Metaphorical Conceptions in Rapmusic

A Cross Cultural Analysis on Metaphors in German and American Rapmusic

Term Paper, 2011

14 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. A few Words on Method and Corpus
2.1. Method
2.2. Nature of the Corpus

3. Rap Music as Battle

4. Hip Hop as a Person

5. Rap Artist as Craftsman

6. Conclusion
6.1. Intracultural Variation
6.2. Intersubcultural Variation
6.3. Individual Variation


1. Introduction

In recent studies on cultural aspects of languages, subcultures have been given more and more importance. On the metaphorical potential of such groups, Kövecses noted that Subcultures develop their own metaphors, and these metaphors may define the group. There is of course no subculture that defines itself through an entirely new set of metaphors, but some of the metaphors members use may be new relative to the mainstream (Kövecses 2009: 286f).

And this might be especially true for the subculture of Hip Hop with its most important manifestation being rap music. Despite the fact that the genre is in existence since the Seventies, linguistic studies in this field are still rare, and investigations into the metaphorical inventory of rap music literally not existent. A first and important step into that direction has been undertaken by Scott Crossley, whose study shows the linguistic potential of rap music as well as its variety of metaphors:

As a product of a historically oral culture that embodies familiar metaphorical traits [...], African American rap music is especially rich in metaphoric language. Its roots, along with other African American linguistic traditions (including signifying, the dozens, and narrativizing), give rap music its exceptional linguistic variety (Crossley 2005: 503).

The present term paper will continue Crossley's research on metaphorical conceptions in rap music by illustrating further conceptual metaphors, but it also likes to develop it into a new direction by including German rap music as well. The relationship between American and German rap music is especially interesting because it is coined by a linguistic impact that is by far not as strong on a more general level. Certain aspects of this impact have already been laid down in earlier papers1, and it will be most rewarding to explore its cognitive dimensions as well.

In the analysis three metaphorical concepts will be examined. They are illustrated with the help of similar conceptions from everyday language and from an exemplary rap music corpus that is more clearly defined in the next chapter. The methodical points of the analysis are laid down in this chapter as well. And since the metaphorical conceptions in rap music “are generally specific to the subculture that either adopts them from the dominant culture or creates them to address their own cultural needs” (Crossley 2005: 501), variations on an intra cultural level will be noted as well.

Finally, the term paper answers the question if there are any inter subcultural differences between those metaphorical conceptions in German and in American rap music and tries to examine why.

2. A few Words on Method and Corpus

2.1 Method

The actual analysis will follow the method that Lakoff & Johnson used in their renowned work “Metaphors we live by”. The three conceptual metaphors to be examined will be illustrated with material from various German as well as American rap songs and within similar, already existing metaphorical conceptions as long as this is possible. They are further explained through schematic illustrations that show the respective target and source domain and the mappings between them.

2.2 Nature of the Corpus

Right from the beginning, the problem of the corpus on which the analysis will be based is that it would make little sense to work with a clearly defined corpus, for the diversity of social and ethnic groups within the culture of Hip Hop would require to include at least a major part of all rap artists in order to achieve anything close to representativeness. An exemplary corpus is the next thing at hand and also the right decision for this paper, because less formal arguments, like evident cohesiveness, linguistic judgments of a competent researcher, professional consensus, textual and pragmatic indicators, argue that the corpus may reasonably function as representative" (Bungarten 1979: 42f).

Yet in order to represent the linguistic group properly, the corpus has to mirror the diversity it consists of. In order to do this, he needs to contain examples from as many different artists as possible, thus enabling the analysis to found the shared metaphorical conceptions on as many different socio-cultural notions as possible and not forcing him to make any limitations on the conclusions due to such factors.

In the case of the present corpus this means that examples dating from the late Eighties up to last year are brought forward, coming from a multitude of social, cultural and linguistic backgrounds that include the Anglo-Saxon middle class as well as war refugees, immigrants and artists that grew up under circumstances such as the separation of Germany. The one thing they all have in common is that they choose to express themselves artistically by means of rap music and that they still hold on to the initial ideas of this subculture, or, in other words, that they do not compromise their musical integrity due to financial interests or the taste of the main stream. This might seem to be of little importance for a linguistic study, yet it ensures that such metaphors are used genuinely and not out of parody, mockery or due to other reasons.

3. Rap Music as Battle

The first metaphorical concept has already been outlined by Lakoff & Johnson. It is fairly present especially in political discourse but expressions like Your claims are indefensible.

He attacked every weak point in my argument.

I've never won an argument with him (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 4) can also be found in everyday language. Most of these examples exist in German as well, compounds like “Redeschlacht” or “Wortgefecht” can be heard in the news or read in the paper nearly daily. The conception of this metaphor in rap music is based upon the same notion that Lakoff & Johnson mentioned, namely ARGUMENTS ARE WAR.

A good example to introduce this concept in rap music is the famous line “leave your nines at home and bring your skills to the battle” (Jeru the Damaja 1994) by New York rap legend Jeru the Damaja. His commandment not only encourages others to settle differences in a non-violent way but it also brings up the notion that MUSICAL SKILLS ARE WEAPONS, for “nines” is an abbreviation of 'nine millimeters', a caliber of hand guns, and in this line the musical skills are seen as a substitute to those weapons. This notion is shared by Torch who refers to his adolescence with the following lines:

Stärkster auf dem Pausenhof, der Schnellste in Sport / dann wurde Torchmann groß und Meister im Kampf mit dem Wort (Torch 2000).

Having grown up, the rap artist from Heidelberg realized that he no longer needed to settle his differences in a physical way but was able to fight verbally, to fight with his words. Just like in the English example above, physical violence is replaced through artistic means. The next example brings some clarity into the concept by more closely defining the weaponry used in this fight and also the combatants. With “im Schlagabtausch ist dein Rap Judo meiner Kung-Fu” (Huss & Hodn 2007) the Retrogott, lyrical half of the crew Huss & Hodn from Cologne, implicates two things: First of all the personification of the art, for it is the rap music, not the musician, throwing the punches here, implies that the actual battle is fought on a musical level. And what might even be more important is that the contrast between 'Judo', a fight sport that relies on grasps and throws, and of 'Kung Fu', where the fighter uses his hands and feet in order to hit the enemy, establishes the notion that his rap is better because it throws more punches, contains a lot of punchlines, to speak metaphorically. This term is in itself a metaphor, meaning the “last line or part of a joke, which makes it funny” (Chapman 1986: 342), and it is crucial for the understanding of the next example where it is used quite literally. “Ich komm' mit Punchlines, Junge, achte auf deine Deckung” (Tefla & Jaleel 2000), uttered by the Chemnitz-based duo Tefla & Jaleel, combines these two notions by making use of the literal meaning of 'punch'. So RHYMES ARE PUNCHES. If rhymes are punches, then UTTERANCES ARE FISTS, as the line “meine verbale Faust zerlegt dich” (Azad 2001) makes clear. And finally as each battle has to have an end, the line "ham' wir das Haus gerockt, bist Du ausgeknockt wie Cassius Clay” (Eins Zwo 1998b) implies that MUSICAL SUPERIORITY LEADS TO VICTORY. The expression 'rock the house' means to give a flawless musical performance on the microphone, with 'house' being a metonymy for the audience which is convinced beyond any doubts. Furthermore the comparison of the knocked-out antagonist to Cassius Clay, the name under which boxing legend Muhammad Ali was born, creates a direct analogy to the boxing sport and thus substantiates this already existent metaphorical notion. A schematic illustration of this concept in rap music can be seen below.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Illustration 1 Rap music is fight sport

However, it has to be noted that this concept is not limited to the fighting sport but has occasionally been expanded to include armed confrontations as well. A musician who is renowned for his diversity of war-metaphors is Canibus. With the lines

rhymes ricochet off the inner walls of my lungs / to pass the tongue faster than bullets come out of guns (Canibus 1996)

he extends the concept of rhymes as punches to RHYMES ARE BULLETS, and thus somehow questions the demand that his fellow denizen Jeru the Damaja has made two years earlier. What makes this conception in rap music different from for example its use in political discourse is that it is far more present in this community. Apart from freestyle battles, were the participants are literally engaged in a challenge to determine who the best and most creative rhyme inventor is, rap music has always been treated as some sort of competition where one has to fight against a more or less defined antagonist in order to prove one's musical superiority. This might be due to the socio-cultural context in which Hip Hop was originated, and also due to its original intention which was to give people from the inner cities the possibility to settle their differences in a


1 cf. Florian Arleth. The Role of Anglicisms in German Rap Music and 20 Jahre Die Fantastischen Vier - Zwei Jahrzehnte Anglizismen.

Excerpt out of 14 pages


Metaphorical Conceptions in Rapmusic
A Cross Cultural Analysis on Metaphors in German and American Rapmusic
University of Heidelberg  (Anglistisches Seminar)
PS II "Cultural Dimensions of Language Variation and Communication"
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Rapmusic, Metaphor, conceptions, linguistics, common sense, eins zwo, geronimo mc, Kövecses, Lakoff, Azad, Canibus, Huss&Hodn, Torch, Jeru the Damaja, Kev Brown, Tefla & Jaleel
Quote paper
Florian Arleth (Author), 2011, Metaphorical Conceptions in Rapmusic, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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