In the predominantly black urban neighbourhoods of New York and other American cities violence and crime were a way of life. Disaffected young men (primarily) were often drawn to gangs who saw criminal activity as the only way forwards in a society that seemed to have left them behind. The sub-genre of Gansta rap originated in the mid-1980s and is identified by its graphic portrayal of violence, crime, and the "gangsta" lifestyle.

Ice T and N.W.A. are prominent artists in this grouping. Their portrayal of ghetto life and death drew pushback from US governments of both Republican and Democrat persuasions. The artists argued that they were telling stories about their lived truth.