Key Themes in Hip Hop Studies

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Music & School of Arts

Module overview

Hip hop is proclaimed to be the music of the global underclass, and equally, it has, according to Tricia Rose, changed humanity's relationship to pre-recorded music. Hip hop is so well integrated into Ethnomusicology and Popular Music Studies now that it is well integrated into the most prestigious conferences and journals. How did this DIY musical style that borrows soul samples and calls its vocal style “spitting” morph into an anchor for both the music industry and contemporary ethnomusicology? And how do we account for the gulf that remains between scholars of hip hop in Music departments and practitioners who work in what we now call Hip Hop Studies? Students in this class will be introduced to the key issues in the emerging field of Hip Hop Studies, getting to know the repertoire (beats and rhymes) and the social problems that facilitate its spread (urban poverty and gentrification, de-industrialization, generational injustice). Studying an interdiscipinary topic from the perspective of music, we will work outside the framework of "lyrics are everything," analyzing musical style and reading the literature critically. At the same time, we will examine the academy’s tentative embrace of hip hop, considering the hierarchical and racialized ways that hip hop is celebrated in places of learning. In the process, students will become acquainted with new styles of music driving social change across the Global South, while examining the social processes that drive the acceptance of outsider genres into the music industry and the academy.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Discuss critically the key challenges in the study of Hip Hop;
  • Analyze songs from several different angles, beyond lyrical content;
  • Understand how multiple perspectives facilitate critical interpretation (through group work);
  • Explain the social and cultural processes through which grass-roots movements gain institutional credibility.


One hour lecture, one hour seminar

Scope and syllabus

  1. The Gold Coast, the Caribbean, the Bronx: Hip-Hop Prehistory from Griots to Dancehall
  2. Sociolinguistics and Rap Poetics: African American Labour from the Cotton Gin to the Turntable
  3. Hip Hop and Postcolonial Migration
  4. “Party” Music: Hip Hop, Cuba and the State from Rap to Reggaetón
  5. “That’s Not Hip-Hop”: Genre in Africa from Hiplife to Kwaito
  6. Baloji: Hip Hop as Mature Artform
  7. Hip-Hop Islam: Performing Islam from U.S. Prisons to Modern-day Salafism
  8. Limitations of Hip Hop: Hip Hop and the “Arab Spring”
  9. Drill, Trap, and Emerging Rapping Subcultures
  10. Grime: Hip Hop's London Accent

Method of assessment

  • One essay: Genius entry of 1,000 words (plus song lyrics) (worth 30%)
  • One portfolio: listening diary of 2,000 words (worth 70%)

Suggested reading

  • Appert, Catherine. 2016. “On Hybridity in African Popular Music: the Case of Senegalese Hip-Hop.” Ethnomusicology 60(2): 279-299.
  • Bramwell, Richard. 2015. UK Hip-Hop, Grime and the City: the Aesthetics and Ethics of London’s Rap Scenes. London: Routledge.
  • Chang, Jeff. 2007. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: a History of the Hip-Hop Generation. London: Ebury Press.
  • Charry, Eric. 2012. ‘Chapter 1: a Capsule History of African Hip Hop.’ In Charry, Eric (ed.), Hip Hop Africa: New African Music in a Globalizing World. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
  • Harkness, Geoff. 2014. Chicago Hustle and Flow: Gangs, Gangsta Rap, and Social Class. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Rollefson, J. Griffith. 2017. Flip the Script: European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Rose, Tricia. 1994. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
  • Rose, Tricia. 2008. The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop- and Why It Matters. New York: Basic Books.
  • Schweig, Meredith. 2016. “‘Young Soldiers, One Day We Will Change Taiwan’: Masculinity Politics in the Taiwan Rap Scene.” Ethnomusicology 60(3): 383-410.
  • Shipley, Jesse Weaver. 2013. Living the Hiplife: Celebrity and Entrepreneurship in Ghanaian Popular Music. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


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