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The languages of rap music

Written By: Marie Joelle Yveline Thuillier on November 14, 2008 7 Comments


My name is Marie etc…I am a student of Linguistics and for my senior’s thesis, I want to study U.S.A rap in comparison with French rap. Although the latter is derived from the former, their content and their form are very different from one another. I want to explore the phonological and the semantic differences and similarities of the two.

I believe that rap can be amazingly creative in terms of sounds, content and poetic strategies. I might even argue that it could be a great medium for language learning and literary studies.

I think looking at rap is crucial to understanding the structure but also the flexibility of Language and the structure of the society in which it emerges.

I recently came up with this topic and will keep on posting about it to get feedback and suggestions.


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7 Responses to “The languages of rap music”

  1. Youki Terada on: 16 November 2008 at 1:47 am

    sounds interesting!
    I’m clueless when it comes to French rap; who are you going to be studying?

  2. daveski on: 17 November 2008 at 9:43 pm

    Sounds cool. Is there any way you could link to a few examples that you’d be comparing? I don’t know French rap at all.

  3. twolcott on: 17 November 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Hi Marie,

    Cool idea! I assume you need help selecting American rappers, right? If so, I can probably help you.


  4. Adam on: 20 November 2008 at 8:38 pm

    This post and its comments got me reminiscing about the summer I spent in Aix-en-Provence and the number one song those days. I don’t know to what extent this counts as “French rap” as French is only one of several languages used, but, in addition to the fond memories of that summer, I love the hybridity involved in this thing. Enjoy!

    Another source of what I would call outstanding examples of hybridity in hip hop that includes some French is popular music from Senegal. The only group I know well is Positive Black Soul:

    And finally, while not in French at all, Orishas, a group of Cuban ex-pats, met and records in France, although their lyrics are almost exclusively in Spanish.

    In all three cases, what I love about this stuff is the rich mix of sounds. In some ways US hip hop will always set the pace, but compared to the mainstream stuff we hear out here, this stuff is so much deeper, not necessarily in terms of lyrical content (much of which escapes me) but in terms of the multiple layers of voices and genres. I guess I’m Bakhtinian not only my academic life, but in my music tastes also 🙂

    Anyway, in terms of US hip hop, of which I am no longer the expert I was in the early 90’s, only Outkast provides the sort of richness that I feel in this music.

  5. Adam on: 20 November 2008 at 8:54 pm

    ok, so i couldn’t resist making another post. after sharing a bit about french-related hip hop i felt the need to give spain its props. in terms of hybridity, this stuff isn’t as rich, and while it still has a distinctive spanish flavor (at least the first two links) there is also a purity to this stuff that i like. it’s maybe less original in that it is more clearly influenced by american styles (especially the third link) but it shows that spanish rappers can hold their own doing more “traditional rap”. (shouldn’t i be studying right now?)

    SFDK (2007) “Pruébalo”
    letra: (OJO: Some of the language in this song is potentially offensive.)

    Mala Rodríguez (2006) “Por la noche”
    letra: http://versosperfectos.com/cancion.php?id_cancion=6896

    Violadores del Verso (2007) “Asómate”
    letra: http://www.versosperfectos.com/cancion.php?id_cancion=6879

  6. Rick Kern on: 20 November 2008 at 10:42 pm

    I agree that rap can lend itself to language learning- for one reason because of the regular (and challengingly rapid) rhythms. In French I often will play MC Solaar’s “Le nouveau western” (1994) along with Serge Gainsbourg/Brigitte Bardot’s “Bonnie and Clyde” (1968), because they’re both based on the exact same musical theme (MC Solaar samples the sound track of Bonnie & Clyde), so it’s a nice societal “update” of French views of american mythology. Great way to talk about intertextuality too.

  7. Erin on: 27 April 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I am not too familiar with French rap, but here in the States there are different sub-genres within the rap realm. You might talk about something like that- is French as varied as US rap? Something to think about. In addition to that, US rap is beginning to find ways to combine these genres of rap (ex, The Band IceBloc is a good mixture of South and east coast rap).

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