What's Beef: Discourse Practices of Battling in Hip Hop Language

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Title: What's Beef: Discourse Practices of Battling in Hip Hop Language
Author: Fitzpatrick, James Michael
Advisors: Walt Wolfram, Committee Chair
David Herman, Committee Member
Agnes Bolonyai, Committee Member
Abstract: Over the past quarter century, hip hop has become a mainstream cultural force in the United States and worldwide. In particular, the language of hip hop culture is amenable to study from many different theoretical angles and diverse fields. This study explores some discourse-level features of hip hop language and the sociological phenomena which have given rise to these features. My analysis focuses specifically on 'battling,' a highly competitive subtype of hip hop discourse in which participants engage in 'freestyling' — the creation of extemporaneous, rhymed discourse for the purpose of bolstering their own social standing or attacking that of their opponents. An analysis of battling provides many insights into the social and ideological underpinnings of hip hop culture. I examine the lyrics of several battle songs to demonstrate the prevalence of sexist, misogynistic, and homophobic language in hip hop songs. In hip hop culture, social capital is largely linked to the extent to which a speaker espouses heterosexual masculine values. I argue that while sexist and homophobic language retards hip hop's ability to be fully accepted into mainstream culture, it is indicative of a larger social trend — namely, that African Americans, who constitute the large majority of users of hip hop language, have been denied access to traditional markers of social status, such as higher education and financial prosperity. Like many vernacular language varieties, hip hop language has been dismissed as 'slang' or 'bad English.' However, it is an extremely significant identity marker for its practitioners, and despite certain features which may seem sexist or homophobic, hip hop language as a whole brings to light some larger sociological problems such as racism, and as such, hip hop culture has an enormous potential as a catalyst for positive social change.
Date: 2005-07-31
Degree: MA
Discipline: English
URI: http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/1312

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