Obscenity law and sexually explicit rap music: Understanding the effects of sex, attitudes, and beliefs

Travis L. Dixon, Daniel G. Linz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study investigated listeners' judgments regarding the offensiveness of sexually explicit lyrics found in rap music produced by 2 Live Crew. Subjects were exposed to music and lyrics in a 2 (subject sex - male, female) X 2 (musical genre - 2 Live Crew Rap, Non-Rap) X 3 (sexual explicitness - high, medium, low) factorial design. They then made judgments of patent offensiveness, prurient appeal and artistic merit regarding 2 Live Crew and rap music in general. The results indicated that the 2 Live Crew music that was high in sexual explicitness was rated as more patently offensive than other equally sexually explicit materials. Surprisingly, women did not find the 2 Live Crew more offensive than men. Rebellious sexual attitudes, the belief that rap music causes societal degradation, and disaffection toward society, helped predict subject responses to all materials on patent offensiveness and prurient appeal scales. Appreciation of linguistic exaggeration, popularly known as "playing the dozens," and African American humor predicted whether subjects would find artistic merit in rap. Listeners' endorsement of rebellious sexual attitudes and the belief that rap contributes to societal degradation also predicted responses to 2 Live Crew on a combination of the three variables associated with obscenity law (patent offensiveness, prurient appeal, and artistic merit). Theoretical implications and legal applications of the findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-241
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Applied Communication Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics


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