Performing Masculinity. A linguistic analysis of the performance of Gender ldentities in Kenyan Rap Music

Thesis (M.A.), 2013

148 Pages, Grade: B






1.1 Masculinity
1.2.0 Hip- hop.
1.2.1 Kenyan Rap Music
1.3 Statement of Problem
1.4.0Aim and objectives
1.4.2 Objectives
1.5 Research Questions
1.6 Research Assumptions
1.7 The Rationale and Significance of the Study
1.8 Scope and Limitation of the Study

2.1 Theoretical framework
2.1.1 Critical Discourse Analysis Outline of Fairclough’s CDA
2.1.2 Theorising Masculinity
2.2 Literature Review Studies on Masculinity and Discourse
2.2.2 Studies on Rap Music

3.1 Research design
3.2 Sample size and sampling procedures
3.3 Data collection procedures
3.4 Data analysis

4.1 Discourse of a covert prestige
4.4 A discourse of violence and aggression
4.5 A Discourse of misogyny
4.5.1 References to women using derogatory metaphors
4.5.2 References to women as sexual objects
4.5.3 Reference to women as users of men




An analysis of the language of music provides many insights into the social and ideological underpinnings of a given culture. Generally, music has often been viewed as a vital site for the articulation and construction of different forms of identities including gender. Rap music has been implicated in constructing a hegemonic type of masculinity and portraying women in narrow ways. This study explored how masculinity is linguistically constructed in Kenyan rap music. The most relevant subjects were the male artists. However, the artists in some cases were shown to construct gendered identities for others (men and women). The aim of the study was to investigate how masculinity is represented, constructed and depicted in the lyrics of Kenyan rap music. The main objectives of the study were as follows: first, to describe how language is used to construct masculinity in Kenyan rap music and second, to find out whether the construction of masculinity in rap music is used to reinforce misogyny.The study was grounded in the theoretical framework of Critical Discourse Analysis, (here after known as CDA) following Fairclough (1989, 1992). This theory combines a method of linguistic textual analysis with a social theory of language in ideological processes.The research approach utilized a social linguistic constructionist perspective, employing a qualitative methodology. The sample size was twenty Kenyan rap songs texts. This sample was selected through purposive sampling. Data collection procedures included two main techniques namely, documentary sources and document analysis. The formal linguistic aspects of rap music texts were analysed using the pragmatic resources of denotation and connotation, presupposition and conversational implicatures. The analysis unravelled several discourses of masculinity. These were discourses of a covert prestige, heterosexuality, alcohol consumption, violence and aggression and lastly misogyny. The findings of the analysis discussed how rappers glamorise a hegemonic kind of masculinity and how women are portrayed in narrow and demeaning ways.


Gender, masculinity, misogyny, rap music


I would like to thank the Almighty God for “thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness…” and for being my keeper, my shade and fortress throughout my master’s studies.

My gratitude goes to my husband and best friend, Andrew Musungu, for turning my dream into a reality. He provided financial, emotional and intellectual support. He also tolerated my absence at home and at one time had to act as both father and mother to our son Mark Musungu.

I am also deeply indebted to my supervisor, Dr Serah Waitiki, for her incredible ideas that assisted me to understand the strengths and weaknesses of my thesis. In addition, my second supervisor has my heartfelt thanks for her willingness to go through my work on short notice and providing eye-opening insights. I also wish to thank Professor Nathan Oyeri Ogechi for providing books from which I drew the literature review.

Finally, I am eternally gratefull to my brother Godwin Nakhone for transcribing the required songs and offering free translation. My parents, Nelson Nakhone and Lorna Nakhone, my mother in law Grace Musungu have my thanks for their emotional and spiritual support. I certainly could not have completed this without your relentless prayers.



“As we are born and raised into this world, we learn to think, feel and express ourselves with the linguistic means our society provides us. Of course we can invent our own words and symbols but nobody would understand us. Thus language sets sometimes powerful limits to our experiences of ourselves, others and our surrounding. This is very important in thinking about how we communicate gender to each other, inside or outside of the media.” (Zoonen 1995:p.316)

1. Background to the study

1.1 Masculinity

In this thesis, masculinity is construed as a social construct rather than a biological fact. Social scientists who conceive gender as a social construct argue that we cannot construe gender simply by paying attention to biological or sexual difference. These scientists bolster their argument by carefully drawing a distinction between sex and gender.

Sex refers to ‘biology and biological division of male and female’ whereas gender refers to ‘cultural meanings that are attributed to those biological differences (Kimmel,1992). This means that sex is an embodiment of innate attributes of being male or female while gender encompasses socially constructed attributes of being male and female. In a nutshell, gender refers to masculinity and femininity. According to the social constructionist paradigm, the socially constructed attributes that inform masculinity and femininity have to conform to certain societal expectations. This view is espoused by Cameron (1997,p.49) who observes that ‘gender has to constantly be reaffirmed and publicly displayed by repeatedly performing acts in accordance with social norm.’

Gray (1992) also expounds on the notion that gender is a social construct in the sex role theory. He emphasises that males and females learn from society’s instituions to behave in ways appropriate to their sex. Men and women therefore perform different roles imposed on them by the society in which they live. Hence these differences or tendencies in what men and women do and say comes to symbolise their sex.

West and Zimmerman (1987) too reiforce the conceptualisation of gender as a social construct by arguing that gender is something that is done. They contest that it is simplistic to acknowledge gender as a display of traits. To the two scholars, gender is a product of social actions. It involves ‘ a complex of socially guided perceptual, interactional and micropolitical activities that cast particular pursuits as expressions of masculine and feminine natures’(p.126). Viewing gender in this manner guides us to think of it as an achievement expressed through interactional behaviour that testify our essential natures as either male or female.

Gender as a social construct culminates into an understanding that masculinity is not a fixed natural fact but ‘ a product of the interplay among a variety of social forces.’(Kimmel, 1992). The ‘product’ is achieved by displaying traits that compile an image of the male persona in a particular community. Men therefore learn to behave in ways that fit into social expectations so as to be regarded as masculine. Ruth (1998) cites some western masculinist ideals that are exhibited in the construction of masculinity. These are aggression, courage, physical reserve, perseverance and endurance,competence and rationality, independence, self reliance, autonomy, individuality and sexual potency.

If gender is a social construct, then the mass media -a social institution- can be said to play a vital part in the articulation and reinforcement of this form of identity. In this vein, the mass media becomes a crucial arena for the construction and representation of masculinity. Representation of masculinity parentetically expresses the thought that masculinity is constructed through the media as if it were a direct knowledge of objects. The masculine displays in the media texts are taken as evidence of a subject’s alignment to the male persona. Some media texts including rap music, have often been cited as coded examples of masculine portrayals. This thesis in various ways therefore attempts to unravell how the masculine identity is reconstituted in the language of some selected Kenyan rap lyrics.

1.2.0 Hip- hop

Information from Wikipedia reveals that the Hip- hop genre originated in the South Bronx area of New York during the early 1970s. A key figure in the creation of Hip- hop was an ex- street gang member known as Afrika Bambaataa. Other figures recognized in the creation of the Hip- hop genre are the artists Busy Bee Starki and DJ Hollywood.

Keyes (1991) identifies four essential elements of Hip- hop culture as graffiti, rap, break-dance and battling. Hip- hop is widely known because of rap, the aspect of its style that has most successfully been commercialized. Bennet (2000:134) defines rap as “a narrative form of vocal delivery in which rhyming lyrics are spoken or ‘rapped’ in rhythmic patois over a continuous backbeat”. The rap vocals typically emphasize lyrics and word play over melody and harmony (Wekesa 2007)

The Hip- hop culture is a magnetic force that is captivating the youth around the world. It is therefore being adopted and adapted in countries as distant and diverse as Mexico, Cuba, France, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya. Focusing on rap music in Kenya specifically, Mugambi (2001 quoted in Wekesa 2007), observes that its spread is associated with the fact that the USA has become the most dominant political and economic force in the world. Due to this, the Americans’ dominant culture and advances in communication and media, have been aped worldwide, Kenya not exempted.

1.2.1 Kenyan Rap Music

Kenyan Rap music exploded in the mid 1990s (Wikipedia). Ntarangwi (2009), states that Hardstone (Harrison Ngunjiri) was the first Kenyan Hiphop artiste to record and release a full length CD. The title song of the album was “Uhiki” (wedding). This was produced by Tedd Josiah of Audio Vault Studio (now Blue Zebra). Other popular pioneering acts were Kalamashaka with their national hit ‘Tafsiri Hii’, K- South with ‘Tabia Mbaya’ and also the late Poxi Presha with his break out hit ‘Dhako’. Gidi Gidi Maji Maji emerged in 1997 with their hit ‘Ting Badi Malo’. This was followed by the production of their politically charged hit ‘Unbwogable’ in 2002. (Wikipedia). Other prominent Rap artists in the Kenyan scene include Nonini, Jua Cali, Prezzo, Ken Razy, Tapeli, DNA, Bamzigi, Circuite, Nazizi, Nameless, Fundi Frank, Ebony Affair, E-Sir and Lady S.

Kenyan Rap artists mostly identify themselves with a production house which also doubles as a record company. Popular production houses include Ogopa Djs, Homeboys, Mandugu, Digital, Calif Records and Blue Zebra.

The Hip- hop colony documentary reveals that the beginnings of Kenyan Hip- hop were like a ‘new breed of colonialism’. The pioneering acts were characterized mainly by the adoption of the American Hip- hop culture. This entailed style of dressing and even rapping in English. With time, the foreign styles have become fused with local styles.

The Kenyan production houses have localized Kenyan rap music by ingeniously creating different sounds which mark an artist’s style. There is Ogopa Djs who term their style of music as ‘boomba’ or ‘kapuka’. Calif records on the other hand have initiated a new style known as ‘genge’. This roughly translates into ‘a crowd of people’. Since many rap artists have adopted the ‘genge’ style, the ‘kapuka style has been overshadowed.

Rap music like any other cultural form is always related to the socio- economic and political contexts. Rap artists in Kenya have continued to localize Kenyan rap music by focusing on unique experiences in the social- economic and political Kenyan context. Thus to a great extent, Kenyan rap music has little meaning outside the concrete local realities and experiences of the Kenyan youth (Wekesa 2007: 36). Lastly Kenyan rap music is made local by rapping in Sheng, Kiswahili and local vernaculars.

1.3 Statement of Problem

Many sociolinguistic researches have revealed that social categories such as identity are constructed through linguistic practices. Language is central in constructing such categories in that repeated use of certain speech can expose the social reality. One social category which can be constructed through language is masculinity. The construction of masculinity in turn exposes certain social realities, which are fore grounded in social contexts such as Hip-hop.

The Hip- hop culture and specifically the discourse and visual images in rap music are viewed with a certain amount of circumspection by the general public. Rap music and Hip- hop have been accused of many atrocities which seem to underscore the images of much rap discourse. These are such as sexism, homophobia, violence and drug abuse. The aforementioned social forces are the effects of a patriarchal and hegemonic construction of masculinity. In her discussion of sexism in Hip- hop, Rose (1994: 15) offers the following observation.

“Rap music and video have been wrongfully characterized as thoroughly Sexist but rightfully lambasted for their sexism. I am thoroughly frustrated but not surprised by the apparent need for some rappers to craft elaborate and creative stories about the abuse and domination of women.”

From this observation, it is easy to see how in performing their masculinity, rap artists manipulate language to express sexist attitudes. Thus in order to understand how social forces such as sexism are created, there is need to explore the gendering of men. This can be done by examining the variety of discourse features which are called into play in the service of the performance of masculinity.

Many studies in linguistics have constituted a study of female norms of interaction. Johnson (1997) argues that such exclusive concentration on women and femininity is insufficient. She advocates for the study of specific ways in which men construct identities which manifestly exclude and undermine women and even other men.

In view of the extensive literature review, there is no linguistic study that has focused on the construction of gender identities in the language of Kenyan Rap music. Due to this gap, the study explored the construction of masculinity from the language of Kenyan rap lyrics.

1.4.0 Aim and objectives

1.4.1 Aim

The aim of this study is to investigate how masculinity is represented, constructed and depicted in the lyrics of Kenyan rap music.

1.4.2 Objectives

The objectives of the study are as follows:

1 To describe how language is used to construct masculinity in Kenyan rap music.
2 To find out whether the construction of masculinity in rap music is used to reinforce misogyny.

1.5 Research Questions

This study is guided by the following questions:

1. What discourses are used in the reproduction of masculinity in Kenyan rap music?
2. In what ways does the construction of masculinity in rap music reinforce misogyny?

1.6 Research Assumptions

This study is based on the following assumptions:

1. Masculinity is a social construct.
2. The rap lyrics representation of gender is an expression of a dominant gender discourse

1.7 The Rationale and Significance of the Study

Research with respect to gender issues has primarily focused on women with few studies done on men, particularly in Kenya. Moreover, most feminist analyses on the media have focused on women. As a matter of fact, men and masculinity have frequently been treated as the norm and men’s portrayal in the media has often been seen as unproblematic or even exemplary (Durkin 1985 quoted in Craig 1992). However the feminist theory’s concept of a socially constructed gender suggests that the analysis of men and masculinity will also shed light into social relationships. Reflecting on this, Johnson (1997) argues:

“…to concentrate exclusively on women and femininity is insufficient. What is needed in addition is informed study on the mechanism of oppression, that is the specific ways in which men construct a world which so manifestly excludes and undermines women. It must be contested that the construction of the extant gender order takes place frequently (though not exclusively) in all male contexts.”

An example of a male context is rap music. Ntarangwi (2009) observes that many of the hip hop artistes in East Africa are male because music making happens in the public space which is mostly sanctioned as a male space. Nicholas (2004) asserts that demographically, Hip-hop community is highly masculine. As a result, Hip- hop language is highly gendered. He advises that any studies of Hip- hop must take this point into account.

A qualitative investigation of how rap artists use linguistic and visual resources to construct masculinity in their music will be beneficial for the advancement of knowledge in a Kenyan context. A study of this kind will hopefully contribute to the comprehension of the gendering of men thus open a window through which social forces involved in patriarchy can be observed and contested. It is also hoped that the information gained from this study will empower rap artists and the community at large to use non sexist language. This will in turn help in promoting gender equality.

1.8 Scope and Limitation of the Study

This study is on the construction of masculinity in Kenyan rap music. The research therefore is limited to the construction of masculinity and excludes other axes of identity such as race, ethnicity and youth. Generally, the most relevant subjects are artists. However, rappers were shown to construct gender identities for others (men and women) in their lyrics.

This study specifically deals with Kenyan rap music and so only rap music performed by artists with a purely Kenyan heritage is included. Rap music in Kenya is performed by both male and female artists. In order to clearly understand the construction of masculinity and whether there is sexism in the language of rap music, the study limits itself to male rap artists’ music. The female rap artist’s rap music is therefore excluded. Lastly, this study limits itself to the analysis of masculinity in Kenyan rap songs produced in the years ranging from 2000 to 2010. These years mark the localization of Kenyan rap music. Pioneer rap songs produced in the 1990s are excluded.

This study is not without challenges. The sample size as earlier noted is twenty Kenyan rap songs. This study may therefore not be amenable to reliability and generalisation owing to the small sample size that was analysed. At the onset, the researcher had planned to collect the data by listening to the songs and transcribing them. This proved to be tedious, tiresome and time consuming. Later, the researcher discovered the Kenyan lyrics website ( and decided to use already transcribed, valid data from the website.



2.1 Theoretical framework

This study is contextualized within two main realms of theoretical knowledge: Critical Discourse Analysis and theories on masculinity.

2.1.1 Critical Discourse Analysis

This study focusing on the construction of masculinity in Kenyan rap music is grounded in the theoretical perspective of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). CDA is a category of the social linguistic paradigm which focuses on how understanding, knowledge and reality can be shaped, and amended by language. In the social linguistic constructionist paradigm, it is maintained that the focus of study should be language since human life and experiences are rooted in language. Language is viewed as lacking transparency. Rather, language aids in the construction of social reality since it has a ‘set of linguistic possibilities within which social life comes to be organized.’ (Blanche and Durrheim, 1999: p.149).

CDA is most relevant to the study since it is a theory of meanings constructed by language in texts. Rap music provides rich texts in the form of lyrics and visuals whose meanings pertaining masculinity can be unravelled. Unlike other variations of discourse analysis, CDA aims to explain how discourses enact and legitimize social dominance and social power. It enables us to establish close relationships between knowledge and power or between social reality and language. CDA is therefore suitable in this study as it provides us with an appropriate approach which aids in the investigation of pervasive and often overlooked power relations between men and women as projected in rap music.

This study is based on CDA as propounded by Norman Fairclough. Fairclough advocates for a critical method of discourse analysis arguing that relationships between discursive, social and cultural change are not transparent for the people involved (1992:9). For Fairclough, ‘critical’ implies showing connections and causes which are hidden thus promoting change. CDA therefore marries a method of linguistic text analysis with a social theory of language in political, identity and ideological processes.

Outline of Fairclough’s CDA

The key terms in understanding CDA are text, discourse and genre. Fairclough regards ‘text’ as a dimension of discourse. It is “the written or spoken language produced in a discursive event” (1992:138). Text also encompasses visual language comprising of images and sound. Fairclough (1989:22) emphasizes that ‘even when texts are essentially verbal ( … ) talk is inter -woven with gesture, facial expression, movement, posture to such an extent that it cannot be properly understood without reference to these extras.’ This is relevant to this study which seeks to analyze both the spoken and visual texts of Kenyan rap music in order to examine how masculinity is constructed.

The next key term in CDA is ‘discourse’. From a linguistic perspective, Fairclough (1992:62) uses the term discourse to refer to spoken or written language use. He further proposes to regard language as a form of social practice. This culminates into understanding discourse as ‘the language use conceived of social practice (Fairclough, 1990:138). This sense of discourse emphasizes interaction between speaker and addressee or between writer and reader. It also lays emphasis on the processes of producing and interpreting speech and writing (texts) as well as the situational context of language use. The following schematic diagram illustrates this.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Discourse as text, interaction and context (Fairclough 1989:21)

The last key term is ‘genre’. Fairclough (1993:138) defines genre as the use of language associated with a particular social activity. This implies that genre is a particular type of text which involves particular processes of production, distribution and consumption. For example newspaper articles and poems are different sorts of texts since they are produced differently. One is a collective product while the other an individual product (Fairclough 1992:126).

In developing a social theory of discourse, Fairclough (1992) outlines several implications of regarding discourse as a form of social practice. First, it implies that discourse is both a mode of interaction and representation. In this case, discourse can be described as a way of action, a form in which people may act upon each other. The second implication is that there is a dialectical relationship between discourse and social structure. Discourse shapes social structure while social structure in turn shapes discourse.

Discourse is shaped and constrained by the different levels of social structure such as class, social relations and relations specific to particular institutions such as law, education, and the media. Thus individuals, institutions and social groupings have specific meanings and values that are expressed in discourse in systematic ways. In addition, specific discursive events vary in their structural determination according to the particular social domain or institutional framework in which they are generated.

Discourse shapes social structures in that it constructs and constitutes the world in meaning. There are three constructive effects of discourse. First, discourse contributes to the construction of social identities and subject positions for ‘social subject’ and ‘types of self’ (identity function). Second, discourse helps construct social relationships between people (relational function). Third and last, discourse contributes to the construction of systems of knowledge and beliefs (ideational function) (Fairclough 1992). In our study, the discourses of a covert prestige, heterosexuality, violence and aggression, alcohol consumption and misogyny from the rap texts were perceived to create subject positions which in turn acted as bases for the construction of masculinity: a form of gender identity. In the course of constructing masculine identities, social relationships between men and women were revealed thus exposing systems of knowledge and beliefs.

Discourse on the other hand is constitutive in that it helps to sustain and reproduce the social status quo, and also in the sense that, it contributes to transforming it. For example, the identities of men and women and the relationships between them which are controlled by a patriarchal society depend on a consistency and durability of patterns of speech within and around those relationships for their reproduction. These however are open to transformations which may partly originate in discourse.

Fairclough (1989, 1992), claims that discourse and language in everyday life may function ideologically. CDA thus views discourse as a domain in which social struggles take place, social relations and systems of knowledge and beliefs are shown to be shaped by relations of power and ideology. Power relations involve struggles in which those who have and those who do not have power are constantly engaged in a struggle to exercise, maintain or defend their position. Consequently, discursive practices may have major ideological effects in that they can help produce and reproduce unequal power relations between for instance social classes, women and men, and ethnic/cultural majorities and minorities (Fairclough & Wodak 1997:258)

Fairclough (1992) observes that ideologies that are built into conventions of a particular group’s speech may become so naturalized that people may find it difficult to accept that their normal practices could have specific ideological investments. However, even where discourse participants may not be aware of the ideological import of their language, aspects of their styles are often ideologically significant. CDA thus takes an interest in the ways in which linguistic forms are used in various expressions and manipulations of power. Power is not only signaled by grammatical forms within a text, but also by a person’s control of a social occasion by means of the genre of the text. From these arguments, the language in rap music texts can be scrutinized as a site of struggle of power between men and women. Rap artists may position themselves and in turn position others in subject slots that are contestable. The language of rap music can therefore be examined to find out whether artists use language that defines, degrades and positions others especially women stereotypically, while in turn positioning themselves as powerful. Guidelines to the analysis of texts

Critical discourse analysis encompasses a large range of techniques that can act as guidelines to the analysis of texts. Fairclough (1989, 1995), and Huckin (2002) provided important insights that informed a critical discourse analysis of the selected songs.

Fairclough (1989) suggests a framework for analyzing texts. He prescribes three stages of performing critical discourse analysis as cited below:

A) Description. This is concerned with the formal properties of the text.

B) Interpretation. This is concerned with the relationship between text and interaction. The text is perceived as a product of a process of production, and as a resource in the process of interpretation.

C) Explanation. This is concerned with the relationship between interaction and social context. It also involves the social determination of the processes of production, interpretation and their social effects.

(Fairclough, 1989, p.26)

Huckin (2002) highlights concepts which analysts can apply in performing critical discourse analysis at various linguistic levels. These concepts include presupposition, implicatures, connotation and denotation.These concepts were used in the critical discourse analysis of the rap lyrical texts. The concepts were applied to linguistic levels ranging from singular words and phrases to entire sentences. The concepts definitions are shown hereunder.


The term ‘implicature’ is crucial in pragmatics and derives from the work of Grice (1975). Implicatures are the kind of meanings conveyed implicitely rather than through an utterance. Grice pointed out how utterances in conversation mean much more than what they say. He reinforces his argument by proposing that conversation proceeds on the basis of a fundamental principle: the co-operative principle. Summarly, Grice (1975) presents four basic maxims (ground rules) which conversationalists tacitly follow:

1. The maxim of quality states that speakers should be truthful and should not say things that they believe to be falseor for which they lack sufficient evidence.
2. The maxim of quantity requires that speakers should be as informative as is expected for the purposes of the conversation. They should say neither toolittle nor too much.
3. The maxim of relevance states that whatever speakers say should fit in with and relate to the purposes of the conversation at that point.
4. The maxim of manner requires that speakers should avoid obscurity, prolixity and ambiguity.

These maxims outline what participants are required to do in order to converse in a maximally efficient and co-operative manner. Grice further points out that the maxims can either be observed or not. He distinguishes three ways of failing to observe a maxim: flouting a maxim, violating a maxim and opting out of a maxim. Crucial to our analysis was flouting of a maxim.

When a maxim is flouted by an utterance, a hearer is forced to look for the intended or additional meaning that will leave both the maxim and co-operative principle in place. This inferred meaning is called a ‘conversational implicature’ (Grice 1975, p.49). The following example given by Hartley (2002:p.110) illustrates flouting of maxims and the conversational implicature generated.

A: Where’s Bill?

B: There is a yellow VW outside Sue’s house.

It is assumed that ‘B’ is co-operative at some deeper level despite flouting the maxims of relevanve and quantity. At a deeper level, ‘B’ effectively conveys that ‘if Bill has a yellow VW then he may be in Sue’s house’.

Critiques have shown that the idea of conversational implicature is not devoid of criticism. However, it provided our analysis with an important way of going beyond highly literal approaches to the meanings relating to our two main objectives.


Transitivity is a way of describing the relationship between participants and processes in the construction of clauses, basically, ‘who (or what) does what to whom (or what)? (Halliday,1985). Halliday proposes that transitivity relations are dependent on the kind of processes encoded by the main verb in the clause. He distinguishes four main types of processes:

- Material process: Mireille hurt the cat.
- Mental process: Mark understood immediately
- Verbal process: Warren said he was tired.
- Relational: The park is beautiful

The material action processes (realised by verbs such as break,wipe, dig) are associated with inherent roles such as agent ( someone or something that does an action), and an affected (entity) someone or something on the receiving end of an action (Halliday, 1985). Thus:

Mireille / hurt / the cat


The mental processes (realised by verbs such as know, feel, think, believe) are associated with inherent roles such as senser (the one who performs the mental processes of e.g ‘knowing’) and phenomenon (that which is experienced by the sensor). Thus:

Mark / understood / the topic.


Verbal processes are processes of saying. They are realised by verbs such as suggest, promise, inquire, tell, inform) (Hartley,2002). The participant roles include sayer, verbiage and recipient. Thus:

Warren / said /it was expensive.


Lydia / told / him /it was time to leave.

Lastly, the relational processes involve an entity that is identified by reference to an attribute.The processes are realised by verbs such as be, seem, appears and have and the typical roles are

Identifier and identified. Thus:

The car / is / blue


Another typical role is of possessor and possessed:

Andrew / has / money


Summarily, transitivity relations are crucial in the linguistic construction and mediation of experience. Herein, the patterning of transitivity choices was used to reveal important predispositions towards the construction of masculinity.


Yule (1998:25) defines a presupposition as ‘something the speaker assumes to be the case prior to making an utterance’. This is in line with Saeed (1997:3) who states that when we presuppose something, we assume it. In broad terms, presuppositions can be said to be ‘implicit meanings which are subsumed by particular wording in the sense that its interpretation is conditional upon the tacit acceptance of the implicit meaning’ (Hosney, 2011, p.30). These implicit meanings that Hosney mentions are pragmatic inferences ‘based more closely on the actual linguistic structure of sentences’ (Levinson and Brown 1989: p.167).

The linguistic entities that generate presuppositions are referred to as presupposition triggers. Yule (1998) divides presuppositions into several types:

a) Potential
b) Existential
c) Factive
d) Lexical
e) Structural
f) Nonfactive
g) Counter-factual

Yule expounds on the types of presuppositions in the following ways: a potential presupposition is that which is triggered by some part of an utterance such as a subordinate clause taken in isolation, but may or may not be a presupposition of the whole utterance. For example the utterance ‘John says that the president of Kenya is old’ has two potential presuppositions: 1) there is someone identified as John and 2) there is a president of Kenya. An existential presupposition is generally found in definite noun phrases. For instance, the sentence ‘The tribal clashes in Kenya ended’ presupposes the existence of the entities it refers to; in this case ‘the tribal clashes’. A factive presupposition is triggered by factive verbs including know, regret and realise. For example ‘I regret having done that’ presupposes that ‘I did it’. In the lexical presupposition, the asserted meaning of one form is conventionally interpreted with the assumption that another non asserted meaning is understood. In the sentence ‘she managed to come’ it is presupposed that she ‘attempted to come’ Structural presuppositions are defined as those that use specific sentence structures (such as a question) so that it is expected that the information given in the sentence is true. For instance, ‘who is coming?’ presupposes that ‘someone is coming.’ ‘A nonfactive presupposition is one that is assumed not to be true’ (Yule, 1998:29). Here, verbs such as dream, imagine and pretend are used. An example is ‘she imagined l was sick’. The presupposition of the sentence is that ‘I was not sick.’ Lastly, the counter-factual presupposition is one that represents structures from which it is understood that the given information is the opposite of what is true (Yule, 1998). ‘I am ill’ is the presupposition drawn from the statement ‘if I were not ill.’

To summarise, presuppositions are a crucial part of unravelling the meanings of qualities associated with masculinity encoded in the analysed rap lyrical texts.

Connotation and denotation

The study of semiotics as propounded by Ferdinand de Saussure (1916 ) and expounded on by Barthes (1967 in Hartley, 2002) has led to a concern with the denotative and connotative meanings of language in use. Denotation has been described as the first order of signification (Barthes ibid) because it describes the relationship within a sign, that is, ‘between the signifier (physical aspect) and signified (mental concept) (Barker 2008:p79).

Barthes (1967 in Hartley, 2000) argues that there are two systems of signification: denotation and connotation. He defines denotation as the descriptive and literal level of meaning mutually shared by all members of a culture. Thus ‘tree’ denotes the concept of a vegetative plant. The denotative meaning therefore has the characteristics of universality and objectivity. Barthes defines connotation as meanings that are generated by connecting signifiers to wider cultural concerns of meanings. Unlike denotation, connotative meanings are variable and in accordance to the culture of the recipient and entities of analysis (Barthes, 1972 in Mcquail, 2005:p.348). Thus ‘tree’ may connote nature. Denotation and connotation is useful in the analysis of both the lyrics and visuals in the rap videos to reveal meanings of masculinity.

2.1.2 Theorising Masculinity

This section is a review of the necessary scholarship to theoretically ground this study in a men’s study’s perspective. This perspective underscores men’s experiences with masculinity. It is therefore useful for my study as rap music is a cultural product representing a particular type of masculinity and male experience. The feminist theory is not appropriate to this study since it does not rigorously focus on theorization of men and masculinity. Indeed, according to Kimmel (2006), the feminist theory is inadequate in men’s studies since masculinity is theorized from the viewpoint of women’s experiences with masculinity as opposed to men’s experiences with masculinity. The ensuing discussion on masculinity will first focus on certain definitions postulated for the term. Following this, there will be an in-depth analysis of theories on masculinity.

There are a number of definitions for masculinity. According to the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, masculinity is the quality of being masculine. Being masculine in this dictionary is defined as having the qualities or appearances considered to be typical of men. In the same vein, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines masculinity as possessing ‘the features and qualities considered to be typical of men.’ Masculinity in this context can then be described as the common features that describe men in a given society. It has to do with gender or social sex and therefore is independent of biological identities. (Hearn, 1996).

Masculinity can further be theorized by means of gender theories such as, Sex Role Theory (Gray 1992), the theory of Hegemonic Masculinity (Connell 1987, Cheng 1999, Epprecht 1998, Trigiani 1999) and discursive theories (Fairclough 1992, Butler 1990, Edley 2001).

The sex-role theory establishes important groundwork for comprehending later relevant theoretical conceptions of masculinity. The framework of Sex Role Theory is based on the notion that being a man or a woman means enacting a general set of expectations that are attached to ones sex. A man therefore enacts a male role while a woman enacts a female role. Masculinity and femininity from this standpoint are products of social learning which culminate into internalized sex roles. This argument is taken up by Gray (1992) who suggests that humans learn from society’s institution to behave in ways appropriate to their sex. He further says that men are aggressive, rational, dominant and objective. These qualities define masculinity.

The sex-role theory has however been criticized for overlooking the fact that masculinity and femininity are products of gender relations that are historically and socially conditioned. Shifting away from a conceptualization of gender as a set of static sex roles, Connell (2000, p.12) asserts that, “masculinities are neither programmed in our genes nor fixed by social structure, prior to social interaction. They come into existence as people interact. They are actively produced, using the resources and strategies available in a given social setting.” Although limited in terms of focus, the sex-role theory is useful for an examination of rap lyrical texts as Kenyan male rappers often rely on its model to construct the innate sexual differences between men and women. For instance, a rapper may rap about hustling to get money so as to cater for his family’s needs thus articulating his role as a provider. Since the sex-role theory provides little analysis of gender power relations, there was need to inco-oporate other theories in our study.

The theory of Hegemonic Masculinity emerged to oppose the assumptions of the Sex-Role theory. In the theory of Hegemonic Masculinity, masculinity is perceived as a structure of social relations and particularly as a structure of power relations (Connell 2000). Here then, the social construction of masculinity is connected with male domination. This is resonated by Connell (1987) who proposes that the task of being a man, involves taking on and negotiating hegemonic masculinity. He proposes that hegemonic masculinity is a dominant form of masculinity which preserves the interests of men while marginalizing and subordinating the interests of women. Connell also states that hegemonic masculinity is the culturally idealized form of masculine character; the current ideal. In negotiating hegemonic masculinity, men’s identity strategies are constituted through their complicit or resistant stance to prescribed dominant masculine styles. Connell (1995:76) quoted in Bucholtz (1991) also claims that masculinity is not fixed but it is rather a pattern of gender relations which is always contestable. He argues that because different cultures and different periods of history construct gender identities differently, we need to talk of masculinities and not masculinity. Epprecht (1998) like Connell (1995) argues that masculinity like any other aspect of culture is both subject to change over time and may be an arena of considerable contestation. He adds that ideals of manliness may be more or less dogmatic, restrictive and insist upon conformity in different historical contexts. In addition, he asserts that throughout history and across cultures, certain characteristic features of masculinity occur with striking regularity. For Epprecht ‘real’ manliness has tended, for instance to put emphasis on men’s heterosexuality, virility, control of emotions and the acquisition and exercise of power (Epprecht 1998). Additionally, the numerous attributes that characterize hegemonic masculinity and seem to be relatively universal include domination, aggression, competitiveness, athletic ability, stoicism and control (Cheng 1999).

Trigiani (1999) also posits that standards of masculinity vary from time to time and from culture to culture. However, masculinity always defines itself as different from and superior to femininity. This is exemplified by Fouten (2006) who observes that many boys and men establish their masculinity in opposition to femininity. In so doing, they define their masculinity within set of cultural and social practices (such as language) that involve a rejection and denigration of what they consider to be feminine behavior .Against this backdrop, femininity is constructed around adaptation to male power. Trigiani (ibid) states that the central features are attractiveness to men which includes, physical appearance, ego massaging, suppression of power, possessing emotions such as anger, nurturance of children, exclusive heterosexuality, sexual availability without sexual assertiveness and sociability. Precisely, Trigiani (ibid) describes masculinity and femininity as societal euphemisms for male dominance and female subordination.

The framework of hegemonic masculinity is useful for my study since it emphasizes power relations not only between men and women but also between men and other men. The lens provided by the mentioned theorists such as Connell, enabled an examination of whether Kenyan male rappers enact masculine qualities in relation to other men and women. Some rappers were shown to articulate a hegemonic masculinity by using sexist language, while others constructed themselves as violent by using threats and abuses. In the song ‘Mtoto Mzuri’ (A Good Child) by Nonini ft Bobby Mapesa, the rappers derogatively refer to women as ‘baby’, ‘gazelle’, ‘pest’ and ‘baboon’. In the song ‘Uta Do’ (What will you do) the rapper Syd constructs a hegemonic type of masculinity by threatening to ‘dismantle’, ‘beat’ and ‘cut the sexual organ of’ his opponent.

Closely related to the theory of Hegemonic Masculinity are discursive theories of gender which perceive gender as an enactment through discourse. These theories draw on the linguistic definition of discourse as ‘language in use’ to theorise gender as something that is socially constructed. Discursive theories on gender are helpful in this study since they facilitate an analysis of how Kenyan male rappers can enact masculinity using language as a resource.

Critical Discourse Analysis, as propounded by Fairclough (1989, 1992) is an example of discursive theories. In CDA Fairclough sees “language as social practice” (Fairclough and Wodak, 1997). Describing language as social practice implies a dialectical relationship between a particular discursive event and social structure (s) which frame it. This implies that language is shaped by society and society in turn shaped by language. One social structure shaped by language is gender identity. In line with Fairclough, Butler (1990) argues that gender is a performance. It is something that is done. This is in contrast to other understandings where gender is viewed as properties that people have. For Butler then, masculine subjects are created by performing certain qualities associated with masculine behavior, embedded in social practices such as discourses. In social contexts, gendered subjects are created through responding to and performing discourses that define masculinity and femininity. This approach motivated the researcher to focus analytic attention on the language used in rap lyrics to examine how the prevailing definitions of masculinity are maintained. Several discourses that define masculinity were revealed. These were the discourses of a covert prestige, heterosexuality, aggression and violence, alcohol consumption and misogyny. Language thus not only constitutes situations and objects of knowledge but also the social identities of people (Wodak, 2002). Language is constitutive both in the sense that it helps to reproduce and sustain the social status quo also in transforming it (Wodak, ibid).

Fairclough also states that although there are many kinds of discourses, certain discourses are more dominant than others and this makes them hegemonic. These hegemonic discourses determine how the ideal woman or man (my emphasis) is supposed to be and oppress deviant ways of enacting gender. Discursive practices may therefore have major ideological effects such as reproducing unequal power relations between men and women. Such unequal power relations are reflected in sexism. Our study unravels that rappers articulate a discourse of misogyny in their rap lyrics that may render the rap genre ‘hegemonic’. Demeaning animal terms as shown in the discussion of the theory of hegemonic masculinity above, were revealed. In the song ‘Kinyau nyau’ it is suggested that women are materialistic, sexual objects. This simply lays ground to justify men’s domination over women or the ‘unequal power relations’ that Fairclough visualises.

Kenya can be defined as a patriarchal society. In this country, men are viewed as very powerful in ethnic communities such as the Luo, Luhya, Gikuyu, Kalenjin and Giriama. Masculinity in this context is thus defined by male domination. Among the Saamia, a sub-tribe of Luhya, wife beating is a common and a widely applauded occurrence. This implies a man’s control over his wife. Indeed, it is a way of a man performing a dominant, aggressive form of masculinity. Masculinity in the Kenyan context can also be defined in opposition to femininity. Among the Bukusu people of western Kenya, once a boy is circumcised he becomes a man. ‘Being a man’ in this community comes with a ‘manual’ on how to behave as one. One instruction in such a manual is that ‘men do not cry.’ A man thus caught crying is labelled a woman because of displaying effeminate characteristics. In this respect, masculinity can be termed a performance of characteristics in opposition to femininity among the Bukusu people.

The above debates on masculinity, make it quite clear that masculinity is a social construct which is changeable and in some instances contradictory. However, the standard form of masculinity which is often found in nearly all male contexts is hegemonic. This characterizes men, in opposition to women thus differentiates the two genders. In conclusion, masculinity herein is regarded as the performance of masculine ideals that dictate what it means to be ‘a man’ and how to be ‘a man’.

2.2 Literature Review

In literature review, two areas will be given focus.

a) Studies on language and gender

i) Studies on masculinity and discourse

b) Studies on rap music

2.2.1 Studies on Language and Gender

A literature review on language and gender lays a foundation for the extension on and a critique of the studies on masculinity and discourse. This part presents the changing foci in the field of language and gender. It in particular focuses on the different theoretical approaches to language and gender including the ‘difference approach’, the ‘dominance approach’ and lastly, ‘gender as discourse approach’. The scholarly works in the mentioned approaches provide a standpoint from which to develop conceptualisations of gendered language and its ideologies.

Studies in the ‘difference’ tradition investigate gender differences in language. Smith (1989) asserts that language being an important part in the socialization process; children are socialized into culturally approved gender roles through language. This culminates into difference in gender identities. Empirical researches on gender differential speech style have been of particular interest to sociolinguists such as Labov, Trudgil and Braun. Labov (1966) and Trudgil (1972) study the variation in the language use of men and women. Labov’s (1966) study of the two diphthongs (aw) and (ay) in Martha’s Vineyard showed that men tend to use more non-standard speech forms than women. He notes that women tend to favour new prestige forms more. Trudgil (1972) on the other hand looks at the variable (ng) which has two pronunciations in Norwich English. Like Labov, he found that women tended to use the more prestigious forms than men. This finding led him to conclude that women in their society are more status-concious than men. As shown, the scholarly works in the ‘difference tradition’ entail an investigative focus on the language differences between the masculine and feminine genders. While our study narrows down to masculinity, it adopts Labov’s (1966) and Trudgil’s (1972), notion that men’s use of non-standard use of language is a pointer to a covert prestige.

In a more recent study of gendered language, Braun (2004) illustrates that women tend to use more intensifying adverbs such as ‘very’ and ‘really’. The study also shows that a female style of conversation is more polite, has indirect orders rather than imperatives and there is a prevalence of questions, tag questions and hedges in women’s sentence structures. Contrary, it was revealed that men behave more competitively in conversations and talk more colloquially than their female counterparts (Braun 2004:15). Braun concludes that there is an absence of dominant behaviour in women’s speech style in contrast to the male dominant speech style.

Spender (1980), Maltz and Borker (1982) also adopt both a model of dominance and difference in their conceptualisation of language and gender. Spender (1980) writes about sexism and gender differences in the English language. She zooms in on how in mixed sex talk; men dominate conversation, interrupt their conversation partners and are more successful at having the topics they bring up taken up. Maltz and Borker study the interactions among children when playing together. They found that girls learn to create and maintain relationships of closeness and equality, to criticise others in acceptable ways and interpret speech of other girls more accurately. On the other hand, boys learn to assert their position of dominance, to attract and maintain an audience and to assert themselves through talk.

Scholars such as Butler (1990), Bucholtz (1995), Johnson and Meinhof (1995), Wodak (1997) Johnson (1997) and Eckert and Mc Connell-Ginet (2003) adopt the social construction paradigm which stipulates that gendered identities are maintained and recreated through social practices including language. Individuals are therefore active producers of gendered identities rather than passive produces of socialized gender behaviour. Women and men actively choose ways of framing, drawn partly from social cultural norms, to accomplish specific ends within particular interaction. More so, individual’s language choices in interaction are what invoke these gendered ways of framing. Therefore language acts as a resource for accomplishing the speaker’s purpose.

Butler (1990) argues that gender and by extension identity in general is not something people have but something people do. She describes gender as ‘the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance of a natural kind of being” (1990: 36). Commenting on this, Cameron (1997) states that although Butler does not discuss language using these terms, it is easy to see how speech in particular might be analysed as ‘repeated stylization of the body’. Butler (ibid) also argues that discourses as large sums of statements make certain positions available. These subject positions are the basis on which gender identities are formed. Discourse is thus powerful in defining what it means to be a man or woman in a given society. Akin to Butler (1990), Edley (2001), adopting a psychological discursive approach, views gender as ‘neither something into which we are born nor something that we eventually become.’ On the contrary, it is a performance which culminates into a product of social practices. Peoples’ gender identities therefore remain fluid, capable of adapting to particular social settings or contexts in which people find themselves. This is in tandem with Butler’s argument that if people promoted and enacted a multiplicity of genders, then hegemonic hetero-normative gender practices and normative suppressive conceptions of gender and sexuality would be weakened (1990). This positive idea influenced the researcher to examine Kenyan rap music texts in terms of gender as a performance enacted through discourse to produce diverse masculine identities.

Eckert and Mc Connell-Ginnet (2003) suggest that language is a highly structured system of signs or combinations of form and meaning. Gender is embedded in these signs and in their uses in communicative practice in a variety of ways. They cite the examples of lexical items which refer directly to male and female as in the case of the words ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ respectively. In addition they state that language colours people as they talk. Linguistic resources thus present someone as a particular kind of person. Tone and pitch of voice, patterns of intonations, choice of vocabulary, pronunciations and grammatical patterns can signal gendered aspects of the speaker’s self representation (Eckert and Mc Connell Ginnet 2003:60). The association of the aforementioned linguistic devices with feminine and masculine ideals makes them potential material to reproduce in discourse. For example, using high pitched voice invokes the connection between female gender and smallness and fragility. Avoiding profanities or using euphemistic substitutions invokes the connection between female gender and propriety (Eckert and Mc Connell Ginnet: ibid).

Johnson (1997) observes that the centrality of linguistic issues for theorizing gender is indisputable. She states that language does not simply mirror gender; it helps constitute it. Language therefore is a means by which gender is enacted. Johnson further claims that performances of gender certainly involve many men and women drawing upon linguistic resources which they perceive to be appropriate to their gender groups in the same way that the two sexes may dress in a manner which conforms to gender expectations. Wodak (1997) takes the argument to a different level by pointing out that since society has been constructed with a bias that favours males, language can be perceived as one of the areas that reflect gender discrimination.

Lastly, some sociolinguists have explored how gender is enacted through talk. This approach to gender as discourse views discourse as the spoken word and as embedded in conversations. Tannen (1990) for instance refers to men and women as having different talking styles and this becomes evident in everyday life, for example, women more often use ‘we’ while men use ‘l’ more often. Other researchers such as Zimmerman and West (1975) have studied micro-interactions to explore how gender is created in a situation. They found that patients are more likely to interrupt female medical doctors than male medical doctors.

Summarily, our study is grounded in the post structuralist approach in which gender is seen as and negotiated in actual social interactions in discourse. Taking rap lyrics as social interactions in discourse, our study examines how these function to reproduce gendered identities and normalise asymmetrical power relations between men and other men and between men and women. Studies on Masculinity and Discourse

A dearth of literature shows that masculinity may refer to male bodies but is not determined by male biology. Exploiting this view, Edley (2001) refers to masculinity as discourse. He views masculinity as normative forms of behavior, the sum total of the practices and characteristics which are conventionally associated with men. For Edley, these practices and characteristics that define masculinity can be reproduced in discourse. Masculinity can in this respect be viewed as a discursive accomplishment rather than a natural fact; it is something that is done collectively or jointly with others in discourse. To Edley (ibid) gender identities are typically negotiated and involve the operation of power. Men are not free to construct themselves as they wish. To some extent, it is their cultural history which determines the kinds of identities they assume. He concludes that masculinity may be a performance, but it is one that often becomes habitual or routinized in discourse. Edley’s conceptions lead him to use discursive psychology to analyse interviews of young men on the general topic of feminism and social change. The findings revealed conflicting discourses as to who a feminist is. Our study is different from that of Edley (2001) in that it looks at the construction of masculinity in rap lyrics. Whereas our study relies on textual data, Edley’s is drawn from interviews. Nevertheless, Edley’s ideas about masculinity as discourse resonate well with our study which looks at how masculinity is discursively reproduced in the lyrics of rap texts.

In the same spirit, Murray quoted in Nicholas (2006) asserts that if we accept Althusser’s definition of masculinity which is “a system of signs and representations that allows individuals to position and be positioned as subjects within a given social reality, then masculinity clearly serves this function within black power discourses”. From this argument and our study which investigated the construction of masculinity in the lyrics of Kenyan rap music, we can conclude that masculinity is a discursive accomplishment rather than a natural fact.

Edley and Wetherell (1997) show that masculinity is defined by conflicting discourses that construct men either as sensitive and caring or tough, competitive and emotionally inarticulate. Similarly, Phonex (et al) quoted in Fouten (2006) found that boys behaved differently in a group than individually. They found that in individual interactions, boys generally spoke out about emotions and relations in ways that would be defined as ‘soft and wimpish’ within the group. From this perspective, young boys and men employ speech to perform different masculinities in different contexts. Akin our study, the above studies analysed the discourses that define men in social contexts. However they differ from our study in that they look at the discourses that construct men in conversations whereas our study examines how rap artists employ discourse strategies to perform a diversity of masculine qualities in rap texts.

Research in the field of masculinity (e.g. Heath and Collinson 1993 cited in Wetherell and Edley (1999) has also shown that men may construct masculine identities in relation to women and specifically the ownership and control of Women. Wetherell and Edley (1999) suggest that many masculine identities can be typified by the fact that they are formed around a discourse advocating the protection of femininity. Masculinity is subsequently constructed or performed as powerful since it is defined through discourses emphasizing caring for and control of women. These studies relate to our study which sought to find out whether in the artists’ construction of masculinity, sexism is articulated.

Cameron (1997) examines the discourses of young heterosexual American college students and analyses these as performances about and of masculine gendered identities. In the analyses, she emphasizes the codes of understanding that inform the uptake of conversations. She demonstrates that these codes are themselves constructed and relate to a more general discourse on gender difference. Consequently, any specific instance of behaviour and of associated patterns of talk is directly interpreted through conventional filters that are coloured by partiality of shared assumptions Vis a Vis gender differentiation. In the study, Cameron concentrates on the question of heterosexuality and its relationship to masculinity. She concedes that a performance of heterosexuality is a performance of gender since heterosexuality by definition requires gender difference. In the examples she gives, she shows that men affirm their heterosexual masculinity by contrasting themselves with men who they take to be insufficiently heterosexual and masculine. In another example, it is shown that a performance of heterosexual masculinity can revolve around the sexual objectification of women’s bodies. Like our study, Cameron’s Study adopts a social constructionism paradigm. However, the study is different from ours in that it narrows down on the perspective of heterosexuality and its relationship to gender. Our study widely looks at various discourses that male rappers draw upon to construct their masculinities.

Cameron (1998:47) and Faris (1966 in Maltz and Borker, 1983:119) characterize male discourse in general as competitive and ‘hierarchically organized’. Cameron points to the trading of insults as a ‘foreground[ed]’ speech genre’ in male speech. Central to Cameron’s argument is the claim that ‘masculine and ‘feminine’ are neither what we are nor traits that we have but effects that we produce by way of particular things that we do. ‘Do’ here incorporates language behaviours. Cameron (1998:61) proposes that to perform language behaviours may be the best way to assert ones masculinity. One of the most effective ways to assert one’s masculinity is to portray other men as homosexuals or feminine. In the context of a private conversation among male friends for instance, to gossip about one’s sexual exploits with women or about the repulsiveness of gay men is the most appropriate way to display heterosexual masculinity (Cameron: ibid). In another context say in public or within a larger and less close-knit group of men, Cameron argues that the same objective might well be pursued through explicitly agonistic strategies such as yelling abuse at women or gays in the street, or exchanging sexist and homophobic jokes. Faris (1966) points again to the same three features: storytelling, arguing and insults. Men value narratives such as jokes and storytelling especially if well performed in front of an audience. Faris reasons that news is rarely passed between two men meeting on the road as it is not to a man’s advantage to relay information to such a small audience (1966 in Maltz and Borker 1983). Faris also underscores loud and aggressive arguments (which include shouting, wagering, name calling and verbal threats) as a common feature of male-male speech. A third feature of male speech include challenges, put downs and insults. Cameron’s and Faris’ studies laid useful ground for an analysis of the language of rap texts to find out whether the male rappers speech is highly competitive as exhibited through abuses, challanges, put downs, threats and sexist jokes.

Research in the field of masculinity and discourse in the Kenyan context reveals that men discursively construct themselves as more dominant to women. Kweyu (2004) reports that men who reproduce themselves as dominant in their qualities are highly valued in the Kenyan society. These men exhibit qualities of bravery, resilience, responsibility, intelligence, success, and adventure. Onyango (2008) analyses the masculine discursive construction of rape in the Kenyan press. He asserts that the forty to forty-five Kenyan communities are predominantly patriarchal. Men’s dominance and decisiveness is discursively reproduced in idioms such as “if you are man enough…” and “mkono wa kiume” (meaning the right hand). Onyango also observes that men assert their dominance over women through sex. He gives examples of terms used to refer to men that connote virility. These are ‘esurusi’ (the bull) among the samia-Luhya community, ‘ruath’ (the bull) among the Luo- from Nyanza province and ‘dume’ (a male animal) widely used by those conversant with the Kiswahili language. Onyango’s (2008) analysis reveals that men use verbal posturing to reproduce women as prostitutes in the press. Men are excluded from such a portrayal. Conversely, a man who engages in multiple sexual relations is revered and perceived as a ‘bull’, a ‘cock’or succinctly put a hero (very virile). Onyango concludes that the negative image constructed by men may not be logical but all the same can be comprehended in terms of the patriarchal system of the Kenyan society. Onyango’s study is different from ours in that it looks at the masculine discursive construction of rape in the Kenyan press. Nevertheless, the scholar provides invaluable insights that have relevant ramifications on our analysis of the discourse strategies the Kenyan male rappers employ to construct their masculine selves.

2.2.2 Studies on Rap Music

Ntarangwi (2009) analyses the hip hop genre in East Africa in relation to gender. He explains that hip hop music in East Africa is generally defined by men through a male gaze that narrates male experiences. Adopting Butler’s (1990) notion of performativity, Ntarangwi (2009) states that hip hop songs also express the fluidity and performative nature of gender. The scholar asserts that there are hip hop artistes who adopt a critical stance on gender while others maintain traditional notions of gender. He further emphasizes that the hip hop songs present examples of men and women who fit the expected gender roles as well as those who do not fit the expected gender roles and norms. Our study is akin to that of Ntarangwi in that gender is perceived as a ‘performative act’ or a social construct. However, unlike our study which narrows down to masculinity as articulated in Kenyan rap music, Ntarangwi’s work broadly focuses on the construction of gendered identities in the hip-hop genre in East Africa.

Scholars such as Norman (2001) and Fitzpatrick (2005) have also studied the hip-hop genre and particularly rap music. Norman (2001) studied the identity politics of queer hip-hop. He contends that one of the major ways by which rappers can establish themselves is by professing to align themselves with thoughts and actions normally associated with heterosexual men. These are such as promiscuity, flamboyance and aggression. In an analysis of the discourse practices of battling in hip-hop language, Fitzpatrick (2005) shows how rappers establish their heterosexuality in the Hip-hop language. He gives an example of rappers in the USA who repeatedly assert their heterosexual masculinity through lexical items such as ‘bitch or ‘faggot’ or through narratives describing their sexual exploits with women. Fitzpatrick rationalises that these behaviours can be prompted by the desire rappers have to construct status for themselves. Our study is similar to that of Norman (2001) and Fitzpatrick (2005) in that it examines the discourses of misogyny and heterosexuality in rap music. However, our study is broader in that it connects the two discourses with masculinity. More so, our study explores rap music in a Kenyan context while those of Norman and Fitzpatrick (ibid) examine American rap music.

In yet another study of Hip-hop, Nelson (2000) identifies the ‘pimp’ or promiscuous man as a primary role model according to the values of the code of the street. He indicates that this is corroborated by the audio and visual images in rap music, which often depict men in positions of power over their environments. Nelson suggests that in order for this power dynamic to exist, it requires the oppression of women. In Hip-hop language, the dynamic is often reinforced by the popularity of public discourse glorifying promiscuous behavior by men while simultaneously decrying that of women. This line of thought is taken up by Fitzpatrick (2005) who describes a ‘whore’, a derogatory term of describing women, as one of the many women serving a ‘pimp’. This labelling serves to characterize women as sexual objects in line with dominant ideologies expressed. These studies are in tandem with our study which scrutinizes the language of rap music to establish whether artists use sexist language. However, while the scholars show rap lyrics glamorise misogyny, they fail to consider how it contributes to the articulation of masculinity.

Pareles (1994) observes that people who monitor lyrics worry that some rappers are overtly homophobic, sexist and violent. He also points out that rappers accrue social and economic capital for themselves through their ability to rhyme, speed of their articulation and ‘their ability to create outsized personas through words alone.’ Pareles further states that rap is a tool for the affirmation of a rapper’s self. Rap may define a rapper as successful through flaunting of status symbols such as jewellery and cars. It also often defines a rapper as sexually insatiable and a bit of a rebel of societal laws. Paroles gives an example of the American rap group ‘2 Live Crew’ which has been accused in the ‘Times’ of misogyny and glorifying abuse of women. He agrees with the critics that the group’s rhymes on “As Nasty as They Wanna Be” are clearly sexist since they treat women entirely as objects. At a literal perspective, Pareles suggests that the machismo in rap music reveal ‘adolescent attitudes toward women, who are either presented as either materialistic and cold or easy sexual conquests.’ While Pareles emphasises how the lyrics of this single group directly comment on sexism and exploitation of women, she fails to consider how this reproduces masculinity. Besides, her observation is not based on a systematic content analysis of ‘2 Live Crew’s’ music videos. By conducting a textual analysis of a much larger sample of rap lyrics, our study provides an empirical basis for identifying the ways in which Kenyan rappers reproduce their masculine identities through a myriad of discourses including the discourse of misogyny.

Adams and Fuller (2006) examined the use of misogynistic ideology in gangsta rap music. They define misogyny in rap as “the promotion, glamorization, support, humorization, justification, or normalization of oppressive ideas about women (p. 940). They emphasise that in rap music “this ideology reveals itself in many ways, from mild innuendos to blatant stereotypical characterization and defamation” of women. The two scholars argue that such views support, perpetuate and instil ideas and values that debase women. Adam and Fuller identify six misogynistic themes prevalent in rap music: “a) derogatory statements about women, particularly in relation to sex, b) statements involving violent actions towards women, c) references of women causing trouble to men, d) characterization of women as ‘users’ of men, e) references of women being beneath men, and f) references of women as usable and discardable beings’ (p.940). The two scholars further identify two images namely, the sapphire and jezebel stereotypes which are regularly found in many misogynistic rap lyrics. They define the sapphire (in rap referred to as ‘bitch’) as an African-American woman who dominates her entire household including her husband. The sapphire also takes the form of a money hungry, scandalous manipulating and demanding woman. The jezebel (referred to as ‘ho’ [whore] in rap lyrics) on the other hand is described as a sexually loose and aggressive woman. The jezebel is illustrated as a sex object that can be abused in any way to satisfy a man’s sexual desires. Adams and Fuller rationalize that rap artist’s use misogynistic imagery in their music for various reasons. First, they may have internalized negative stereotypes about women from their culture. Second, the subjugation of women enables these male artists to exalt themselves in an oppressive world. Lastly, by debasing women lyrically, male artists are provided with a means of asserting their masculinity (p. 94. Like our study, Adams and Fuller’s study reflects two interacting ideologies of language and gender. In their study, the operative gender ideology links successful masculinity to the oppression of women. This study is in a way reminiscent to ours which looks at misogynistic ideologies in Kenyan rap lyrics. However, our study is broader as it makes the important point that masculinity is articulated via multiple culturally accepted discourses.

Emerson (2002) demonstrates how music videos exhibit and reproduce the stereotypical notions of Black womanhood. Emerson shows that Black women are represented according to the controlling images discussed by Hill Collins (1991a). ‘the images that are seen most often are the hyper sexualised “hot mama” or “jezebel”, the asexual “mammy”, the emasculating “matriarch”, and the £welfare recipient” or “baby momma” (a colloquial term for young unwed mothers)’ (Emerson 2002, p.117). Emerson observes that such representations are firmly grounded in dominant ideologies surrounding Black womanhood in the society. According to Collins (1991a), such dominant ideologies maintain hegemonic power and serve to justify and legitimize the continued marginalization of Black women. Emerson’s study is based on the analysis of music videos performed by female artists. Although Emerson’s and Hill Collins do not specifically discuss rap music, the gists of their observations reflect how women in misogynistic lyrics are reduced to sub-human beings.

Finally, Conrad (2008) examine how rap music videos influence the identity of Americans. They point out that a large body of research has suggested that rap music portrayals include negative images of violence, sex and materialism. The scholars cite Smith’s (2005) review which found an extreme emphasis on violence, sexual content and substance abuse aired on MTV. Conrad observe that in rap music, males are often portrayed in a more positive light than females. Individuals take on stereotypical gender roles and women are often in positions of submission to men. In addition, men are portrayed as more likely to perpetuate violence (Sherman and Dominick; 1986, in Conrad while women are portrayed as victims (Seidman; 1992, in Conrad; 2008). Conrad’s views are based on researches which are not based on a linguistic analysis of rap music video content. These researches majorly focus on gender relations and leave out how rappers actively reproduce themselves in the music videos as masculine. Our study encompasses both the ways in which rappers articulate their masculinity in rap lyrics and also the ways in which rap music sanction the existing gender relations in the society.



3.1 Research design

This study is qualitative in approach as it is conducted through a case study of Kenyan rap music. Case study is a particularistic, descriptive, heuristic and inductive analysis of an entity. (Wimmer and Dominick, 2006, p.137). Case study is particularistic because it deals with a particular or singular entity. It is descriptive in that the end product of a case study describes the topic under study in detail. Case study is heuristic because it enables people to understand deeply what is being studied. Finally, it is inductive since principals and generalizations emerge from examining the data. (Wimmer and Dominick, ibid). Case study is ideally suitable for the study since rap music, a particular entity is studied. This design is also deemed appropriate as it enables the researcher not only to describe but also to explain the phenomena under study deeply and exhaustively.

3.2 Sample size and sampling procedures

The target population of this study was Kenyan rap songs. From the accessible population, the researcher selected a sample of twenty rap music videos from which lyrics and accompanying visuals were analyzed. This sample size was perceived as both a sufficient and manageable amount of data.

Purposive sampling technique was used to select the sample from the accessible population. The researcher randomly observed a range of Kenyan rap music videos and chose cases that had the required information with respect to the objectives of the study. Only cases with the required characteristics were selected.

Music videos were purposively sampled and chosen on the basis of particular characteristics. To begin with, they featured rap songs performed by male artistes only. An additional criterion for selection was that the performers whose music videos were included had a Kenyan heritage. This was judged from their biographies posted on Lastly, only rap music videos produced in the years ranging from 2000 to 2010 were selected. The researcher felt that this period marked a great improvement in the localization of Kenyan rap music. Ten years was also considered to cover a coherent time segment.

3.3 Data collection procedures

Given the objectives of the study, both the lyrics (spoken) and visual data in music videos were collected. The data was collected basing on their reference to an element or elements of gender constructions related to the objectives of the study. The lyrics were collected using documentary sources. As it was considered time consuming to listen to the sampled songs and then transcribe them using a paper and a pen, the sampled lyrics were collected from the website Use of documentary sources from the aforementioned website was also guided by need for accurate data. This website included various sections where lyrics could be viewed and then printed. In the website, the selected rap artistes were listed together with their singles and lyrics. Each of the chosen lyrics files was printed.

The visual data was collected through observation technique from a commercial website that airs music videos.

3.4 Data analysis

This study entailed a cross sectional analysis of rap music lyrical texts. In order to facilitate a clear analysis of data, the collected lyrical texts were studied as case studies. As most of the Kenyan artistes rap in Sheng, a language mostly associated with the Kenyan youth, the analysis began with translating the lyrics of the songs from sheng to English. Since the researcher is not competent in Sheng, there was need to employ two research assistants who are competent speakers of Sheng and listeners of Kenyan rap music. These research assistants helped the researcher in the translation and interpretation of meanings of words , phrases and sentences in rap music texts.

The next step was reading through each chosen lyric and in the course, noting salient features such as the thematic concerns. This was followed by rereading of the texts at microscopic levels of analysis (from text level to sentence level to word level). After this, sections of possible interest related to the guiding themes of masculinity and misogyny were marked and highlighted in each of the lyrical texts. The various highlighted sections were then separated and grouped together under similar relevant themes. Lists of examples to illustrate arguments related to the given objectives were then compiled and analysed using the qualitative method of discourse analysis. Exceptions to the themes related to the given objectives were also analysed and their importance discussed.


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Performing Masculinity. A linguistic analysis of the performance of Gender ldentities in Kenyan Rap Music
Moi University  (School of Arts and Social Sciences)
M.A Linguistics
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Sarah Nakhone (Author), 2013, Performing Masculinity. A linguistic analysis of the performance of Gender ldentities in Kenyan Rap Music, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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