Degree Year

2002

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

English

Advisor(s)

David Walker

Keywords

Hip, Hop, Hip-hop, Music, Literature, Lyrics, Language, Lingusitic, English

Abstract

I grew up listening to hip-hop music. Although I lived across the country from its birthplace, I would immerse myself in its sounds during the day and especially at night when my brother would play tapes before we fell asleep in our bunk beds. At a certain point in high school, I became obsessed with the music's lyrics. I was continually astonished by the cleverness, rhyme ability and edginess of the emcees I listened to. My admiration for hip-hop music developed alongside my admiration for the great authors I was reading at that time: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Hesse and Virginia Woolf, to name a few. It was clear to me that English literature and hip-hop music used words in radically different ways. These divergent ways of employing language were reflected in the pedagogical fact that hip-hop would never end up in the classroom while English literature remained one of its fixtures.

In college, I began to visit www.ohhla.com (short for "original hip-hop lyrics archive"), a website almost wholly devoted to transcribing the lyrics of hip-hop songs. At first, I was surprised that many of these lyrical transcripts, especially those that were abstracted from songs that I had never heard, seemed to lose something in translation. Without the voice of the emcee to infuse the words with life and the beat to enter into a synergistic relationship with them, the lyrics seemed simplistic and, at times, even nonsensical. However, as I continued to examine these transcripts, I began to engage with them in new ways; I saw the patterns between them, the similar things that they stressed and played with, the skill and artistry reflected in the tum of their phrases. I began listening to more underground emcees, who are mostly signed to independent labels and consequently given an almost unlimited amount of artistic freedom. While I discovered this music, I studied transcripts of its songs on www.ohhla.com. becoming increasingly impressed with what I found.

This paper represents my attempt to fill a gap in the discourse surrounding one of the most interesting musical and linguistic forms to come around in quite a while. Retrospectively, my project is the fruit of a seed that was planted in high school; I wished then that hip-hop would gain the pedagogical attention that my favorite books received. This thesis is the fulfillment of that wish and my attempt to marry two very compatible entities: the study of English language and literature and the lyrical form and content of hip-hop music.

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