Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spectacular Vernacular: The Development of Hiphop Rhetoric

Hip-hop music has always been dubbed "poetry in motion" over its years of existence. The "poetry in motion" saying holds two meanings: rhymes flowing over beats and the constant change of the rhetoric in hip-hop culture.

Language develops over time, and no matter what culture you live in, words change meanings all the time. Hip-hop is no different. Actually hip-hop, along with many other subcultures in America, is a heavy influence of the changes in mainstream society. From words like "bomb" to "bling," we've witnessed the definition and context of hip-hop's vocabulary used by almost everyone in America. "Bling" rapidly became the term to use for luxurious items such as jewelry and cars for everyone, but not until it was used in the song "Bling Bling" by the Cash Money Millionaires (seeing the video will show you why it was so influential).

Take Urban Dictionary for example. Although this "dictionary" is the Wikipedia of vocabulary - with its user-created content, which makes the words and their definitions exaggerated - it is a great example of how influential hip-hop culture has been in developing language for all of America. How?

Well, to credit Urban Dictionary, and the development of the vernacular of hip-hop, you have to understand hip-hop is all about representing. It's always been about how you represent your neighborhood - from the neighborhood's style of music to the type of language they use - through the artistic elements hip-hop has to offer. Like the post about chopped and screwed music in Texas, their style of music is slow and relaxed. So their style of rhyme and vernacular, just as it has been before the days of hip-hop, is slow and drawn out.

Bringing this back to Urban Dictionary, the site has over a million submissions per day from people of various backgrounds. And if you notice the definitions (including all of the ridiculously sexual ones), they always let you know what region of the country the word comes from. For example, if you look up the word "shorty" you'll get over a dozen results that come from over a dozen regions of the world. The definitions vary from culture to culture, especially within the culture of hip-hop. Like in the South, "shorty" means a fine, attractive girl. In the North, "shorty" means a young man new to the streets. In Australia, according to Urban Dictionary, "shorty" means a way to insult someone smaller than you.

Basically, the rhetoric of hip-hop is ever-changing with the time for the region that it serves. And as it changes, so does the rhetoric of mainstream American society. Language can be a never-ending cycle, and the cycle is often sped up by the culture of hip-hop.

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