Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Longxing Wei

Committee Member

Steve Seegmiller

Committee Member

Eileen Fitzpatrick


Rap music is a particular socioculturally bound music phenomenon that was conceived on the streets and birthed within the African-American communities in the urban boroughs of New York City during the 1970's. It was developed as a particular kind of linguistic self expression in the form of music for African- American youth. Rap music is a display of ethnic creativity and cultural pride which gives expression to a speech community's voice as it declares the stark reality of urban life.

For close to three decades, rap music has maintained its position at the forefront of the youth culture across the nation. Although rap music was not quickly embraced by the mainstream culture, it displayed such an impact on the youth population that the mainstream culture could not easily dismiss it. Since its beginnings, rap music has crossed socioeconomic lines and has been accepted as a part of the musical genre of the times.

Since every speaker or writer is a rational actor, each individual makes choices in relation to sounds, words and structures as he or she communicates. Social constraints may be ascribed to those choices by social forces but the decision of choosing which linguistic means to use lies with the individual. In effect, it is the individuals who make the choices they deem necessary to achieve their intentions. In fact, many rap artists have chosen to violate some social norms in their choice of language to achieve their intended purpose.

Rap music's characteristic linguistic features are its signature. They distinguish rap music from any other musical form. Perhaps no other musical genre before it has rivaled rap’s dynamic force and impact. Its unique format incorporates many linguistic elements from its rich African-American oral tradition. Through its phonological staccato rhyme, its choices of dynamic lexical items and ingenious syntactic sentence patterns, rap music becomes a linguistic verbal performance which is able to emphatically express itself and communicate its message.

Using examples from rap lyrics as illustrations, this study will analyze how rap artists use phonology, the'lexicon and syntax to achieve their communicative intention. This study uses a literary stylistic approach that is traditionally employed to analyze communicative intent in fiction. Here this approach is used to determine the communicative intent behind the rap artist’s choice of specific linguistic features that involve phonological arrangement, lexical choices and syntactic patterns. This study will also include rap music’s sociolinguistic significance as a voice of African- American cultural expression.

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