Linguistics in Hiphop

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A hip-hop pioneer and savvy business mogul by the name of Russell Simmons believed that Hip-hop "speaks for the people who live in the worst economic straits since the Great Depression" (Life and Def: Sex, Drugs, Money, + God 26). A scholar by the name of Cornell West also believed hip-hop speaks for those that live in the ghetto, that it is a protest (Reese, 1998). Hip-hop is an expression. The hardened attitude that the boy who sits behind you in film class has, the slang you here kids yell at the park, this is hip-hop.

Critics on rap music or hip-hop are fixated on the issues of violence and sex and harsh language, painting this negative picture of a beautiful art form. The media loves to headline stories of rival record labels beefing, riots that take place during concerts or shows at clubs, legal cases and arrests of artist, shoot-outs, and drug charges. No matter how much hip-hop attempts to elevate, it remains shackled to cliché (Bigger than Hip-hop, 4). Rap and violence continues to be linked in the media. Depending on your perspective, it is a violent, misogynist, profane genre, a commercially successful, mainstream musical style, a form of underground cultural expression, the word on the streets from a ghetto perspective, a grassroots-level political and social movement, or some or all of the above (Bigger than Hip-hop, 1).

Admittedly, rap has its violence, its raw language, and its misogynistic lyrics. However, it is an art form that accurately reports "the nuances, pathology and most importantly, resilience of Americas next best secret…..the black ghetto" (Dawsey, 1994). Hip-hop/rap culture is a resistance culture. Thus rap music is not only an African American expressive cultural phenomenon; it is at the same time, a resisting discourse, a set of communicative practices that constitute a text of resistance against White America's racism and its Eurocentric cultural dominance (Smitherman, 7).

The African American community has a unique way of communicating, which of course is contained in rap or hip-hop. African Americans have their own way of interacting, a distinct way of communicating with speech. This language is often referred to as "Ebonics" derived from the words "ebony" for black and "phonics" for sound (Williams, 1975), or "African American Vernacular English." Although, expressed by a catch-all term, "Ebonics" should not be construed as a homogenous, monolithic category. Depending on the pattern and amount of interaction African-Americans have with their white counterparts, the form and the structure of the language are known to differ. In areas where African – Americans live in relative isolation, the language has been known to retain its originality and pureness, untouched by interferences from mainstream American English, as opposed to its diluted version prevalent in areas marked by a high degree of cross-cultural communications between the African Americans and the whites (Weddington,).

However, one must explore the history of Ebonics or its origin in order to understand its significance in hip-hop culture. Shipping documents indicate that tens of thousands of slaves were brought from the Yuroba tribe to the American colonies (Smittherman, 1998). African captives developed language patterns to communicate called pidgins. As per definition by Wikipedia: a "Pidgin," or "contact language," is the name given to any language created, usually spontaneously, out of a mixture of other languages as a means of communication between speakers of different tongues. Pidgins have simple grammars and few synonyms and are learnt as second languages rather than natively. Ebonics evolved from pidgin English spoken amongst African slaves in the early European colonies during the 17th century, most of which patterns the Niger-Congo family of African language such as the Yuroba (Turner, 1945).

African American Vernacular English is often times looked down upon by mainstream American society and viewed as...
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