On the recontextualization of hip-hop in European speech communities: a contrastive analysis of rap lyrics*
This paper reports first findings of an on-going research on hip-hop discourse and rap lyrics in Continental Europe. Although hip-hop is widely considered to be an "imported" cultural pattern in Europe, this paper is based on the assumption that European hip-hop is not merely an imitation of its US model, but the outcome of a recontextualization process, wherein a globally available cultural model is being appropriated in various reception communities. It is our aim to trace this appropriation through an analysis of discourse topics and linguistic patterns in rap lyrics. Based on a randomly selected sample of 50 rap songs per language, a framework for the comparative analysis of rap lyrics is developed. On this basis, this paper is the first to document a number of textual and linguistic patterns which are typical for rap lyrics throughout Europe, ranging from song topics through rappers' verbal actions up to the use of English elements. This linguistic analysis is framed by a question derived from media and cultural studies, i.e. the relation between Americanization, cultural globalization, and popular culture. On this plane, our research provides evidence for the active and creative aspect of globalization: Globally available cultural products can provide the impulse for a locally enacted symbolic creativity – in our case, for specific "local" European forms of rap.
In his renowned analysis of subcultural style, John Clarke used the notion of "recontextualization" to describe a particular stage in the process of style formation: Cultural objects which have been borrowed from different contexts are integrated in a new social context thus: re-contextualized and gain thereby new meanings (Clarke 1975). In this paper we use this term in order to capture "local" appropriations of a globally available cultural model. In this sense, "recontextualization" competes with other similar terms such as James Lull's (1995) "re-territorialization" and Silvia Schneider's (1997) "Re-Inszenierung" which also attempt to capture the adaptation of mediated cultural patterns in new reception communities.
Recent scholarly discussion on globalization and popular culture has pointed out that cultural globalization does not automatically lead to a levelling of national identities, but rather to an expansion of cultural diversity in each reception community (Strinati 1995, Waters 1995, Kunczik 1998). On the other hand, the connection between globalization and Americanization is emphasized (Strinati 1995: 21ff.). This is justified by the fact that many globally available cultural products are of U.S. origin. Kunczik (1998: 269), for instance, points out the danger of a "Dallas effect", meaning that people worldwide are growing accustomed to American formats, narrative styles and presentation techniques. This, however, is only the passive / receptive side of the globalization. Its active / productive side is the fact that the reception of globally available cultural products can initiate a locally enacted cultural productivity, a phenomenon termed "fan productivity" by Fiske (1997a) and Winter (1995).
Music-oriented youth cultures such as hip-hop (as well as punk, heavy metal and others) are such an example of cultural globalization (cf. e.g. Kunczik 1998: 261). In fact, they are particularly good examples of the productive aspect of globalization. These music cultures are global in the sense of an active cultural practice (e.g. playing music) which extends beyond mere reception (e.g. buying and listening to records). However, a considerable portion of youth sociological literature in continental Europe and elsewhere, is rather critical towards "imported" youth cultures. (cf. Brake's (1985) discussion of youth subcultures in Canada). According to their argument, subcultural styles which are mediated into new societies lack the connection to the particular socio-historical conditions which fueled these subcultures in the first place. Therefore, imported cultures necessarily remain "superficial", "secondary", "derivative" and purely "manieristic".1
However, this orthodox view is more and more challenged by ethnographically grounded research that demonstrates how young people appropriate "imported" culture as a resource in the construction of their own ethnic-social identities.2 Willis (1990) and Boucher (1998) claim the appropriation of rap in the UK and France, respectively, to be an act of "emancipation" from its US model, while Schneider (1997) speaks of a "alltagskulturelle Re- und Neu-Inszenierung" of hip-hop in Germany. What these terms imply is a multi-layered appropriation process which involves both social events (such as concerts) and literacy practices, the latter including the reading and writing of rap lyrics. Since rap lyrics are hip-hop's major means of verbal expression (other means of expression being writing, DJing and breakdancing), their analysis provides access to the study of hip-hop's appropriation in Europe.
Concerning the relation between Americanization and popular culture in Europe, our study attempts to provide evidence of the emergence of "new cultural territories" (Lull 1995) through the appropriation of mediated impulses. If we define Americanization as the adaptation of cultural and discourse patterns in a reception community, then the Americanization of youth cultures in Europe is a fait accompli, at least since the 50s (cf. Maase 1992). Following the reasoning of Cultural Studies (e.g. Fiske 1997a, 1997b), we assume that an essential part of popular culture is the appropriation of what cultural and media industries have to offer. Media products only become a part of popular culture when they enter everyday communication and get connected with patterns of everyday life. The fact that nowadays the input for the formation and development of popular cultures in Europe is to a considerable extent of U.S. origin, makes it all the more important to study the ways in which "imported" discourse forms are used in their new environments.
In adopting a comparative perspective, it is not by any means our intention to undermine the intra-cultural, stylistic differences within hip-hop culture in general and rap music in particular. Research evidence (e.g. Feser et al. 1998) shows that there exists a whole spectre of rap styles in each European country, and this diversification (or specialization) tendency could even increase in time.
Our aim is rather to demonstrate that the strategies and devices for appropriating the genre are essentially the same in all countries in which rap is medially imported. In particular, we will attempt to work out textual manifestations of what James Lull (1995) calls "hybridization" and "indigenization" of rap i.e. its fusion with "local" discourses. At the same time, our analysis aims to show how European rappers position themselves as national representatives of an international music culture. For this purpose, a frame of analysis is needed which is wide enough in order to include "universal" genre features, but also flexible enough to capture the fine differences which exist within each single community.
2 Data and scheme of analysis
The data of our study consists of a sample of rap lyrics from five European speech communities: France, Germany, Italy, Greece, and Spain. (The analysis still being in progress, this paper is based on French, German and Italian data.) In particular, 50 songs per country have been randomly selected, covering the whole nineties (cf. the lists in the Appendix I at the end of the document). This sample was drawn from the authors' personal archives which cover a substantial proportion of the rap CDs published in each country. Additional data-sources our project draws on include CD booklets, hip-hop magazines and other media, as well as expert interviews.
Methodically, the research reported in this paper is based on text type analysis (genre analysis) and discourse analytic approaches. Our starting point is the assumption that processes of cultural evolution can be described as discourse processes, in the sense that they are manifested in particular discourse practices and objectified in specific text types (genres). Genre analysis is a suitable platform for our purposes, because the most plausible tertium comparationis for a comparative analysis is the genre itself, i.e. its defining functional and structural properties. However, genre analysis is just a precondition to our focal question, i.e. the convergence and divergence points of rap in European speech communities.
A usual way of doing a contrastive genre analysis is to examine the realization of a genre in different languages, and then to compare these genre realizations to each other (cf. Pöckl 1999). When analyzing a particular song, sufficient knowledge of the genre's textual pattern (Textmuster) is the only way of distinguishing the textual features which are typical for the genre as a whole from the ones which are "idiosyncratic", i.e. specific to one particular band or even song. However, complete genre analyses of rap lyrics are not yet available for the languages we examine in this paper. In fact, all previous descriptions of rap we know of are either too impressionistic from a linguistic point of view (with the exception of Bolte 1995) or too restricted in their empirical base (e.g. Feser et al. 1998). As a result we had to reconstruct the genre's textual pattern parallel to the comparison.
Due to practical reasons, we do not claim to present in this paper a complete genre analysis, because two major formal properties of rap lyrics were excluded from detailed analysis: (i) the rhyme structure, and (ii) the "flow", i.e. rap's rhythm and timing structure (cf. Salaam 1995). The basis of our comparative analysis and thus of our inductive generalizations, is restricted to the criteria which will be introduced below. In addition, our analysis used a scheme for rap's textual structure, i.e. song components such as openings and closings, refrains, strophes, verses, and (music or speech) samples. However, since these components are not specific to rap songs (perhaps with the exception of samples), they will not be discussed any further.
For the purpose of our research, a three-level scheme of analysis has been inductively developed. Its three interrelated levels (i) socio-cultural frame, (ii) discourse, (iii) linguistic patterns as well as the major analytic categories on each level, are summarized on Table 1 below. As far as the connections to other approaches in text analysis are concerned, it should be noted that our levels (ii) and (iii) overlap with the three discourse-analytic dimensions proposed by Wodak et al. (1998: 71ff.), i.e. "contents" (Inhalte), "strategies" (Strategien) and "realization forms" (Realisierungsformen).
Table 1. A framework for the comparative analysis of rap lyrics
On level (i) our leading question is: How is hip-hop culture organized in each reception community? The purpose here is to provide evidence for the range of cultural practices related to rap music and hip-hop culture in each European country. In order to understand possible differences between European countries regarding the reception and appropriation of hip-hop, several extralinguistic factors have to be taken into consideration. Although we haven't conducted systematic media and market analyses for all countries concerned, our data is sufficient in order to determine some basic differences in the consolidation of "indigenous" hip-hop cultures in Europe. These differences are probably related to differences existing in the remaining levels of analysis. For instance, the high percentage of migrants in France could correlate with certain topics and discourses on level (ii) as well as with particular linguistic features on level (iii).
On level (ii), "rap discourse" is used as a cover term, including three complementary analytic perspectives on rap lyrics. The first perspective is topic, i.e. what a rap song is about (section 4.1). The second perspective is verbal action, i.e. what rappers "do with words" (section 4.2). Finally we examine cultural references in rap lyrics, as expressed in proper names of all sorts (section 4.3).
On level (iii), our analysis begins with an examination of the skilled usage of linguistic variation in rap lyrics (section 5.1). A second point is the appropriation of genre-typical rhetorical devices, thereby focusing on comparisons and metaphorical concepts (section 5.2). Finally, English elements are a separate category of our linguistic analysis for two reasons: because of their frequent occurrence in the data over 60% of our German, French and Italian songs contain some English and because quite a lot of English elements in our data are specific for hip-hop culture, and stem from specific (and non-standard) varieties of English (section 5.3).
On all three levels, our procedure includes a double comparison, i.e. the findings for each European community are compared with each other and are also contrasted with (topic, discourse and linguistic) conventions of U.S. rap, provided that these are documented in the literature (see References). Following this line of comparison, our aim is to answer questions such as the following: Which topics, verbal actions, language varieties etc. are typical for rap lyrics throughout Europe? How do European communities differ regarding these aspects? Are there any thematic or other divergences from U.S. genre conventions? And most importantly: How do song topics, speech acts, cultural references and linguistic features of rap lyrics relate to the genre's appropriation in European societies?
3 Socio-cultural frame
Since the beginning of the '80s, hip-hop culture and rap music have been introduced in Europe through records, print media, TV shows, video-clips, and films. This mediated initiation was soon followed by the emergence of a cultural and market infrastructure in each reception community. This fact is consonant with the general tendency of youth subcultures to develop their own infrastructures (Clarke 1975). The mere fact that there were and are individuals and groups who are concerned with hip-hop and rap, indicates the beginning of autonomous cultural activities which go hand in hand with the evolution of national rap discourses. From a synchronic point of view, these activities are organized both from the "top" (i.e. the music industry) and from the "bottom" (i.e. the so-called "underground").
The social composition of a (national, regional, or local) hip-hop scene can be examined on the basis of several factors. In practice, however, reliable and comparable social data is hard to find. As regards social class, French rap is mostly supported by low-class youth (Boucher 1998), whereas German hip-hop has apparently been appropriated to a large extent by middle class youth. As for gender, female rappers are an exception in Europe, as is the case in the U.S. as well. (Both Rose 1994 and Potter 1995 dedicate a chapter in their books to Afro-American female rappers.) For example, our German data includes only two well-known female rappers, Schwester S. (a.k.a. Sabrina Setlur) and Cora E.
Another factor is the ethnic composition of European rap scenes, i.e. the amount of 2nd or 3rd generation migrant youth. Based on information available on the CD booklets and on public documentation (e.g. band interviews in hip-hop magazines), we checked how many bands in our sample include one or more members of migrant origin. The findings are displayed in figure 1:
They illustrate some remarkable differences between European hip-hop communities. On the one hand we have the extremly high percentage of migrants in French hip-hop bands (92%), who are mainly of African origin. On the other hand, we observe the very low or even zero percentage of migrants in Greece (0%) and Italy (4%) and the intermediate position of Spain (32%). Germany with its high percentage of migrants seems to occupy a particular position as a multicultural and multiethnic society (60%).
Besides social composition, several other factors have to be taken into account in order to assess the spread of rap music and hip-hop culture in European countries. We suggest that a systematic check of the following four factor groups, each of them involving several individual points, is an effective method in order to assess the development of a cultural infrastructure specific to each country.
Table 2. Market and media infrastructure of hip-hop cultures: an overview of relevant factors
In conclusion, it appears that France has the most consolidated European hip-hop community, regarding its elaborated music industry and the amount of cultural events, media coverage and scholarly publications. Germany and Italy also present elaborated infrastructural organization, lagging behind France only regarding the export of and academic research on rap and hip-hop. Spain and Greece have only recently developed basic structures of rap-music production and marketing. (In early '99 , the second author of this paper came across record store personel in Madrid who didn't even know what rap is.)
4 Rap discourse
It seems appropriate to start a discussion of rap lyrics with a short reference to their socio-historical background. It is widely acknowledged that rap as we know it today can be traced back to Afro-American traditions of oral culture and vernacular rhetorics. 3 These traditions include a variety of genres and ways of speaking, ranging from grand epic poems and the call-and-response sermon pattern through everyday verbal routines such as boasting and signifying to verbal duels known as sounds or dozens (Mitchell-Kernan 1972, Labov 1972). Earlier references leave no doubt as to the last pattern's major input in rap's first phase in the late '70s to early '80s (cf. Brake 1985: 126). Even the term rap originally meant "a fluent and lively way of talking" (Mitchell-Kernan 1972).
However, even if certain verbal actions which are characteristic of today's rap lyrics can be traced back to traditions of Afro-American oral performance, the connection between these traditions and contemporary rap lyrics certainly is not a straightforward one. To start with, rap has evolved as a speech genre of its own during the early and mid '80s (cf. Salaam 1995). Based on their vernacular oral culture, early rappers progressively developed their own speech act patterns as well as a number of major song topics. Attempts to draw an evolution line in rap topics from the early '80s until the mid '90s (cf. Grimm 1998, Karrer 1995, Stapleton 1998, and esp. Potter 1995, Ch. 1) start off from "party/fun raps", continue with "message rap" (focusing on black people's social problems and protesting against social injustice), and finally arrive to "gangsta rap" (portraiting ghetto life and criminal action). Needless to say, contemporary rap production includes instances of all these topics.
So, the genre traditions European rappers draw on are most probably the ones formed during the rap era, and not the Afro-American traditions that rap is based on. Furthermore, patterns of oral rhetorics are "filtered" in rap discourse both by literacy practices and by sound engineering. While freestyle rap is to a large extent based on improvisation, lyrics which form part of a song are worked on again and again. Through the remix possibilities technology has to offer, the rapper's own voice is combined with other voices, yielding multi-voiced song parts which are impossible to achieve in "normal" verbal interaction. Patterns of oral rhetorics are used in rap discourse in a stylized form. Bolte (1995) draws on Walter Ong's notion of "secondary orality" to refer to the outcome of these re-writing and styling processes, while Rose (1994: 8796) speaks of rap's "technological orality".
Through a comparative content analysis of song topics it is possible to examine whether rappers in various European communities are talking about the same things (and in equal frequency). In particular, a list of seven song topics was inductively established, displayed in Table 3. 4
Table 3. Rap song topics
Group (8) is more or less the usual "dustbin" for songs which are too vague or too abstract to be included in one of the above topic groups. These topics will be now introduced in turn and illustrated with examples from our Italian, French or German data. In the end of this section the frequency of the topics in the data will be discussed.
A note on the text samples: The bands and song titles of text samples can be checked as follows: The letters I, F, D stand for the respective language, i.e. Italiano, Français, Deutsch. For example, reference no. I25 stands for song nr. 25 in the Italian song list. You'll find the lists as Appendix I at the end of the document. All text samples have been translated into English by the authors.
(1) self-presentation: Talking about oneself and the crew one belongs to, is one of the most prominent and traditional rap topics. Concerning the speech acts which we will discuss below, this topic is mostly associated with the acts of boasting and dissing.
(2) scene discourse: These are songs that refer to the local or national hip-hop scene having a praising or critical intention. A frequent example of critical intention is the scene's relation to the music industry. We have also included in this group declarations of one's love for (and devotion to) hip-hop culture as well as songs about graffiti and the value of vinyl records as an essential ingredient of hip-hop culture. Here's an Italian example:
(3) social critique: This category is a significant one with respect to rap's ideological content and hip-hop's sociopolitical orientation. Setting forth the protest song tradition of "message" rap which was established by U.S. rappers in the 80s, European rappers talk about various sorts of socio-political problems affecting their societies. Social critique is expressed in different narrative modalities, ranging from inner monologue to openly provocative statements, as in the French example below.
(4) contemplation: The lyrics in this group are a kind of thinking aloud, expressing the rapper's thoughts about life as well as emotional states such as melancholy.
(5) love / sex: This group includes so-called "love raps" as well as a few songs which narrate a sexual act. There follows a German example by a male rapper.
(6) party / fun: The lyrics of this group are about throwing a party, dancing and having a good time. They often narrate the process of having a party:
(7) dope: These songs are devoted to the pleasures of cannabis consume. They narrate the process of a group of friends smoking and getting high together, sometimes combining this motif with strange or funny encounters. Although this is a quantitatively marginal topic, it appears in all languages included in our sample.
The frequency of these topic groups in the French, German and Italian data is displayed in figure 2 for a total of 50 songs per language.
According to these findings, only two topics make out 20% or more of our sample for each language, i.e. "self-presentation" and "social critique". The other topics have an average of about 10% each. This suggests an interpretation of topic distribution in terms of a core-periphery scheme. In other words, the two most important topics of European rap songs, "social critique" and "self- presentation", are surrounded by a number of additional thematic resources rappers can draw on. As a whole, the topic distribution appears to be relatively homogeneous across all three languages. The most striking difference is probably the importance of the "social critique" group in France, which accounts for almost half of the French sample.
It is tempting to connect this difference, and the findings of the topic analysis as a whole for that matter, to the social conditions which are particular to each European country and/or differentiate European societies from the U.S. To begin, our data indicate that gangsta rap thematics are virtually absent from European rap.5 The same stands for black nationalist discourse, which is an integral part of message rap style in the U.S. However, this is not to say that no ethnic or racial problems are articulated in European rap. On the contrary, in European countries with migration communities, rap texts which deal with problems of multiethnic societies make for a considerable part of the social critique topic group. (Multiethnic social reality is also reflected in songs from other topic groups, as well as in linguistic patterns such as code switching, as in example 20 below.) In fact, we attribute the extremely high amount of social critique songs in French rap to the high percentage of migrants in the French hip-hop community. As for German rap, our sample includes songs about Ausländerfeindlichkeit (i.e. hostility towards foreigners) as well as about the problematic lives and identities of Gastarbeiter and young people with Gastarbeiter parents. This discourse is epitomized in the 1993 title Fremd im eigenen Land ('A foreigner in one's own land') by Heidelberg's famous rap band Advanced Chemistry. On the other hand, in Italy the hip-hop-community of which hardly includes any migrants the "social critique" thematics is related to more general social problems such as corruption, criminality, consumerism, etc. However, it seems that the migration topos has a certain appeal to Italian rappers as well. Evidence for this is found in a song entitled Immigrato totale ('total immigrant', I18), in which an Italian rapper expresses his feeling like an immigrant in his own country.
4.2 Speech act patterns
A bundle of seven speech act patterns has been inductively worked out (Table 4). All patterns can be found in rap lyrics from all European communities dealt with in our study; moreover, they are documented as conventions of U.S. rap.
Table 4. Speech act patterns
The terms "actionality" and "localizing" (in bold typeface in Table 4) are used in order to group some of these patterns together. Bolte (1995) uses the term "actionality" ("Aktionalität des Sprachgebrauchs") in order to capture speech acts (1) and (2), i.e. talking about the action of rapping itself and its effect on the listener. 6 On the other hand, "localizing" is our cover term for the rappers' various references to their own geographic and social context, i.e. patterns (5)(7). Their importance for rap lyrics on an international scale reflects the grounding of hip-hop culture in local networks: The rapper's own crew and neighbourhood operate as local sources of identity (Rose 1994, Boucher 1998). Both actionality and localizing, then, should be regarded as a sort of "super-categories" which provide the frame for more specific verbal actions. Within these two categories certain speech act patterns tend to co-occur, e.g. different instances of localizing can be found in the same part of a text. Pattern (3) and (4) are closely related as well, although we do not use a common label for them.We will now present and shortly illustrate patterns (1)(7) in turn.
(1) self-referential speech. Rappers describe their own verbal performance in a variety of ways, ranging from literal to metaphoric expressions. Self-referential utterances of the literal kind often include central terms such as rap and rhyme (cf. example 10). Metaphorical ones, on the other hand, equate the action of rapping and its product, the lyrics, with other activities or objects. In example 11 this is the case with rapping and drinking.
(2) listener-directed speech. Rap's desired effect on the listeners is also presented in various ways. Rappers may invite listeners to dance or to react in a certain way (cf. examples 11 and 7); in other cases they state a certain effect of their music and lyrics on the listener (cf. example 12); in still other cases they just describe the listener's music-influenced state or actions.
(3) boasting. This category includes all cases in which the rappers are praising and glorifying themselves and their crews. Thus boasting can be seen as a special case of self-referential speech. Its typical linguistic means are comparative and superlative adjectives, hyperbolic comparisons, positively connotated metaphors, etc. An example is provided by text sample 19. The contrast category to boasting is dissing.
(4) dissing. This verbal action is one of the most commented and referred on in rap and hip-hop studies. 7 In general terms, dissing (a clipped form of the verb to disrespect) can be defined as a verbal attack and symbolic humiliation of an opponent. This is usually another rapper who is attacked for being a lame or a sold out (cf. examples 13 and 24) However, the object of dissing can also be someone external to hip-hop culture, e.g. a narrow-minded teacher, a politician and the like. As a rule, (recorded) dissing is addressed to fake MCs in general, avoiding any direct references to specific persons, though our data includes some exceptions as well (see an example in APPENDIX II, A). It seems that the linguistic and rhetoric means used for dissing are similar (in the reverse direction, of course) to the ones used for boasting. In example 13, the dissed MCs are presented as weak (fiacchi), and their fakeness is underlined by a negative simile (finti come tette di silicone).
(5) place/time references. An instance of this speech act pattern is illustrated by text sample 14 where the rapper refers to the place he lives, naming himself at the same time. Another variant is presented in 15 with the rapper turning his place of origin into a style label. An example for time reference is 16, whereby "98" is the year the recording was made. Such time references often occur in intros and/or codas of rap songs. Taken together, place and time references emphasize rap's reality grounding, its anchoring in real space and time.
(6) identification (naming). A further recurrent element of rapping is the self-naming of the rapper, sometimes joined by the naming of the rest of the crew. By way of commenting lyrics by Salt'N'Pepa and Eric B&Rakim, Rose (1994: 87) states: "Examples of such naming are endless. Rap lyrics are closely linked with the author." An Italian example is cited in 17.
While the self-referentiality of naming utterances fits the overall profile of rap discourse, they can also have a structuring function, initiating a new turn. In this case, the rapper names him/herself when getting the microphone or names the rapper who is going to perform next. In text sample 24, the rapper has just been introduced by the previous speaker as "Giovanni", and he begins his turn by calling himself "the Sicilian".
Related to naming is the action of greeting and/or giving respect to members of the local, national and international rap scene. In example 2, the rapper gives respect to OTR, a rap band from Varese, Italy. These actions originate in live performances of freestyle rap, and can also be found in CD booklets. In recorded songs, they usually appear in an exponed position such as the album's intro/outro or the song's opening/closing.
(7) representation. This is the explicit declaration of self as a local representant of hip-hop culture. Boucher (1998) defines this term in his study of French rap as follows:
As the examples below illustrate, the rapper refers to the things he/she stands for within the hip-hop culture. This can be his own group (e.g. clik, FF, mes potes), town or neighbourhood (e.g. le tié-quar = le quartier). Lexically, this action is accomplished (i) through the various equivalents of the verb to represent, (ii) through the English verb as a loan-word, (iii) through other circumlocations. Syntactically, the verb to represent is used either with a direct object (i.e. one's own posse) or without a direct object or even (in the French data) with a prepositional object (pour). In some of the examples, representing appears as a culturally hybrid verbal action; e.g. in , (4) the French rapper represents pour le Fonk, which is the French spelling of funk, and in , (6) he mentions his posse called Fonky Family.
As for any connections between these speech act patterns and the song topics discussed above, our general finding is that "self-presentation" and "scene discourse" songs are the most important topic frames for the occurence of these genre-typical verbal actions.
Using a lengthy text sample, we will now illustrate how several speech acts co-operate in creating a typical rap texture:
1 church and subway station in the centre of Milan
The first part of this text illustrates the realization of three speech act patterns. The beginning is a realization of boasting. In line 1 the rapper underlines his verbal virtuosity by claiming he is even better than the Grimm brothers. In contrast, the tertia comparationis used in lines 23 are references to the U.S. mass culture. Hence this example of boasting is a cultural hybrid. Lines 4 and 5 are an instance of dissing, the rapper attacking his virtual opponents, and line 6 is another instance of boasting, the rappers praising themselves with a phrase which sounds like a commercial slogan. The second part of the text sample signifies on central activities of hip-hop culture. There is a time and place reference in line 11, whereby the rapper refers to a meeting-place in the centre of Milan and connects himself to the 12-year-old Italian hip-hop tradition. Lines 810 and 12 are instances of representing: The rapper "represents" by rhyming, the DJ with his needle and the breaker dancing "on the back".
4.3 Cultural references
A point of particularly striking international similarity in rap lyrics is the frequent reference to well-known components of (media) culture. Linguistically, these references are coded in various kinds of proper names, including brand names. A special instance of cultural reference is intertextuality, defined here in a "narrow" sense as the quoting of or the allusion to specific texts. As is well known, intertextual references in rap music are not restricted to the lyrics but are also generated by means of sampling, which includes both music pieces and other kinds of audio material (e.g. political speeches). In fact, sampling is a "trademark" of rap music and hip-hop culture. 9
It is interesting to note that reference to proper / brand names is not only characteristic for the genre since the early days of U.S. rap, but it is also a connection to rap's "discourse ancestors", because the use of proper / brand names in simile was already prolific in the dozens / sounds of the late '60s (cf. Labov 1972). Our text examples include several cultural references, e.g.:
In more general terms, cultural references in rap lyrics can be divided in a number of reference areas:
The main purpose of cultural references in rap lyrics is not to be talked about or commented upon, but to act as points of comparison in simile (comparative constructions, cf. section 5.2). They are used in order to portray mentalities and evaluate actions, i.e. how the rappers themselves (or the people they diss or talk about ) feel, look like or behave. At the same time, cultural references are particularly appropriate in order to show the rappers' affiliation with specific socio-cultural contexts. In their totality they create a complex reference system or "cultural horizon" which includes the discourse traditions of both the broader community and the hip-hop scene. The main feature of this cultural horizon is its hybrid character, composed of both US and European orientations.
5 Linguistic patterns
Turning to the analysis of linguistic patterns, the first point to be made is obviously the use of native speech. As a rule, European rappers use their mother tongue. As for bilingual 2nd and 3rd generation migrants, they basically use the dominant language of the society they live in. 10 This orientation is a precondition for the further appropriation process, which includes the skilled usage of linguistic variation (section 5.1), a number of genre-typical rhetorical patterns (section 5.2.), and the abundant use of English elements (section 5.3).
5.1 Vernacular orientation
Previous work has pointed out rap's vernacular orientation, as well as the connection between "street language" and hiphop's social subversiveness. 11 According to Potter (1995: 57ff.), rap speaks through "resistance vernaculars" (or non-legitimated codes, to speak with Bourdieu), and turns them into positive social symbols. From a different perspective, rap music is one of the most important instances of vernacular usage in contemporary popular culture (Lapassade & Rousselot 1990: 92).
On this basis, the question is raised whether rap's "traditional" orientation to vernacular speech also holds true for European speech communities. Our general answer to this question is an affirmative one: Throughout Europe, rap lyrics are based on colloquial speech including numerous non-standard elements on a phonological, a morphosyntactic and even more on a lexical level. Starting off from a colloquial basis, European rappers explore and exploit the whole linguistic repertoire of their respective speech community, including regional dialects, social dialects, English elements and segments of various other foreign languages. How these resources are deployed, can only be answered by taking into account the structure of each community's linguistic repertoire and its language attitudes.
For instance, given the importance of areal variation in Europe today, one would expect all European rappers to use local dialects. However, this is not unanimously the case. Rappers tend to use local or regional dialects only if they are still vital and (relatively) prestigious in a speech community. This certainly is the case in Italy, where 17 out of our 50 songs are throughout or partially in dialect. Text sample 15 is sung throughout in the local dialect of Salento (Southern Italy), whereas in song text I21 (cf. APPENDIX II, B) the rapper alternates between standard Italian and the city dialect of Rome. However, the proportion of dialect rap is much smaller in Germany and France, while in Greek rap, the use of dialect is limited to parody songs.
On the other hand, in European countries where migrant communities are large enough and already established, rappers who have a migrant backgound themselves or socialize with youth of migrant descent sometimes use (segments of) migrant languages as well as non-native accents. Our French data includes six songs with Spanish elements (e.g. sample 12 above), one with a sequence in an African language (F31) as well as nine texts with a clearly non-native accent (as a native speaker assured us). As for the German situation, text sample 20 is an interesting example, since it contains segments of three foreign languages.
1 rappers' names; 2 Serbo-Croatian; 3 Turkish
This song's dominant topic is self-presentation. On a functional level, this text is an instance of dissing: the rapper verbally attacks a virtual opponent, using ritual insults. In lines 6 to 8, the speaker switches first to Serbo-Croatian, producing a ritual insult, and then to Turkish, thereby threatening the addressee. These instances of code-swiching are framed in lines 34 and 910 by metalinguistic comments which stress the rapper's verbal competence in several languages (note the pun with the constituent -lingual in line 4). Line 10 contains another switch, this time to English. Since no member of this band is of Serbian or Turkish origin, this multilingual piece of rap can be read as a reflection of a multi-ethnic milieu.
However, rap discourse should not be equated as a whole with nonstandard or vulgar language. Our data includes various examples for the combination of different registers and social voices, including formal and even poetic elements. In fact, the vernacular orientation of rap lyrics varies both with the rapper's individual profile as well as with the song's topic and verbal actions. Non-standard language abounds in party / fun raps as well as in some subcases of "self-presentation" and "social critique" rap songs, but is much less present in (or even absent from) e.g. raps about love and personal thoughts. Concerning speech act patterns, the major sites of non-standard elements are dissing and boasting, i.e. verbal actions that aim at constructing a positive image of self. Hence, "street language" does not mean that rappers can not do it otherwise. Rather, it is a conscious, strategic choice, which allows rappers to symbolically adopt attributes of vernacular culture.
5.2 Rap rhetorics
This term is used as a loose reference to a number of rhetorical and formal patterns which are cited in the literature as characteristic of rap lyrics. The most complete reference is Potter (1995: 53, 64, 812) who mentions the following features:
We will focus on the first two features of this list. As for the rest, homonymic relations would have to be examined together with rap's rhyme structure; most acronyms would have to be studied in the context of artistic name creation; as for the spelling-out pattern, it is attested for all three languages in our data as the following examples show:
1 Sacrelles: a suburb of Paris; 2 Paris
1 la T la I la P la O = tipo
1 rapper's name
Given the fact that figurative language is highly characteristic for rap lyrics, we shall restrict our research to metaphorical concepts (or frames), i.e. conceptual equations between rap discourse and other domains. Potter (1995: 64) refers to such a concept when he speaks of "the recurrent metaphoric mixture of rappers' own technologies (microphones, pencils, and tongues) with those of armed struggle (guns, hand grenades, artillery)." Based on Lakoff & Johnson (1980), metaphorical concepts are analysed by identifying the source and target domain as well as the motivational link between them. In Potter's example, the source domain is "armed struggle" and the target domain is verbal performance. According to Potter (1995: 82), the main function of metaphors in rap is "to establish multiple and overlapping streams of association, which everywhere undermine the merely denotative with broad and brash de/re-formations of the connotative".
Our data provides evidence for two internationally attested concepts which form the base of various metaphorical expressions and comparisons: the equation of rap discourse with (1) a violent force or (2) a powerful drug. Just a few examples will be given here:
Metaphors in rap are very frequently carried out as comparisons. These, in turn, often include cultural references (as discussed in section 4.3). A first analysis of our data indicates that comparisons are mainly used for self-referential purposes, i.e. to thematize and evaluate the rapper's own actions, qualities and mental states; to a lesser degree they also occur in instances of dissing. Lexically, comparisons frequently include cultural references (cf 4.3). Some examples are listed below, together with the topic or speech act pattern in which they appear.
The importance of comparisons for rap lyrics becomes even more clear by examining larger fragments of text. The following text sample 24 is a complete turn at the end of a song, and consists of 9 verses. Lines 1 and 9 build a kind of frame, the rapper opening his turn by identifying himself and closing it by connecting his discourse to his crew (Die Firma is the band's name). Lines 28 are comparisons which stem from very different source domains (literature, weather, war, etc.), and include cultural references, cf. butter brand Rama (line 2) and Shakespeare (line 4). A prominent metaphorical concept in this piece of rap is the violent force metaphor, the rapper equating his performance with bombing, exploding and killing (lines 3, 6, 7).
1 Italian; a kind of gun; 2 Sarotti ohnegleichen = advertisement slogan for sarotti toffees; 3 the band's name
Both comparisons and metaphorical concepts allow us to observe once again the interplay of rap's global and local dimension. Being genre-typical elements, they are internationally used in rap lyrics and thus connect national rap discourses to one another. At the same time, they provide sites of reference to local culture. In this sense, they are important features of appropriation.
5.3 English elements
English elements in non-English rap lyrics can be classified in six categories. These range from cases of classic lexical borrowing, i.e. groups (i) and (ii), to cases of code-switching over large stretches of text, as in group (vi).
Table 5. English elements in non English rap lyrics
Group (i) items denote the major roles, activities and objects of rap music and hip-hop culture. This includes terms for music production and verbal performance as well as culture specific key-words, e.g. skills, a cover term for artistic and (sub)cultural competence in hip-hop. In the examples discussed so far, the items (skinny) cap in , funk/funky in , the Italian calque of old school as la vecchia in , dissen in , represent in , and MC in  all belong to this group.
While the above items are referentially important, group (ii) provides a "street-flavor" balance. It consists of words and phrases borrowed from colloquial/nonstandard (U.S.) English or, more specifically, from Afro-American Vernacular English (AAVE). Typical examples are categorizations like homies, terms of abuse like bitch, synonyms like blunt (for 'joint') and multi-functional items such as e.g. shit in various collocations. Characteristic for the usage of slang items is that they tend to occur in pre-patterned contexts, and to yield calques (loan translations), e.g. the word shit (in the vernacular meaning of "stuff, music") becomes Scheiss in German and merda in Italian.
Group (iii) comprises a number of discourse particles, especially interjections, which occur both in English and "native" contexts; group (iv) includes formulaic expressions (or "ready-made catch phrases") as well as the spell-out pattern already mentioned in the previous section (see 5.2). There exist some calques of formulaic expressions, e.g. the formula X is in the house which becomes X ist im Saal in German and X [está] en la casa in Spanish. Instances of code-switching from native speech into (Afro-American) English are devided into two groups. Group (v) includes verse / utterance switches such as in the ones in text samples 20 and 24 above, whereas group (vi) includes the quite common occurence of English refrains and/or choral parts, some of which are probably sampled.
In conclusion, our classification and analysis show that English elements are an essential part of non English rap discourse. Some English elements have first and foremost a referential function with respect to the culture's major roles and activities. In addition, rappers can stylize themselves as "underground" or "subcultural experts" through the use of slang and certain formulaic utterances. Extensive English usage in rap songs is both a connection with rap's origins, and a demonstration of rappers' communicative skills. At the same time English provides the input for the creation of a "native" stylistic repertoire which includes both direct loans and calques. Examples of this are the spelling pattern (cf. 5.2, ), the calques of the word shit and of the formula X is in the house.
6 Concluding discussion
Originally introduced in Europe through media, hip-hop culture and rap music have undergone and are still undergoing a process of adaptation into new reception communities. Although hip-hop's global spread in the 80's and 90's has occasionally been mentioned (e.g. by Toop 1991, Potter 1995, Lull 1995), no attempt has been made to compare "national" variants of rap. In this paper we tried to work out some discourse and linguistic features that indicate the genre's appropriation in a number of European speech communities. Based on the analytic levels used in this paper, our main findings can be summarized to the following:
On all three levels, then, European rap lyrics are neither fully imitating their U.S. model(s) nor are they fully "emancipated" from these. Put in a different way, European rap includes both a centripetal and a centrifugal tendency: It both retains a connection to its "mother-culture", and establishes a connection to "local"/national discourses, thereby distancing itself from the U.S. model. This corresponds to the ambivalent attitude towards U.S. cultural trends which is often expressed in mediated pop-discourse in several European countries.
As a whole, our findings indicate that participants appropriate an imported discourse form in the process of productively using it. The "original" patterns are filled with each country's own "ingredients" on a thematic, actional, and linguistic level, thereby creating a cultural hybrid. Even more importantly, participants eventually indigenize this hybrid. In our data, for example, the Italian rapper Space One stresses that he does not imitate U.S. rap stars but rather expands his style in his mother tongue ; German rappers Stieber Twins declare that they rap in the language stated in their passport ; and Sens Unik declare that they are fighting for French speaking rap . See the following examples of "indigenization" claims in Italian, German and French:
In all these cases, rappers explicitely claim for themselves a fused national-cultural identity, thereby foregrounding the language of rapping in order to support their claim.
Even though statements of this kind are not that frequent in our data, their mere occurence raises the question: What are the necessary conditions for this kind of indigenization claim to occur? Put in a different way: If we assume that popular culture generally strives to expand and maximize its audience, how is this achieved in the case of hip-hop? By way of conclusion, we will point to some conditions which are in our view essential for the global popularity, success and endurance (or "longevity") of rap music. Perhaps it is these conditions that constitute hip-hop's special profile as a global youth culture.
As pointed out from the beginning, hip-hop provides evidence for an active and creative aspect of globalization precisely because it is a performance culture, not a merely receptive one. However, while this holds true for other music-centered youth cultures as well (e.g. punk, heavy-metal, reggae, grunge), hip-hop's rapid globalization and success seems to surpass all others before it. We suggest that this is due to two additional factors: (1) Hip-hop is an accessible popular culture in terms of the technology and the artistic skills required for cultural production. As far as the preconditions for "doing art" are concerned (e.g. "playing an instrument" or "being able to sing"), hip-hop is an open, egalitarian culture. (2) Even more relevant to our analysis is the fact that rap is an "open" discourse form. Its conventional patterns in terms of topics, verbal actions, and language style, facilitate its appropriation. Rap is a genre that invites people to talk about themselves and their own social context, using their own social voice. While other music cultures, e.g. punk and especially heavy metal, never became completely "native" and "vernacular" as regards to their thematic and linguistic conventions (cf. Feser u.a. 1998), the quasi-categorical use of native speech in rap lyrics seems to play a decisive role in the genre's rapid appropriation in new communities.
These properties were parts of rap from its very beginnings. In the process of the genre's mediated globalization, they are constantly reproduced in every reception community. In this sense, the genre's hybridization is programmed, so to speak. Its new users gradually re-establish the missing link between artistic expression, socio-political conditions and discourse traditions (a link that "imported" music cultures seem to lack in their first stages; cf. section 1). The genre's open and flexible character enables its new users to transgress the stage of hybridization and to reach indigenization, i.e. to claim rap as a "native" art form, while still having the feeling of participating to a global youth cultural community.
Therefore, it seems necessary to revise the US-centered interpretation of rap's global success which dominates parts of the literature (e.g. Stapleton 1998). Rap is not so popular just because the discourse of a distant culture is so fascinating for young recipients all around the world. But rather because it offers a platform for the enactment of artistic creativity and for the verbal expression of identities. And to the degree that each European country gradually develops its own rap traditions, inspiration for future newcomers will not be exclusively "imported".
I. Rap and hip-hop studies
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Krekow, Sebastian, Jens Steiner & Matthias Taupitz (1999): HipHop-Lexikon. Rap, Breakdance, Writing & Co: Das Kompendium der HipHop-Szene. Berlin: Lexikon Imprint Verlag.
Lapassade, Georges & Philippe Rousselot (1990): Rap ou la fureur de dire. Paris: Talmart.
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* Paper presented to the international conference on "Americanization and popular culture in Europe" (Centro S. Franscini, Monte Verità), Ascona, CH, 10.14. Nov. 1999. Jannis Androutsopoulos acknowledges the contribution of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) by means of a post-doc grant for research on Medienkommunikation in der Jugendkultur. We are most indebted to Janet Spreckels and Arhondi Korka for helping with our English, and to Oliver Koehler for "polishing" the English translations of the text samples.
4 As a rule, only one dominant topic was assigned to each song. When such a reduction was not possible, the song was classified as having two dominant topics.
5 This is not to say that absolutely no gangsta rap style lyrics are to be found in European countries. For instance, such a case is documented by Feser et al. (1998) for a German amateur rap band. However, this lyrics' style hasn't really had any success in European countries.
6 Bolte (1995: 186) points out "daß sich das Sprechen auf die mit dem Sprechen stattfindende Aktion und deren Wirkung(sabsichten) bezieht und die Aktion des Sprechens im Sprechen mitreflektiert."
7 Grimm (1998: 96) defines dissing as "die Herabwürdigung des Gegners und seiner Familie oder 'posse'". According to the HipHop Lexikon, Dissen is a "Slang-Ausdruck für das Nicht-Respektieren, Angreifen oder Schlechtmachen eines anderen Menschen." (Krekow u.a. 1999: 101).
8 Translation: "The term "represent" is frequently used in American rap and nowadays in French rap as well. It is about associating one's name and [verbal] expression with the persons one respects and one socialises with, like one's own posse, but also, and above all, with the place and the neighbourhood one lives in."
9 According to Potter (1995), "the fundamental practice of hip-hop is one of citation, of the relentless sampling of sonic and verbal archives" (53). Together with cutting and freestyling sampling constitutes one of the main "signifying operations" which constitute "the core of hip-hop practice" (64).
10 However, there are also exceptions to this rule, e.g. in Germany certain rap bands which consist exclusively of Turkish youth and only rap in Turkish.
11 On rap's vernacular orientation, cf. Bolte (1995: 179, 183, 189ff.), Stapleton (1998: 220), and Potter (1995, Ch. 2 & 3).
SELECTION: FRENCH / FRANÇAIS
SELECTION: GERMAN / DEUTSCH
SELECTION: ITALIAN / ITALIANO
As a rule, (recorded) dissing is addressed to fake MCs in general, avoiding any direct references to specific persons. One of the seldom cases of (recorded) dissing with a concrete reference is the following example, in which the rapper is dissing Germany's most successful rap formation, Die Fantastischen 4. While in lines 1 and 2 the reference is still non-specific, in line 3 the rapper (as well as the sound!) signify on "Die da", a major hit by Die Fantastischen 4. In the subsequent lines the band is named (line 56) and dissed (line 7).
(B) A rap song with dialectal elements