Monday, February 29, 2016

Rhetorical Elements Alive & Well in Hip Hop Culture

It’s important to note than hip hop culture reigns as one of the most influential platforms in our world today. Whether it is Kendrick Lamar inspiring young teenagers to rap, Kanye West innovating a new fashion line, or Miley Cyrus encouraging young girls to “be themselves” (ha), we must look at how hip hop culture utilizes rhetorical elements to obtain this vast amount of influence. We will be examining the use of rhetorical elements in hip hop culture on a micro level by diving into one of Kendrick Lamar’s latest tracks.

To Pimp a Butterfly Album Cover
Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy winning album, To Pimp a Butterfly, featured president Barack Obama’s favorite record of 2015 – How Much a Dollar Cost. This humbling and spiritual track features an encounter Kendrick had with a homeless man at a gas station in South Africa. As he takes us on this journey, we first experience Kendrick’s initial reaction to a homeless man asking for a simple dollar, the typical and almost expected, “no.” However, upon rejection the homeless man asks Kendrick if he’d ever read Exodus 14; the second book in the Old Testament. Exodus 14 spotlights the story of Moses holding out his staff in faith as God parts the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to safely walk through the sea on dry ground. As Kendrick was immediately humbled by this biblical reference, the rest of this tale consisted of Kendrick’s internal conflict regarding his encounter with this homeless man.

The following elements are used in the 3rd verse of Kendrick’s How Much a Dollar Cost:
  • ·  Enumeratio – Enumeratio is a device in which you present an idea, moment, or argument with many details. While describing how he felt after being asked about Exodus 14, Kendrick opens the third verse by noting: “Guilt trippin’ and feelin’ resentment. I never met a transient that demanded attention. They got me frustrated, indecisive, and power trippin’.” Kendrick’s usage of concise details aids listeners in fully understanding the internal conflict he was wrestling with at this moment.
  • ·  Analogy – So often in hip hop music, artists craft analogies to illustrate a memory, feeling, or story. As Lamar describes this homeless man he thinks back to his very own grandfather. Kendrick writes: “now I comprehend, I smell grandpa’s old medicine reekin’ from your skin, moonshine and gin.” This analogy not only serves a purpose in helping Lamar’s listeners visualize the moment, but helps put things into perspective for Kendrick himself.
  • ·  Allusion – He closes the final verse by speaking from the homeless man’s perspective: “You’re lookin’ at the Messiah, the son of Jehova, the higher power. The choir that spoke the word, the Holy Spirit, the nerve of Nazareth, and I’ll tell you just how much a dollar cost. The price of having a spot in Heaven, embrace your loss, I am God.” Kendrick references the homeless man as a living product of God himself, which in turn explains why Kendrick was so resentful of his initial response.
In only one verse, Kendrick manipulated 3 rhetorical devices that continue to intrigue listeners to come back wanting more. Keep in mind, these are only 3 elements I chose to mention. We must look beyond the flashy music videos, wealthy lifestyles, and “dope” beats to fully appreciate the craft and artistry of hip hop music. Music is more than sound; it’s a memory, a story, an argument.


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  2. Ricky Conway

    J. Cole – Love Yourz: Not Just a Song, but a Message & an Art

    I remember Dr. Friesen mentioning how a lot of rhetoric and art is displayed in Hip-Hop music, it all made sense. I grew up listening to Hip-Hop music although I’m not composed to listening to any genre of music. I actually rap myself, but that’s another story to tell another time. Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole are my two favorite artist right now in the Hip-Hop industry, I actually believe they are the modern day voices of Hip-Hop, without them Hip-Hop would still be dead as it lacks meaning and soul.
    I don’t know who to choose between J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar because they both bring two different elements to the game; J. Cole is the soul and Kendrick Lamar is the heart, if that make sense. J. Cole’s last album he made Forest Hill was in 2014, very influential. Every song on there was a hit, but one of my favorite songs still till this day is this song called “Love Yourz”. J. Cole’s presentation form is authentic which allows him to use positive connotations that directs the audience full attention. I noticed that J. Cole also uses public vocabulary in his music, but he also elaborates on the metaphors and describe how he created this form of art that became so popular.
    J. Cole knows his audience which are normally the people who’ve been oppressed and grew up in poverty very similar to his upbringing. Unfortunately, a lot of African Americans are the ones who’ve been oppressed for hundreds of years. We all know that Black people was slaves back in the day that had two options based on their melanin that completed their skin tone, light skin or dark skin. If a Black male or female was light skinned it was most likely because the mother of the son or daughter was raped by a slave master which gave mixed breeds the privilege to stay in the house labeled as a “house niggers”. Black female and male slaves had to stay outside and pick cotton labeled as “house niggers”. In the generation we live in today, Black people call each other the “N” word all the time not meaning to degrade each other rather greet each other as a genuine friend. I noticed J. Cole use the “N” word a lot directed towards his people which are Black, not meaning it in a negative way, but more positive than anything giving it a new meaning. As you can see this is a perfect example of resignification. Imagine life without music? Music gives us free spirit and energy, that same free spirit one gets when they enter into a church and receive fellowship.