Rap and Race

Do I look the way I speak? Do I sound white or black? The focus of this project is to identify whether people identify race with how you sound, talk, or your language use. Language is typically associated with different languages such as English, Spanish or French but language falls on a larger spectrum than that. A variation of language is dialect, the main dialect that would be the topic of discussion is African American English(AAE). African American English is commonly associated with the black community even though not all speakers of  this dialect identify as black. Since the ideal or stereotypical rapper is thought to be black carry over with their phonological sound?

For my project I chose to study whether there was a racial bias when it comes to identifying the race of an Hip- Hop artist. I choose seven artists that varied in ethnicity such as black, white or biracial. The seven artists I chose to study were Kanye West, Jay- Z, Tupac, J Cole, Logic, and Eminem. My study group involved twenty one participants, three individuals of various ethnicities such as Latino/Latina, Black, Asian, and White. Since my project many focused on the correlation of an artist’s race and language use I made sure that I interviewed a diverse group of participants in order to avoid any racial bias.


Kanye West

Jay Z




J cole



Kanye West- New Slaves

Jay Z- Oceans  

Tupac- Changes  

Drake- Worst Behavior  

Logic- 5 am  

J cole- Lost Ones

Eminem- When Im Gone  

J Cole


Kanye West
Kanye West

The way I collected my data was through a survey in which consisted of eight questions a long with four descriptions for data purposes:





  1. Do you listen to rap?  ____________
  2. How often?   1    2    3    4     5
  3. Can you name three rappers?

4) What ethnicity do you think this rapper is ?

5) What makes you think they are _______(place ethnicity) ?

6) Can you point to any language use that makes you think he’s Black, White, Bi- Racial?

7) What do you think of the rappers use of the N word?

8) Do you think that only Black rappers can use the “N” word? Can white or biracial rappers use it as well?

Take a Listen

Kanye West- New Slaves

Jay- Z- Oceans

Tupac- Changes

Drake- Worst Behavior

J Cole- Lost Ones

Logic- 5 am

Eminem- When I’m Gone

Procedure and Reasoning

One advantage that you the viewer has compared to my participants is that you were presented images of each individual artists. By providing the image of each allows the audience to have a preconceived idea on what race the artist may be. The name of the artist and song title remained anonymous until the ending of the experiment. The overwhelming result from most of my participants believed that the rappers were black.

One advantage that you the viewer has compared to my participants is that you were presented images of each individual artists. By providing the image of each allows the audience to have a preconceived idea on what race the artist may be. The name of the artist and song title remained anonymous until the ending of the experiment. The overwhelming result from most of my participants identified each rapper as black except for one rapper which is Eminem who is white. This data is not completely accurate since rappers such as J Cole, Logic, and  Drake are biracial, which is a mixture of African American and White. In my data there is a clear separation of what it is like to sound black versus what it means to sound white. In my data there was a common thread of each participant specifically pointed to that served as evidence for why they thought each listener they specifically heard was black out of the options they were given which were black, white, and biracial.

What makes someone “sound” black?

Majority of my participants had little to none experience with the different terms and sounds that are apart of African American English. According to my participants there were two large categories that can signify that a rapper is black which was the annunciation of his words, the subject matter of the song, and the way it was delivered.

Subject Matter

  • Relatable to personal life
  • Refers to Race
  • Talks about the absence of Father
  • Historical issues that pertain to race such as slavery

The reference to historical events that pertain to discriminating the black community is often correlated with someone who identifies as black since it is said so angrily and it is being expressed through a form of art in order to express the pain their ancestors endured. This pain that is associated with the past still remains to present day.

Aggressive Tone  

  • Often delivered with passion that resembles yelling
  • Performed in a deep voice/octave
  • Excessive Cursing

This characteristic that was pointed out by my participants feeds into the stereotype that is associated with the stature and body language that black men are deemed to have. The stereotype that men of color are dangerous and violent can be demonstrated by the multiple police brutality incidents that has occurred in the last year. 

Language Use

  • Swangin’
  • M****a F***a
  • Suppose ↠ pose
  • This ↠ Tis
  • Those ↠ Dose  
  • Chu ↠ “you”
  • Door ↠ Doo’
  • The Use of the N word

A common pattern that occurred through my participants pointing out what made the rappers sound black is the deletion of letters such as the ending “g” or pronouncing the “th” sound as a “d”. These phonological items create the illusion that speakers of African American English are uneducated.  A major marker that was identified through all rappers was the use of the N word.

Who can use the “N” word?

The use of this derogatory term was used to diminish the black community and create the sense of otherness. This term was created by white people in order to demonstrate their superiority over people of color. Today this racial slur can be found being used amongst youth who come from urban areas and identified as black.

There is a debate that fights whether the changing of the “er” to an “a” which is a common phonological change throughout African American English has the ability to change the meaning behind the word. Does the changing of the “er” to an “a” allow the black community to reclaim this word as their own.

Well, according to the individuals that I interviewed it all resulted into their personal opinion. Across the boards the answer I received was “ Blacks can use it along with biracials since it is still apart of their identity, but whites are not allowed to use this word since it is deeply rooted in hatred and acceptance of openly discriminating this minority group. 


Drake – Worst Behavior


Nigga, I’m just flexin’

Nigga never loved us

Do it look like we stressin’?


Kanye West- New slaves

You niggas pussy, ain’t me

Y’all throwin’ contracts at me

You know that niggas can’t read

J Cole- Lost Ones

Handle biz by ourself? A nigga barely over 20

Where the hell we gon’ live? Where am I gon’ get that money?

As shown above all three rappers incorporate African American English into their style whether it is the deletion of “g”, slang such a biz, or the use of the N word but do these artists use AAE on a daily basis?

Does Drake perform linguistic blackface?


Drake’s language use in an interview

In this interview Drake is questioned on the tone that he uses in his song titled Tuscan Leather compared to his other songs where he is known for taking a more sensitive approach which he is often made fun of and being picked on for being “light-skin”. The term light-skin refers to the fairness of his skin color along with his behavior such as speaking about love or being single. This plays a major role in Drakes identity since he is a bi- racial rapper in an industry that it closely connected to the black community. In this song he delivers his lines in an aggressive manner as he brags about his newly found lifestyle and fame over a heavy beat that is mainly composed of a heavy bass. Throughout the interview there is little to none AAE used compared to the amount he incorporates in his music.

Does Drake try to prove his blackness through his heavy use of African American English in his work?

Old School Drake

Drake- Fear (2008)


Legend (2015)

If you carefully listen to the lyrics of both of these songs you can here the use of African American English such as the deletion of “t” sound at the ending of words such as honest which became hones’. He also uses the “N” word which is viewed as a common marker in the black community’s vocabulary.

What makes Drake different from any other black or biracial rapper?

At the ending of my interviews many of participants were curious on how the rapper they listened to appearances. When I showed pictures of both Drake and Logic their reaction was they wouldn’t assume that they were black due to their physical features or people who knew Drake but not the song I played for them was shocked that it was Drake and he was bi racial. I did not receive the same reaction when it came to J Cole since he phenotypically presents himself as a black man compared to Drake and Logic due to his darker complexion and texture of his hair. He fits the mold of what society views as a black man even though their is a wide range of skin color, hair textures, facial features, body types present in the black community whether they are mixed or not.

It is unclear of what are Drakes motives behind using African American English in his work. It can be apart of his rapping style, how he was raised talking, or uses it in order to confirm his identity.

Many people question Drakes ethnicity:

Can conspiracies such as the one above be put to rest by just listening to his music ?

Why is Hip-Hop speculated to be a major component of the black community? 

In the article Hip-Hop is for Everybody: Examining the Roots and Growth of Hip-Hop by Lucien J. Flores Hip-Hop music’s audience and consumers are 70% of the white community. This is strange because this genre is viewed to target members of the black community since they invented it and the content of the songs. The reasoning behind this is, “In Hurt’s documentary, a group of young white suburbanites were asked why rap and hip-hop are attractive, responding that by listening to rap, they felt that they were experiencing a different culture; a culture rooted in black American history. (Hurt, 2006)” (Flores). For consumers who are not of color or do not live in a diverse community Hip-Hop is one of the main outlets in which they receive information about black culture and have the ability to experience the culture themselves.  This is the source of where false information forms since they rely on simply what they hear in order to create the ideal image of what it is to be or sound black.

Black or White 

When it comes to representation in the media there is no gray area. People have their idea of what it is to sound black and what it is to sound white. There is no standard of what it is like to sound biracial. Lack of representation and knowledge created this idea that all rappers are of African American decent. The conclusion to my project is that there is a racial bias when it comes to identifying the race of a rapper since race is solely restricted to one or the other. For people who are biracial they are automatically viewed as black even though that is not their true race. There is pressure for artists to convey their race through their language use and represent the culture of Hip-Hop.

Try it for yourself ! 

What ethnicity is this rapper ???

                                                      Works Cited

Flores, Lucien J. “Hip-Hop Is for Everybody: Examining the Roots and Growth of Hip-Hop.” RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.

-Angelique Acevedo