Rap, Language & Meaning!

Hi class! I hope you guys are all surviving this finals week. It is I, Emily Vega, ½ of the Latina Dynamic Duo and your rap enthusiast! If for some reason you weren’t in class last week or you just dozed off, here is a quick review of what my project is all about! 🙂

Hip-hop, specifically rap, has always been a huge part of my life. My two older brothers were growing up during the 90’s when rappers like Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. were popular. Although I was really young at the time, my brother’s were my first exposure to rap culture. So kudos to them for giving me the basis of inspiration for this project.

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Something that I’ve realized is that many of the artists that I listen to on a daily basis write in ways that convey deep and profound meaning. My music taste really ranges over a long period of time, however, I never compared how these messages have changed or stayed the same. Therefore, I decided to study the following question: How do old school and new school rappers, specifically black men, use language and tone to convey messages to their audience? Before I decided to analyze lyrics, I predicted that through the use of African American Vernacular English, rappers from the 90’s and present day are both addressing similar problems about race however through different forms of performance.

As a part of my way to figuring out my methodology, I looked at many different research projects to see what others have studied. Below are a few of what I came across in my research:

  • Washington U St Louis – the movement of language across the world because of rap
  • Standford – the social significance of rap & hip – hop culture, specifically a dissection on the violence
  • The Alantic – rap lyrics and white racism
  • Marcyliena Morgan – author of many books on the sociolinguistics, power, and knowledge of hip hop

The first step in my project was choosing three well-known rappers; specifically three old school and three present day rappers. Here are mini profiles for each of the rappers I choose.


The New Generation (present day)

j_cole_st_johns_credit_nicole_fara_silver_4Jermaine Cole, the love of my life, also known as JCole is a rapper originally from Fayetteville, North Carolina. After moving to New York to go to college, his rap career really took off. Beginning with three classic mix tapes, Cole was able to find a large fan base (myself included) who loved his lyricism and personality. In 2014, Cole became one of six artists whose album was number one on the billboards without any features. If you can’t already tell, I love JCole and you should too.

Childish-Gambino

Donald Glover, who now goes by his rap name Childish Gambino, was born and raised in South Mountain, Georgia. He first began his career as a writer and actor in a series called Community. Around the same time as Cole, he released his first album that received a lot of positive reception. Since then, both artists have been incredibly successful and respected. They can be considered the new faces of hip hop.

However, we must never forget the past rappers who were the foundation for this genre.


The Old School (early 90’s)

tupac-shakur-1Tupac Amaru Shakur, also known as 2Pac, was born in East Harlem, New York. Beginning as a backup dancer and MC, Shakur was first exposed to the hip-hop world. However, after the release of his first album he instantly received a lot of love for his expert skills at storytthe_notorious_bigelling.

Christopher Wallace, also known as Notorious B.I.G, was also born  in New York. From Brooklyn, Biggie gave visibility to East coast rapping. Despite their short careers, these two artists have been ranked as two of the greatest and most influential rappers of all time. At the age of 24/25, both the rappers were killed.


Old School vs New School

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N*ggaz Wit Attitudes (NWA) was a rap group from Compton, California that was made up of Ice Cube, MC Ren, Eazy E, Yella, and Dr. Dre. Together, they made some of the most profound, thought provoking raps of all time. They were the forefront of discussing racial tensions of the late 80’s, early 90’s. Although their group received fame together, they eventually did fall apart due to financial reasons and ultimately because of the death of Eazy E from AIDS.

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Kendrick Lamar, also known as KDot, is also a rapper from Compton. He is now one of the most lyrically conscious and well known rappers of our generation. So far, he’s won 7 grammys and his latest album, To Pimp a Butterfly, has been considered a classic.


After choosing my artists of study, I choose specific songs to focus on:

  • J.Cole/Childish are a reflection on the societal views of race and blackness.
    • J. Cole – Be Free
    • Childish Gambino – Hold You Down
  • Tupac/Notorious are reflecting on their personal struggles with their identity.
    • Tupac – Changes
    • Notorious B.I.G – Suicidal Thoughts
  • NWA/Kendrick both have a reflection on what it means to be black in America at the time.
    • NWA – Fuck the Police
    • Kendrick Lamar – Blacker the Berry

As I analyzed each song, as you’ll see below, I kept these three questions in mind:

  1. How do the black male artists use AAVE in their lyrics?
  2. What messages are they trying to convey? How have these messages changed between rappers from the 90’s and today?
  3. How are these messages interpreted by audiences of differing levels of hip-hop knowledge?

I conducted linguistic analysis of these songs by doing the following:

  1. Select sections of each song
  2. Analyze lyrics for AAE features such as verbal markers, deletion of letters, etc. that were present
  3. Highlighted slang words that were used
  4. Analyze the tone they rapper portrays

Here is a key to my linguistic analysis! Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 2.42.19 PM

JCole – Be Free

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Childish Gambino – Hold You Down

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Tupac – Changes

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Notorious BIG – Suicidal Thoughts

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NWA – Fuck the Police

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Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker The Berry

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(Please ignore green underlining, that was Microsoft Word, not me)


Overall there were many overlapping themes throughout:

  • Hopelessness and exhaustion VS faith and will to fight
  • Police brutality/death of young black men
  • Blackness/race/identity
  • Call for social change
  • The white perspective/how society views them

Tone, however, definitely has differed with time. In the work of all the artists from the 90’s, you can hear the anger and emotion in their words. They want you to hear them and they’ll make sure you feel what they are. However, in the present day pieces, I could only find that same emotion in some sections of each artist. Although their tone has changed, their messages are the same. They speak explicitily about police brutality in both generations and how blackness affects their lives.

Finally, to conclude, I interviewed members of the Gettysburg Community who all range in different hip hop knowledge. I mostly wanted to see how an audience interprets rap’s messages and specifically how those messages have changed from the 90’s till now. Below is the mini documentary I have made to conclude my project!

Thank you! #Yasssss

Blacks in New Media

Hello, classmates, it is us. The infamous Latina dynamic duo. As we learned in past articles the black community has been marginalized and forced into playing demeaning and often controversial roles. These roles include stereotypical caricatures ranging from thugs to mammy figures. New media has been both a positive and a productive outlet that has heavily impacted the black community. Over time new media has evolved from segregating people of color to raising awareness on social issues that are occurring today, such as the #BlackLivesMatter movement through the creation of Black Twitter. Below we have dissected the articles for Tuesday’s class. Enjoy!

African Americans in New Media

In the article, African Americans and the New Media Environment: From Mass to Niche Media focuses on how corporate businesses target particular audiences in order to gain profit. This leads to poor representation of the black community in media. This is known as the digital divide. One argument that was presented in the article that causes this digital divide is socio-economic status of blacks, “‘ The simple assumption that the internet is a luxury is being disputed’” (Squires, 269). The advancement of technology enabled people to have full access to information 24/7 through the use of cellular devices and unlimited resources that can be utilized through internet connection. An issue that occurs in the digital divide is the disadvantage low-income families experience by not having connection to the internet at home. The black community not having this privilege results in the lack of representation in ads, commercials, tv and film since businesses focus on catering to the majority of the audience in order to make a reasonable profit.

Avoiding Stereotypes in Media

One major issue that is constantly presented in media when an effort is made in order to include the black community is avoiding stereotypes. Blacks and people of color are placed in a situation where they have to feed into the stereotypes that society has placed upon them and specific standards that they are held to. In 1995 Yahoo! Published a website titled “Afrocentric”. Yahoo’s attempt was focused on creating a community for Africans and African Americans to interact online. However, they were stuck in a constant conversation of, “‘ a sense of condescension, ghettoization, trivialization, and a general air of dismissiveness’”(269). Since then, this site has been removed.

How has technology benefited the black community?

As mentioned in the article individuals have easy access to the internet which can be used as a platform for artistic or educational purposes. One of the most popular forms of social media/website is known as YouTube. Viral videos and trending topics are at the click of a button. In 2007 a young songwriter/performer Tay Zonday became an overnight sensation with the release of his song titled “Chocolate Rain”. Tay skipped the tedious and strenuous process of going through a record label to acknowledge him as an artist in order to sign him. YouTube opened up the option for individuals to gain recognition regardless of their ethnicity.

Truth about Black Twitter

Another popular form of social media is Twitter. In 2013, #BlackLivesMatter, became a national phenomenon following the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. This hashtag brought to light the injustices within the police and court system. This movement was one of the first to begin the influx of what is now called Black Twitter.

According to Meredith Clark, a professor at the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas, Black Twitter is defined as “a temporally linked group of connectors that share culture, language and interest in specific issues and talking about specific topics with a black frame of reference.” Through the use of new media, Black Twitter provides a space where conversation and community can be created among other black individuals. According to Clark, there are three levels of connection:

  1. Personal community includes the people who you are connected with outside of the social media realm. For instance, Angelique and I are both following each other on Twitter, but we are also friends in real life (best friends when she loves me back).
  2. The second level of connection is on the thematic sense. This is where people communicate on specific common topics that are important to the individual. For instance, I love spoken word. Therefore, you can often find me interacting with other poets and finding out about events through the use of social media and hashtags such as #spokenword or #slampoetry.
  3. The final level of connection that Clark explains is when these personal communities and thematic interests intersect. Using my examples from before, an example of this form of connection would be if a bunch of poets decided to make a movement in response to something. For instance, I went to an event that was advertised through Twitter where poets focused on education reform.

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Although these three levels of connection can be used to discuss many different forms of interaction on new media, according to Clark, there is a specific process of communication for Black Twitter. She explains it through 5 steps:

Process of Communication

  1. Identity – You must identify as a black person, have an interest in the topic and have the language capable of being involved in the conversation. This would include, culturally resonant language, cultural competency, African American Vernacular English (at times), and an accurate historical perspective.
  2. Self-Selection – This is when you choose to actively participate in the conversation, whether it be through the use of a hashtag, retweeting or saving other’s tweets.
  3. Affirmation – When you let others know they are not alone and that you are paying attention and are willing to engage.
  4. Re-affirmation – When the content that was once just on Twitter becomes public knowledge. This can be seen in many ways. Whether it be a conversation with a friend or spoken about on the news by tv personalities.
  5. Vindication – When you look for change in the real world through what was brought to light by Twitter and social media.
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Credit: New York Daily News

This can be seen through almost all Black Twitter movements. From #BlackLivesMatter to #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, these movements have gone from small communities/individuals to reaching the vindication they seeked through media as seen above. Another benefit Clark speaks on includes the diversity that can be found within Black Twitter. Taylor Jones, who is currently pursuing a doctorate in Linguistics at University of Pennsylvania, also speaks on this when he explains that “there’s is not just one Black Twitter”. The intersectionality of many different identities are very prevalent on social media. Black Twitter has allowed there to be more perspectives present.

Big Data and Black Twitter

While Clark speaks generally about Black Twitter, Jones dives into the linguistic variations found in these online communities in different locations. Through the use of mapping, Jones has been able to find a correlation between the words used and the movement of people across America. While somebody from the West coast may say “been got”, a larger population in the south may write “been did”. This is because there is no general consensus on how to spell things. The formation of words and grammar vary regionally.

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Credit: Taylor Jones

Jones is excited to learn more about this topic because not many linguists are riding the big data wave. Although this is his first attempt at defining dialect regions of AAVE, this research method is complementary to traditional methods. We look forward to learning more from his work tomorrow during class!

Best, Anige & Emily 🙂 #yay #afs250 #bloomquist #okbye