Table of Contents
2 How Hip-Hop Came to Life
2.1 The Origins in the USA
2.2 Adoption in Germany and the UK
3 Defining a Metaphor
4 Conceptual Metaphors
6 Metaphorical Conceptions in Rap Music
6.1 Rap as a battle or a war
6.2 Hip Hop as a person
6.3 Success as luxurious goods
Over the past decades, Hip-Hop and Rap music manifested itself in mainstream music culture up to the point to become the top selling music genre in the US by 2017, surpassing Rock and Country music (Nielsen). What started with the use of turntables to reduce songs to their percussive elements and combine existing records, merging them to innovative beats, established the most attractive genre of the present-day music industry. This phenomenon can be understood as the result of an ever-changing genre that develops distinct subgenres frequently, which offer a fertile ground for new sounds and lyrical themes. Whether it is the Gangsta-Rap with lyrics focussing on drug abuse and violence, often providing a stereotypical image of gang members or Political Hip Hop that reflects on crucial issues of contemporary society like police brutality and discrimination. Although hip-hop music is often considered to be aggressive by nature, promoting rebellious behaviour, and spoiling youths, an analysis of artists belonging to various genres reveals that critical claims tend to be generalized. Given the circumstances Hip-Hop developed in, and partially still develops, the themes of violence and drug abuse in the songs are fundamental to be authentic representations of the rappers’ lives. And since the genre is extraordinarily diverse, it is obvious that a manifold thematic landscape prevails, ranging from expressing dislike towards other rappers over bragging about one’s skills to even love. Hip-Hop or Rap music, like other forms of poetic expression, provides the possibility to employ several stylistic devices, encoding deeper meanings in often hard sounding verses. One of the most prominent devices found in songs is the metaphor, used to visualize the similarity between two or more objects in order to create a blend that partakes the characteristics of both (Britannica).
Since Hip-Hop became a global phenomenon that frequently produces new celebrities, the question arises whether national varieties in terms of metaphorical conceptions exist and how they are manifested in contemporary artists’ lyrics. After an insight into the subculture’s history is gained, it is necessary to clarify what conceptual metaphors are before an analysis and comparison of selected metaphorical conceptions in Rap lyrics by German and British Hip-Hop artists can be accomplished. Finally, this term paper will try to explain possible cross-cultural as well as intracultural differences.
2 How Hip-Hop Came to Life
2.1 The Origins in the USA
In order to understand the phenomenon of Hip-Hop thoroughly it is necessary to dive into the subculture’s structure as well as into its genesis. Although the terms “Hip-Hop” and “Rap” are commonly used synonymously, it is important to note that the rapping part constitutes only one of the four pillars that define Hip-Hop as a subculture and, in fact, developed only after the others had already caught public attention. Generally, Hip-Hop comprises the acts of deejaying, or turntabling, graffiti painting, b-boying, that is the style of dancing, nowadays often referred to as breakdancing but also incorporating style as well as attitude, and MC-ing, otherwise known as rapping. However, for the sake of clarity, the terms “Hip Hop” and “Rap” will be used synonymously. The MC, short for Master of Ceremonies, is a key figure at Hip-Hop parties. His/Her task was to provide the audience with side facts on the DJ or the records played. This person’s position roots back to West-African culture where griots, preservers of their people’s genealogies, travel the continent to engage as royal advisers, storytellers, and nowadays predominantly entertainers in music and verbal arts (Britannica). Those scholars are highly skilled in the field of rhetoric which is a dominant feature of African culture in general. Children of Afro-American backgrounds grow up with games of Double Dutch or other jump rope games that are often accompanied by rhyming games with verses governing the frequency and direction of the jumps or making predictions on the jumper’s success in the game as well as in life. Moreover, these games are characterized by an anti-authoritarian tone, parodies, and judgements on every aspect of life (Smith 2010: 796). Thus, the reason for an increased importance of verbal competence, especially concerning rhyming skills, in Hip-Hop music can be traced back to its great relevance in African culture.
For the purpose of outlining the history of Hip-Hop, The Anthology of Rap by Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois offers a structured understanding of the genre’s development, organizing artists in four periods. “The Old School” phase marks the emergence of Hip-Hop in the South Bronx when Kool DJ Herc, during a party, developed the innovative Breakbeat by cutting out some-seconds-long passages out of existing records and stringing them together in 1973. The audience enjoyed the patter of the MCs and DJs. Thus, a progression took place from voicing simple phrases, like “You rock and you don’t stop” by Coke La Rock, to poetically grown verses, employing metaphors and figurative speech. At first, most of the verses were rapped off beat, meaning that the rhyming tempo did not fit the rhythmic properties of the beat. That changed when Kid Creole and Melle Mel, brothers and fellow Furious Five members, lengthened La Rock’s phrases by repeating constructions that conformed to the beat. (Bradley & DuBois 2010: 3) Moreover, lyrics were repeated within verses to echo the beat, creating a powerful synergy between text and music often found in the genre of Disco music.
The Golden Age, how Bradley and DuBois call it, marks a period of drastic changes to the face of Hip-Hop. The MC established itself to become a crucial part in the genre’s records that payed more attention to lyrical artistry. Contributing to that, beats increasingly relied on drum-machine patterns. Therefore, the focus was narrowed down to the creator of lyrics which paved the way for lyrically talented MC’s like Rakim and Big Daddy Kane who elevated the influence of metaphors in Rap music to a new level. In “Microphone Fiend” by Eric B. and Rakim the latter employs numerous metaphors and similes, comparing himself to a drug addict. Adding to that, the metaphorical title makes the whole record appear to be a single metaphor that reflects on Rakim’s career and the urge he feels to deliver his rhymes to the audience. Similar endeavours into the poetic possibilities of Rap where undertaken by Big Daddy Kane who revolutionized the way rhymes had been utilized. His verses were not limited to end rhymes anymore. Instead, he would fit five or more rhymes in one sentence to reinforce the messages his battle lines incorporate. To conclude, it can be stated that The Golden Age, with its increasing lyrical focus, served as a futile ground for the emergence and development of MCs.
The succeeding period marks Hip-Hop’s rise to become a popular cultural form which was achieved by the increased importance of music videos as commodities that resulted in commercial success. A constant confrontation with such music videos on television channels such as MTV or BET concluded in a mainstream appeal, justifying the period’s title “Rap Goes Mainstream”. In this way, audiences from across the United States were able to listen to the most recent records of the epicentres of Hip-Hop, namely Los Angeles and New York. In addition, rappers from different parts of the US entered the realm of public interest which gave way to new strongholds to emerge. However, this seemingly positive development also confined the music to extremes. Artists were forced to appeal to stereotypes, such as the gangster, for music video producers to recognise and work with them. Although this seems to be a mostly negative outcome, threatening the genre’s diversity, artists who refused to accept these guidelines, like the Fugees or A Tribe Called Quest, were still recognised as highly influential and successful.
Bradley and DuBois’ period “New Millennium Rap” marks the time span between 2000-2010 and is recognised as the last step into complete commercialisation. The charts at that time were dominated by Rappers (Jay-Z, 50Cent, Eminem) and R & B artists who presented a crossover of Pop and Hip Hop, like Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Usher. This crossover clearly indicates a shift in the genre’s soundscape that many Hip Hop traditionalists disapproved of. Raps started to lose their integral role in Hip Hop records. Instead, other components, like the beat or the overall sound of the songs gained in importance. Auto-Tune, for example, is a computer program to alter the sound of someone’s recorded voice, drastically influencing the melodic qualities of songs. Nevertheless, lyrical talent remained a guarantee for success as in the example of Eminem, who sold more records in that decade than The Beatles did in the same period of time. Another decisive circumstance for the diversification of Hip Hop was the rise of the internet and with it a wide variety of opportunities for unknown artists to make a name for themselves. A trend that can still be observed today on websites like SoundCloud, offering music uploads to everyone. Thus, the internet has changed our habits in consuming music as well as how music is produced. The never satisfied demand for new music results in an abundance of songs, albums, and genres that blurs the lines of distinction. However, in music, a constant flux is often regarded as a positive property that guarantees commercial success, increasing the appeal of Hip Hop on a global scale.
2.2 Adoption in Germany and the UK
Hip Hop as a culture reached Germany with the movies “Wild Style” by Charlie Ahearn and Harry Belafoute’s “Beat Street” in 1985. (Elflein 1998: 256) Up to this point, rap was known in the GDR only as music received via West German radio. In both parts of the country, however, subcultural epicentres emerged. The Hip Hop scene of the GDR used to gather in Dresden whereas competitions in the FRG took place in Brunswick, Dortmund, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Kiel, Cologne, and West Berlin. The larger number of urban hotspots as well as the increased amount of immigrants in the FRG compared to the GDR are reasons for the immense impact the subculture, that has always been a tool for overcoming oppression of minorities, had on the former. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the commercial success of the Fantastischen 4 a national music genre developed, called “Neuer Deutscher Sprechgesang” or “Neue Deutsche Reimkultur”. Given the terminological emphasis on German nationality, immigrants were banned from enjoying the right to participate in a culture that influenced them as much as youths of German descendance. Consequently, Hip Hop artists were supposed to rap in German in order to be commercially successful and many of them conformed to that. On the other hand, many artists of other nationalities produced records in their mother tongue, for example in Turkish, representing the notion of a multicultural genre that pursues the aim of overcoming socio-cultural inequality. Today, rappers of non-German origins are a substantial part of the German Hip Hop industry while appealing to mostly young people of all sorts of nationalities and often being more acknowledged than their German counterparts.
In the United Kingdom, Hip Hop developed differently. Compared to Germany, Hip Hop as a cultural form was already in existence, regarding DJing and graffiti spraying, in the UK when the music genre spread across the globe. This was due to the fact that “[b]etween 1948 and 1970 nearly half a million people left their homes in the West Indies to live in Britain” (National Archives) for various reasons. And because Hip Hop has been firmly influenced by Caribbean traditions, the black British community had established a musical landscape itself, the reggae sound system culture. Adding to that, a pre-existing club culture, dominated by the racially mixed “rare groove” DJ network that combined US soul and jazz with disco and funk, rejected Hip Hop to become a prevailing genre and was merely included into the mixture in the 1980s. (Hesmondhalgh 2002: 90) When Hip Hop received national recognition in Britain and was commercialised, the question arose whether UK rap should draw on the style and language of its American equivalent or if it ought to be presented with a British accent and vocabulary of its own. While many artists initially mimicked US rappers, other musicians criticised them for a lack of authenticity and vocabulary that was not in tone with the way Britons would normally speak. For these reasons, the genre was destined to fail its adoption to the UK in its pure form. However, the impact it had on the nation’s music culture is, nonetheless, remarkable as it lay the foundation for completely new genres, like Grime and Drill, to emerge.
3 Defining a Metaphor
Although recognised by many as an exclusive feature of literary language, especially poetry, metaphors form a substantial part of everyday language. Metaphoric written or spoken language is subject to a vast variety of linguistic examinations and for any such research it is necessary to define the term to achieve terminological clarity. A basic definition of the term is given by the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary: “a word or phrase used to describe sb/sth else, in a way that is different from its normal use, in order to show that the two things have the same qualities and to make the description more powerful […]”
A more detailed definition in respects of cognitive semantics is offered by John I. Saeed in his work Semantics, calling the described concept on which features are transported the target domain and the concept the features derive from the source domain. To make this more evident, a verse by MF Doom of the collaborative song Rhinestone Cowboy by Madvillain, released in 2004, serves as an illustration:
“Set the stage with a goal / To have the game locked in a cage getting shocked with a pole”
In this line, MF Doom describes his ambition in the Rap game to trap it in a cage and poke it with a stun stick. The target domain, in this case, would be “the game” which can be understood as the whole of the regional, New Yorker, or supraregional Rap industry on the one hand, and is, on the other, a play with the equivocation of the word also referring to undomesticated animals chased for food. The source domain, however, is merely referred to indirectly but evokes the image of a trapped wild animal that is conditioned with electric shocks. Therefore, Doom regards himself as the poacher of the Rap game, trapping artists and electrifying them with his flows he presents on stage.
4 Conceptual Metaphors
Considering that this term paper will examine metaphorical conceptions in Rap songs, the feature of conceptualisation should receive attention in order to understand why they are commonly found in music. The term conceptual metaphor can be defined nearly the same as the metaphor itself. The only distinction lies in the property of the domains to consist of concepts of experience, rather than mere individual words. In their renowned work Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff & Johnson argue that even the human’s cognitive system is structured conceptually and that these concepts govern our understanding of and interaction with the world. Since language is our most productive tool of communication and is naturally strewed with metaphors, it offers sufficing evidence for the nature of this system. (ibid., 3) However, to name and describe every concept of metaphorical language use Lakoff & Johnson researched would go beyond the scope of this paper. Therefore, basal structures like “happy is up – sad is down” are disregarded and the focus is placed on more sophisticated concepts, one of the most striking being the way we talk about arguments using vocabulary usually associated with warfare. Possible utterances could be that claims are indefensible, strategies are used, or that weak points are attacked. (ibid., 4) Furthermore, we commonly speak about winning and losing arguments. Now that the terminology is transparent and evidence for the frequent occurrence of metaphors in ordinary language has been given, this paper will move on to examine selected conceptual metaphors in Rap lyrics.