"Not Perfect Grammar, Always Perfect Timing" : African American Vernacular English in Black and White Rap Lyrics

University essay from Karlstads universitet/Estetisk-filosofiska fakulteten

Abstract: African American Vernacular English, AAVE, is a variant of English spoken mostly by lower-class black citizens in the US. Since the most popular music genre among African Americans today is rap, this paper will describe what characterizes AAVE and rap music, and explore the use of AAVE in rap lyrics of both black and white rappers. AAVE is different from Standard English in several respects; grammatically, phonologically and lexically. Examples of grammatical features in AAVE are invariant be, double negations and the differing use of possessive pronouns. The hip hop industry has been, and still is, largely dominated by black performers, and white artists make up only a minority of rappers in the line of business today. Rappers being part of a larger culture, the hip hop nation, they have a language in common, and that language is AAVE. In this paper, a number of lyrics performed both by black and white rap artists have been compared and analyzed, in search of linguistic features of AAVE. This study provides evidence that AAVE is indeed used in rap lyrics, although the use of its features is often inconsistent. It is also shown that AAVE-presence in white rappers’ lyrics exists, but is sparser than in the works of their black equivalents.

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