The Variety in the Lexicon of Rap and Gospel

Term Paper, 2010

13 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1 Introduction

2 History of Rap and Gospel
2.1 Rap Music
2.2 Gospel Music

3 Results of analyzed domains of register
3.1 Swear Words
3.2 Slang

4 Conclusion

5 References

1 Introduction

At first sight, Rap and Gospel music do not seem to have much in common. That is why I attempt to analyze whether there are any similarities or just discrepancies. The topic deals with The Variety in the Lexicon of Rap and Gospel and therefore, the aim of this paper is the linguistic description of the special lexicon. The foundation of this paper is provided by the presentation held on the 13th of July 2010 in the seminar "Varieties of English".

I have chosen this topic, because the two styles of music have a similar history, but developed into opposite directions and they are, furthermore, both mostly sung by people of African American descent. Another reason for my choice is that I want to know if the images of Rap and Gospel I have in mind are really true or just prejudices: Are Rap lyrics full of swear words? Is Gospel by some means or other related to Rap?

One of the images I have in mind, are the lexicons of Rap and Gospel, because when you listen to two typical song you will clearly hear the differences in speaking and in the choice of words.

For my analysis I chose two representative songs: Only God Can Judge Me by the ’gangster rapper’ Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) and Judge Me Not by the baptist preacher Timothy Wright (1947-2009).

I will start with a general overview of Rap and Gospel, give a short history of their development, so that the same roots of the styles of music become more obvious. In the following, I will present the results of the analyzed domains of register, commencing with the use of swear words and the application to the five types of linguistic forms of swearwords. Then I will go on with the use of slang, and especially the phonological representation of the features of African American Vernacular English, due to the descent of the two singers.

Finally, I will summarize my results in a conclusion at the end of this paper.

2 History of Rap and Gospel

The roots of Rap and Gospel music are very similar when you look at their origin. They are considered to have the same starting point, because "in the beginning there was Africa, and it’s from Africa that all today’s black American music, [...], is either directly or indirectly descended" (RM Hip-Hop 1). The music and its traditions survived the transportation of millions of slaves to America, endured more than 200 years of slavery and finally "became the new sound of black America" (RM Hip-Hop 1).

First, there were the so called ’tribal chants’ in Africa, but after the beginning of slavery and the forced deportation to the Americas, these tribal chants began to convert to ’plantation work songs’. The work songs were a wide variety of spirituals and christian music and became an integral part of the 19th century American culture. A good example is the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? by the Coen brothers. It is introduced by a typical plantation work song sung by some slaves in the Mississippi region of the United States.

But from here on, the two styles of music cut their own path, as will be described in the following.

2.1 Rap Music

In the early 20th century there was a constant rise of African American blues and jazz music. Due to the urbanization and the development of ghettos during that time African Americans like Louis Armstrong became the pioneers of Jazz music. From the 1940s to 1960s a secularized form of American Gospel music, known as Soul, became more and more popular. Furthermore, with the help of James Brown as one representative for this era, soul "had mutated into that glorious hybrid, street funk, [...]" (RM Hip-Hop 1).

Out of Funk, Street Jive developed in the 70s and 80s, which soon inspired a new form of music: Hip-Hop. This is also the beginning of ’block parties’ in ’The Bronx’ and therefore Hip-Hop became a facet of a large subculture with rebellious and progressive elements. Rap music was born when the "old, black tradition of using rhyming slang to put down your enemies (or friends) had developed, [...] to become for many urban youngsters a new way of talking.

Half speaking, half singing, the rhythmic street talk of rapping was soon being heard in the clubs, [...]" (RM Hip-Hop 2). From about 1986 on rap took off into mainstream and ’The Golden Age’ of Hip Hop flourished. This era only died out because Gangster Rap took its place, with sounds of urban black male bravado, compassion and social awareness best represented by the rapper Tupac Shakur.

Also today, Hip-Hop, Rhythm and Blues and Rap are very popular genres of music, not only for African Americans, but for the whole world.

2.2 Gospel Music

During the 1900s to the 1930s African Americans started to go from the South to other parts of the United States and brought their form of Gospel music with them.

In the 1930s the Dorsey Era came into being, in which the African Americans combined shouts of praise and emotional fervor with a contemporary style. Furthermore, in the following 20 years Gospel ensembles and quartets accom- panied by piano or organ were organized and travelled through the United States.

During the 60s, 70s and 80s Gospel remained mostly unchanged, but with the start of the 90s "it seemed like Gospel went Hip-Hop"(RM Hip-Hop 3) and many Rap artists had turned their lives around and found God, like Tupac Shakur did.

All in all, you can say that Rap went through many stages during its development to its original form as we know it today, many stages more than Gospel music did. But nevertheless, Gospel has survived and is still very popular in the United States, especially in traditional African American services, but also in movies like Sister Act and The Blues Brothers.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


The Variety in the Lexicon of Rap and Gospel
University of Wuppertal
Varieties of English
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
429 KB
Rap, Gospel, Variety, Varities, Music, Linguistics, Lexicon
Quote paper
Kim Vahnenbruck (Author), 2010, The Variety in the Lexicon of Rap and Gospel, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Variety in the Lexicon of Rap and Gospel

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free