Torrens, Kathleen [faculty advisor, Department of Communication Studies]




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hip hop; slavery; rhetoric; music


There is no doubt that Hip Hop has become a most influential international force. This animal has had many faces: two of these faces have been as a political tool as displayed by Public Enemy, and as a therapeutic release-- as I discovered while in AmeriCorps interning at AS220 for a program called Hip Hop 220, in which we took underprivileged youth and helped them to channel their energy through this art form. However, there is a dark side to this culture that includes extreme misogyny, self- sabotage, hatred, and an unhealthy obsession with status. As I reflected on these I noticed characteristics seemed to reflect themes of an anger and self hatred that had been internalized, and went beyond the realm of hip hop. And it is also within this dichotomy that we see Hip Hop’s most prominent feature, its contradiction.

Previously I had read an article by a Temple University student entitled “Sure hip hop is talking, but what is it saying?” and it got me thinking, “What is it saying?” And through this question, the project was born: What is within the Rhetoric of Hip Hop?

In my original proposal I had committed to taking current issues within hip hop and discussing them in essay format. I wanted to discuss identity, gender, and language use. However, after an interview with Dr. Tricia Rose that turned into a consultation, and as research progressed, I realized that all of these topics in great deal stemmed from the current co-optation of the art form itself, and that the underlying messages made a direct connection to messages received during slavery. Through more research, I discovered that capitalism’s foundation (with hyper capitalism as the drive for co-optation) was, in fact, slavery and the free labor it provided. It is here that I began to see a connection between the commercialism of today, and the capitalistic motives of the past. My question then went one step further from “what is it saying?” to “Who is allowing these messages out?” 

During this time I found a quote from the artist Nas from whose album I had borrowed the title. It seems that what drove the title of his album was the problem of corporate control over the artist. With this, I decided that these things could not be discussed separately as it seemed to me they all shared the same foundation. Therefore, rather than discuss them as such it was best that I attacked the heart of the matter. 

This altered and deepened my purpose and gave me an actual thesis statement of the following: “The conditions that helped give rise to the art form of Hip Hop, are now the very conditions that are helping to truncate its voice.” 

In this project I have discussed how social conditions in slavery that were manifested to protect America’s original (and forever ongoing) concern of capital investment, produced an environment that has been maintained and cultivated from then until now that marginalizes the African American. Through using rhetorical theorists like Burke, Bitzer, and Bahktin (all theorists who discussed language in terms of social identity), I have been able to not only discuss how social structures have created the “ghetto,” but also how this has influenced the rhetoric of its inhabitants. Not stopping there, I then move to show how this rhetoric is now being co-opted, and essentially how globalization is allowing the wounds of African Americans to be capitalized upon as corporations only allow out one voice within hip hop--and it is the voice that is most detrimental.

Works cited.pdf (54 kB)
Works cited.pdf

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