Date of Award

5-1-2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

University or Center

Clark Atlanta University(CAU)

School

School of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Ph.D.

First Advisor

Dr. Viktor Osinubi

Second Advisor

Dr. Timothy Askew

Third Advisor

Dr. Karamo Barrow

Abstract

This study examined the discourse of selected Hip-Hop artists and the biographical aspects of the works. The study was based on the structuralist theory of Roland Barthes which claims that many times a performer’s life experiences with class struggle are directly reflected in his artistic works. Since rap music is a counter-culture invention which was started by minorities in the South Bronx borough of New York over dissatisfaction with their community, it is a cultural phenomenon that fits into the category of economic and political class struggle. The study recorded and interpreted the lyrics of New York artists Shawn Carter (Jay Z), Nasir Jones (Nas), and southern artists Clifford Harris II (T.I.) and Wesley Weston (Lii’ Flip). The artists were selected on the basis of geographical spread and diversity. Although Hip-Hop was again founded in New York City, it has now spread to other parts of the United States and worldwide. The study investigated the biography of the artists to illuminate their struggles with poverty, family dysfunction, aggression, and intimidation.

The artists were found to engage in lyrical battles; therefore, their competitive discourses were analyzed in specific Hip-Hop selections to investigate their claims of authorship, imitation, and authenticity, including their use of sexual discourse and artistic rivalry, to gain competitive advantage. The conclusions drawn from the findings suggest that although Hip-Hop lyricism was originally established as an alternative to physical violence, social and psychological factors such as competition, masculinity, class struggle and ideology often lead to conflict and hostility. In addition, the artists’ economic successes were not necessarily tied to their educational background, but were based on their assumed role as representatives of the oppressed. This representation enables its conveyer to serve as a voice for the voiceless through his/her artistic expression. Discourse in Hip-Hop (whether musical or cultural) is an area of African- American culture in which further study would be valuable in order to fully appreciate the valuable artistic contributions of inner-city youths. Unfortunately, these new artists are often misunderstood. Unlike famous mainstream artists such as Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, Hip-Hop artists are agents of cultural productivity who are less appreciated simply because they operate in the arena of popular culture.

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