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What's the Deal Forreal: Rap Music's Sociolinguistic Story

Brown, Alexus Patrice (2024) What's the Deal Forreal: Rap Music's Sociolinguistic Story. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Black American Rap music (BARM) is a cultural art form and a rich linguistic resource for expanding our understanding of African American language (AAL) usage. As a cultural art form, BARM is meant to represent or depict the customs of the Black American society in which it originates. BARM deepens our understanding of AAL usage since the language used in Rap music, broadly classified as Hip-Hop Nation Language, originates in AAL (Finnegan & Rickford, 2004; Alim, 2008). Though AAL is the most studied American English variety across multiple disciplines (King & Rickford, 2016), little is known about AAL’s linguistic structure and its variation in music (Lanehart, 2015; Gilbers et al., 2020).
My dissertation develops a heuristic in two studies for the linguistic description and comparison of Rap songs and the individual creativity of artists. In the first study, I use a metrical modeling system to compare rhythmically sampled songs' rhyme and rhythmic structures against other songs in the sampler artists’ repertoire (Adams, 2009). I find sampling rhythmic tracks affects how artists rap and how metrical modeling with discourse analysis can account for rhythm-rhyme patterning that contributes to rapper identity and style construction in song lyrics. In the second study, I use a qualitative discourse analytical approach paired with the metrical modeling system used in study 1 to compare four rap artists' creative identity construction using two songs from each artist across their careers.
With this, my dissertation contributes to 1) linguists’ knowledge of the patterning of AAL in Rap music, 2) how gender normativity performance in Black American society is reflected in Rap music, 3) and adds to the recent literature on the decolonization of models that are traditionally tested on white European languages (Hudley et al., 2020; Hudley et al., 2023). Identity and style construction models are typically framed around dominant white language varieties in the United States. In applying them to Rap music lyrics, I shine a critical lens reflecting on the efficacy of these models in analyzing an underresearched data source. In this way, we arrive at a more nuanced understanding of AAL usage in music performance.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Brown, Alexus Patriceapb63@pitt.eduapb63@pitt.edu0009-0006-0933-472X
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairGooden,
Committee MemberKiesling,
Committee MemberFricke,
Committee MemberScott,
Date: 13 May 2024
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 21 March 2024
Approval Date: 13 May 2024
Submission Date: 19 January 2024
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 191
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Linguistics
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sociolinguistics, Linguistic Anthropology, Poetics, Ethnomusicology
Date Deposited: 13 May 2024 13:45
Last Modified: 13 May 2024 13:45


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