6:36 AM on September 2, 2005

Death metal, not so much. Black metal, definitely.
posted by baphomet at 6:54 AM on September 2, 2005

Ah, you might also want to look into the Tango, which rose up in the slums of Buenos Aires, and was associated with pimps and whores (though that story is often disputed, especially by modern proponents of the tango).
Oh, and jazz is another whorehouse genre...
posted by klangklangston at 7:07 AM on September 2, 2005

Response by poster: Good Stuff. I asked out of interest, so it's pretty open ended.

Does anyone know anything from other periods of history - say Victorian gangs?

Is this something that arises when a culture doesn't have a common folk music? Maybe in earlier times they listened to what was around - I suppose blues is like this - you could have a song about stabbing someone or love or anything on your mind.
posted by lunkfish at 7:07 AM on September 2, 2005

You should check out the film Quadrophenia. It's all about The Mods who listened to bands like The Who and The Rockers who preferred 50's rockabilly like Gene Vincent. Plus, Sting is in the movie.
posted by captainscared at 7:17 AM on September 2, 2005

The corrido is one of the most popular music styles in the Latino market, both in the US and points south. While the Anglo media pretends that the boom in Latin music sales is driven by salsa (a style that is wonderful, but currently not very popular in the Latino community), most US Latin sales are of Mexican music, and a large proportion of these are drug trafficking ballads, played in polka or waltz rhythms by accordion combos or full brass bands. Many of these ballads are in the classic Medieval style, and they are an anachronistic link between the earliest European poetic traditions and the world of crack cocaine and gangsta rap.

posted by letterneversent at 7:44 AM on September 2, 2005

"Jam bands" are closely associated with the criminal sub-culture of pot-smoking, acid-dropping, burrito-eating freaks. And at least in movies there is a connection between bluegrass and mountain moonshiners.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 7:58 AM on September 2, 2005

I suppose blues is like this - you could have a song about stabbing someone

See also murder ballads. The link goes to a paper on British murder ballads, but American folk music clearly is a descendant. You can find murder ballads aplenty in bluegrass, too. One of my favorites is "In the Willow Garden," the story of a man who kills his best girl with a saber.
posted by scratch at 8:04 AM on September 2, 2005

I can't tell if some of you are joking or not.

Criminal subculture probably shouldn't include occultists and druggies, otherwise I might find a way to fit in New Agers or something.

Wikipedia has a list of Songs About Gangs, though I'm not sure how "Who Let the Dogs Out" is gang related.

There's a wiki category on gangs, which includes some I wouldn't have thought of, such as early Irish-American gangs, motorcycle gangs, and prohibition gangs. How specific these gangs musical tastes are probably varied, but I imagine you could associate some musical form with most of them, particularly once "social clubs" became bases for gang operations.

As for the Mafia, what about old blue eyes? One foot in popular culture, one foot in gangland.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 8:28 AM on September 2, 2005

Swing and cabaret in 1930s Europe?
posted by box at 8:40 AM on September 2, 2005

Also, thanks for the clarification, baphomet. Metal genres are not my strong suit.
posted by box at 8:41 AM on September 2, 2005

English soccer hooligans and ska/reggae (in the 1960s) and oi! (in the 1980s), for one.

Narcocorridos (drug trafficer ballads) were pretty big in Mexico a few years back; but like gangster rap it was more retelling the stories for mass consumption then actually targeted at the trafficers...

I believe Isaac Babel also wrote a short story on gypsy bands that catered towards Jewish & Ukranian gangsters in pre-war Odessa if I'm not mistaken.
posted by huskerdont at 8:55 AM on September 2, 2005

Plenty of songs about hooligans. Old English ballads about killing your wife and folk songs about the Old West thug life.
posted by johngoren at 12:06 PM on September 2, 2005

I believe dangdut (SE Asia) was appropriated from pirates to beer halls to the pop charts. Quite a case to be made for criminal attachment in its first and second incarnations.
posted by electric_counterpoint at 1:32 PM on September 2, 2005

Oh, I've also read that the hardcore white power folks (what, is there any other kind?) eschew any sort of blues-inflected music at all, in favor of "Aryan" folkmusics ... like the polka. So, if you happen to live in Germany (where neo-Nazism is illegal), then there could be a criminal element to Der Lichtensteiner Polka...
posted by electric_counterpoint at 1:37 PM on September 2, 2005

we real cool.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:02 PM on September 2, 2005

Turbo-folk was a genre strongly associated with the Serbian mafia, especially in the 1990s.
posted by Ljubljana at 12:13 AM on September 4, 2005

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